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President Bush's nickname for Karl Rove, "turd blossom," pretty much says it all.

The president's opponents, who vilify Rove as the evil genius behind much that is wrong about the Bush administration, would emphasize the first word of the president's term of endearment.

The president's supporters, by contrast, who worship Rove as the architect of the plan that got their righteous man elected twice and cemented a congressional majority behind him for six years, would focus on the second word. To them he is a flower of the revolutionary right.

All but his angriest detractors would concede that Rove is a supremely gifted political operative. His encyclopedic knowledge of history and the voting trends and polling data in every congressional district in the United States reportedly is unmatched. Love him or hate him, Karl Rove knows what makes Americans tick.

The question for history is whether Rove has used that knowledge for good or ill. His career is checkered with political dirty tricks that have cheapened and coarsened many a campaign. That kind of tactical chicanery corrodes and undermines politics and the public's willingness to participate, to hold office, even to vote. It sidetracks debate from meaningful issues. That judgment will follow Karl Rove out the door of the White House and into the history books.

Nevertheless, it also is true that Rove has identified and exploited values, ideals and fears at the personal core of many Americans that other political leaders either did not know or did not understand. Rove may be a cynical opportunist, but he taught the nation something about itself or the often overlooked parts of itself.

At his most subtle, Rove even has reshaped the language of politics. In Orwellian fashion, he has called black white. His relentless insistence that the Bush administration stay on message has proved remarkably effective at shaping public opinion, even when the evidence against those positions has been overwhelming.

Fortunately, reality finally is catching up with Karl Rove.

Lincoln famously said that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. Rove has pushed those boundaries, but ultimately, he could not escape them.