served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. He now writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal
and is a Newsweek
columnist and contributor to Fox News.
At the White House Rove oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy-making process.
Before he became known as “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, Rove was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, non-partisan causes, and non-profit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
A Colorado native, he attended the University of Utah, the University of Maryland-College Park, George Mason University, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Rove has taught graduate students at UT Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and undergraduates in a joint appointment from the Journalism and Government departments at the university. He was also a faculty member at the Salzburg Seminar.
He was previously a member of the Board of International Broadcasting, which oversaw the operations of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, and served on the White House Fellows regional selection panel. He was also a member of the Boards of Regents at Texas Women's Union and East Texas State University.
CHAPTER 1 A Broken Family on the Western Front
Have you heard the joke about the Norwegian farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her? My father—Louis C. Rove, Jr.—was a Norwegian, one of those taciturn midwesterners who held back a lot. But in the last decades of life, Dad began to open up about himself, his marriage, and my childhood. He would meet me and my wife, Darby, in Santa Fe for the opera and the Chamber Music Festival each summer, and while exploring New Mexico, he would reveal secrets of our family life that were shocking because they were so intimate. But I disclose them here because my early years have been painted very differently. There is something to be said about setting the record straight, especially when it involves your kin.
So before I get to my career in politics, I want to tell the real story of my family, with all the love and heartbreak it contained. My father was a geologist. At about six feet tall, trim, with short-cropped blond hair and glasses, he had a kind but somber demeanor. Born in Wisconsin, he served briefly in the Navy at the end of World War II. Afterward, he spent a year at Hope College in Michigan. Inspired by his uncle Olaf Rove, a consulting geologist of some renown, my father then transferred to the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, Colorado.
It was there that he met my mother, Reba Wood. There were many differences. Dad was college-educated, well-read, and had grown up in a sensibly middle-class home with books, classical music, and opera. My mother never went to college, never had been exposed to books or classical music, and wasn’t interested in them. It may have been that she was the only girl in a family that prized boys, or else it was an early misfortune that was hidden from me, but regardless, while she appeared strong and in control, in reality she was fragile. Her brittleness, emotional pain, and suffering were out of most people’s view. But she and Dad were drawn to each other: he to her beauty and passion, and she to his solid dependability and dashing good looks. For a very long time, they were very much in love.
Mom was the only daughter of Robert G. and Elsie Wood and had three younger brothers. My maternal grandfather never went to college, but he was full of drive, dreams, and integrity. During the Depression, he found work on a Colorado Highway Department crew. Later, from a wooden shelf on the backseat of his car, Grandpa started selling butcher knives he had bought on consignment, to out-of-the-way grocery stores in southern Colorado. He eventually built it into a business—Robert G. Wood & Company, “Quality Butcher Supplies.” It was to provide a good livelihood for three generations of Woods. I was to spend many happy hours in his shop in Denver and around Grandfather Wood and my three uncles.
My grandparents lived in the same house for most of their adult lives, at 3045 Lowell Boulevard in Denver. The only luxury they allowed themselves was travel, recorded on a primitive motion picture camera by my grandfather. Over a twenty-year period, they went to Mexico, worked their way through South America; flew to Hawaii; traveled to Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt in simpler times in the region; visited Cambodia and Vietnam before they became dangerous; and went to Japan when it no longer was. It was a highlight after each trip to go to our grandparents’ house to see my grandfather’s movies, carefully narrated by him. My grandmother decorated their house with things brought home from their travels, whether trinkets, rubbings from the Angkor Wat temples, or Peruvian village retablos.
When my grandfather died of a heart attack on Labor Day 1974, my grandmother attempted suicide by shooting herself in the stomach. She lived another twenty-five years in pain and loneliness, mourning her husband and, I later was to discover, indirectly showing her loved ones that suicide was an acceptable way to deal with hardship.
I was born early on Christmas Day 1950, in a hospital elevator in Denver, Colorado. I guess I started out eager to get going. I grew up on the genteel fringes of the lower middle class, the second oldest in what became a family of five kids—three boys (an older brother and a younger one) and two sisters (both younger). We lived in Colorado until I was nine; in Sparks, Nevada, until I was fifteen; and then in Holladay, Utah, as my father followed opportunities in the mining business.
