The following relies on the book, Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy, by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney.
Questions: "But since Karl Rove isn't supposed to be in charge of picking George W. Bush's opponents, how was it that he got exactly what he wanted?" That is, how is it that Karl Rove wanted and got John Kerry as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004? That he did want Kerry is evident because John Dean, presented as a sure loser, was anything but because he, Dean, was campaigning against the war in Iraq and could do so because, unlike Kerry, he had not supported it. Rove knew, as almost everyone in the Establishment must have known, that opposition to the war would play well, very well, with the American people. As reported by Bob Woodward in the epilogue to his book, Plan of Attack: "What did Rove have to say about this development [that Kerry was headed for the nomination]? 'The good news for us is that Dean is not the nominee,' Rove...argued to an associate in his...West Wing office. Dean's unconditional opposition to the Iraq War could have been potent in a face-off with Bush. One of Dean's strengths was he could say, 'I am not part of that crowd down there.' But Kerry was very much a part of the Washington crowd and he had voted in favor of the resolution for war. Rove got out his two-inch-thick loose-leaf binder titled 'Bring It On.' It consisted of research into Kerry's 19 year record in the Senate. Most relevant were pages 9-20 of the section on Iraq.'" [p. 90, Tragedy and Farce]
"How was it that John Kerry, the Hamlet of American politics, ended up carrying the Democratic banner against Bush, as opposed to the Democrat that Rove and other Republicans feared?" Well, despite what Nichols and McChesney argue, there was more at play here than the press, which does play a gate-keeper role in our political system. It does help to maintain our two party system, treating some "Democrats and Republicans as the only political players who matter." [p. 91] But the Democratic party was also in on undermining Dean's candidacy and for a simple reason: They saw "Dean as interloper from the la-la land of Vermont" who like Ralph Nader in 2000 was viewed as a "spoiler at best, [a] nuisance and [a] crank in general, and downright un-American at worst."
The "system" is a SYSTEM. It functions to preserve itself which means that the two parties collude to maintain their power, the privileges and perks that are theirs by virtue of the SYSTEM. Of course the press plays its part in maintaining the SYSTEM, the Establishment, but it is the politicians who are most powerful and who are most invested in preserving this SYSTEM. It is also true that these same politicians like to present themselves as relatively powerless against forces stronger than they. Nothing serves their system-maintainance functions than the illusion, an illusion they love to reinforce, that they are, as politicians, all-too-often overwhelmed by forces stronger than they, forces like corporations or the media. It is for our politicians a self-serving illusion and one that is even reinforced by those who are labeled, like myself, "political scientists." But these "scientists" ignore the "political" in most of what they write, which is like real scientists ignoring the laws of gravity or the power of genes in their work! And we wonder why half of registered voters don't vote!