Mr. Rove, meet Mr. Haldeman.

Or Mr. Adams. Or Mr. Lance. Or Mr. Sununu.

Karl Rove continues to hang on for dear life following yet another date with the grand jury to testify about his Valerie Plame leak. Even owning the negatives isn’t likely to keep him from soon being the good soldier and falling on his sword.

As politically savvy as Rove has been as the architect for Bush’s election, he’s about to re-learn two lessons that appointed officials never forget. One, loyalty flows up, not down. Second, every one is expendable.

The peril of his position at this point is reminiscent of the days when President Carter defended his friend Bert Lance when he was accused of banking infractions before the administration took office. Shortly thereafter, Lance was shown the door.

In fact, the defense and the exit often almost occur simultaneously, the defense often given at the same time a gentle push on the back takes place.

With President Nixon, his defense of H. R. Haldeman and John Erlichman shifted into a strategy to place the blame on them for the Watergate break-in. They knew all the Oval Office secrets, but that didn’t keep them from getting the boot.

Every president seems to have his own example of a friendship that falls victim to political expediency. Reagan had his John Poindexter. Johnson had his Sherman Adams. And Clinton had too many to mention.

Already, Bush Administration spokesman Scott McClellan has proclaimed that Rove has “the confidence of the president.” That’s really ominous. After all, at one Bush photo op at a Cabinet meeting, Bush dodged when given the opportunity to back up Rove.

It created one of those strange Washington moments that seem totally detached from reality. Bush sits at the conference table. Rove sits on the wall right behind him. They’re in the same camera shot.

In the real world, the boss would likely turn around and say: “Karl, did you do that?” But inside the Beltway, Bush answers the question as if Karl is a dead man, much less in the room.

It’s a powerful lesson for every one serving at the “will and pleasure” of an elected official. And there are dozens of similar examples at the local level, but a favorite is the city government director — a longtime friend of the mayor’s — who had Mayor Herenton stand for him at his wedding. About a week later, just before New Year’s Day, he was fired.

And yet, it’s almost impossible to count Rove out. He’s taken stonewalling and misdirection to a higher level. Before it’s over, somehow this entire issue yet may morph into more rhetoric about an attack on Christian values, part of the gay agenda or a skirmish in the culture wars.