In the 1950s, being a young geologist specializing in uranium, lead, zinc, and copper was not a lucrative calling, but it was a demanding profession. Dad was often gone for months at a time on stints in Angola and Mozambique; in Aruba; in Manitoba, Alberta, and on the Queen Charlotte Islands of Canada; in Alaska; and all across the western part of the lower forty-eight states. His trips prompted a childish interest in vexillology: I used to draw pictures of the flags of the countries and states he worked in and treasured a small book of flags of nations and history he gave me.
I keep a picture of my father on a shelf near my desk. It was taken in a remote corner of Angola in the early 1950s. He is surrounded by bush children who probably had not seen many Westerners. When I was young, the picture seemed to me to be of a young, tanned demigod. In reality, he was a gangly young man fresh out of college, trying to chart his way in life.
We were brought up on tales of Africa, of his beloved monkey Chico, who later died in the Lisbon Zoo, and how my father had come to possess an eighteen-foot-long snakeskin, a zebra hide, and a rhinoceros horn—revered as sacred family totems in our home. We showed them to our friends with great ceremony.
In Colorado, our family first lived briefly in the company town of Kokomo, near the Climax mine north of Leadville. Then we moved to a house in a big field outside Arvada. There was a large pond in the southeast corner and a ditch meandered over the lower part of the property, providing welcome territory for games and exploring.
We had a chicken coop and a garden that provided us with much-needed eggs, carrots, tomatoes, and green beans. To this day, I think there’s almost nothing better than a ripe strawberry plucked fresh from the garden and nothing worse than eggplant, especially when it’s been fried the night before and served cold for breakfast because you left it on your dinner plate.
We never lacked for anything we really needed, but the family budget was always under pressure. My mother could spend more money to less effect than almost anyone I have ever known. To her credit, she tried earning money, but her ideas usually lasted only a season or two. One year, we collected pinecones and sold them to local nurseries. Then Mom became an Avon lady and my brother and I (and eventually all the kids) became experts at bagging orders. I knew by heart the code for almost every shade of Avon lipstick. We delivered newspapers, cut grass, babysat the neighbors’ kids, sold lemonade, and helped out at Grandfather’s store. As a teenager, I waited tables and washed dishes, ran a cash register at a hippie shop that sold patchouli oil, worked in a hospital kitchen, and held down the night shift at a convenience store. My parents made me quit the last job after I was robbed twice—once with a pistol and the second time with a sawed-off shotgun. I was stoic during the robberies, but shaken afterward and happy my parents insisted I quit.
Even with all these efforts, and especially when we were young, there didn’t seem to be enough money. The Christmas I turned five, the bonus Dad had been promised turned out to be a pittance, leaving him with no money for presents, so he talked a buddy who flew a helicopter like the one in the M*A*S*H
television show into landing his chopper in the dusty field surrounding our house and taking us up. Dad explained it was Santa’s helicopter, so we had to take our ride the day before Christmas rather than on Christmas itself. It’s still the best Christmas I ever had.
For my brothers and sisters and me, it seemed like an idyllic childhood, with Boy Scouts, Little League, playing “war” in the fields nearby, stamp and coin collections, trading baseball cards, and fried chicken dinners on Sunday at our grandparents’ house, where we watched Bonanza
and The Wonderful World of Disney
on their color TV. I looked up to my older brother, Eric, even though he used to beat me up, as all older brothers do. I thought he was the smartest person I knew. He spent his life outdoors, working in highway construction after attending the University of Nevada. Alma, six years younger than me, looked the most like Mom and, like her, had more than her share of misfortune in life. Olaf, eight years younger than me, was a happy and thoroughly content child who grew up to run computer systems. And the baby, Reba—nine years younger than me—was especially smart, disciplined, funny, prone to tricks, and, at least when it comes to her childhood memories, also prone to good-hearted exaggeration. We were an outgoing, active group.
We didn’t have a television at home until we moved to Nevada. Dad said it was because he wanted us to read, exercise our minds, and do our homework. I suspect family finances had something to do with it, too. When he was home and read to us or made us listen to the opera sponsored by Texaco and explained the stories we were hearing, not having a television didn’t matter so much.
During breaks from school, Dad would take his children with him when he had geological fieldwork nearby. It fostered a love of the open spaces of the West and of nature and its processes. Dad’s frequent travels and our family’s mobility made me a natural extrovert, with both the ability and the need to make friends and connect with others. And living in a tidy middle-class household with only a few, but nice, pieces of furniture...