Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rove's Early Warning

E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote in WaPo Perhaps it's an aspect of compassionate conservatism. Or maybe it's just a taunt and a dare. Well in advance of Election Day, Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, has a habit of laying out his party's main themes, talking points and strategies. True Rove junkies (admirers and adversaries alike) always figure he's holding back on something and wonder what formula the mad scientist is cooking up in his political lab. But there is a beguiling openness about Rove's divisive and ideological approach to elections. You wonder why Democrats have never been able to take full advantage of their early look at the Rove game plan.

Because they are so filled with hate that it clouds their judgement.
That's especially puzzling because, since Sept. 11, 2001, the plan has focused on one variation or another of the same theme: Republicans are tough on our enemies, Democrats are not. If you don't want to get blown up, vote Republican.
That's about it.
Thus Rove's speech to the Republican National Committee last Friday, which conveniently said nothing about that pesky leak investigation. Rove noted that we face "a ruthless enemy" and "need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in."
And we certainly don't need someone who is proud of voting for something before voting against it, and thinking that will show how strong he is.
"President Bush and the Republican Party do," Rove informed us. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats." Rove went on: "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview, and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong." Oh, no, those Dems aren't unpatriotic, just security idiots.
I think some of them are unpatriotic, but they certainly are idiots who want to pull out of Iraq and let it turn into a failed state just like Afganistan, but this time one much easier to get in and out of.
Here's why the same approach keeps working. First, note that phrase, "the same cannot be said for many Democrats." This is Rove's wedge through the Democratic Party. Rove has always counted on Bush's capacity to intimidate some Democrats into breaking with their party and saying something like: "Oh, no, I'm not like those weak Democrats over there. I'm a tough Democrat." The Republicans use such Democrats to bash the rest of the party.
So you admit that the rest are weak.
Moreover, these early Rove speeches turn Democratic strategists into defeatists. The typical Democratic consultant says: "Hey, national security is a Republican issue. We shouldn't engage on that. We should change the subject." In the 2002 elections, the surefire Democratic winners were a prescription drug benefit under Medicare (an issue Bush tried to steal),
He did steal it. The result is a mess, but he did steal it.
a patients' bill of rights, the economy and education. Those issues sure worked wonders, didn't they?

By not engaging the national security debate, Democrats cede to Rove the power to frame it. Consider that clever line about Democrats having a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world. The typical Democratic response would be defensive: "No, no, of course 9/11 changed the world." More specifically, there's a lot of private talk among Democrats that the party should let go of the issue of warrantless spying on Americans because the polls show that a majority values security and safety.
They certainly should. On 9/11 people were saying why didn't we connect the dots. Will now they are connecting the dots, and the public wants that to continue.
What Democrats should have learned is that they cannot evade the security debate. They must challenge the terms under which Rove and Bush would conduct it. Imagine, for example, directly taking on that line about Sept. 11. Does having a "post-9/11 worldview" mean allowing Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants, without having to answer to the courts, Congress or the public? Most Americans -- including a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans -- reject such an anti-constitutional view of presidential power. If Democrats aren't willing to take on this issue, what's the point of being an opposition party?
They can't pretend to be strong on defense when they are really so weak on defense.
Democrats want to fight this election on the issue of Republican corruption. But corruption is about the abuse of power. If smart political consultants can't figure out how to link the petty misuses of power with its larger abuses, they are not earning their big paychecks.

And, yes, the core questions must be asked: Are we really safer now than we were five years ago?
Has the Iraq war, as organized and prosecuted by the administration, made us stronger or weaker?
Do we feel more secure knowing the heck of a job our government did during Hurricane Katrina?
We did just fine except in a state with a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Mayor who both screwed up. And we did even better with Rita.
Do we have any confidence that the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies will clean up their act if Washington remains under the sway of one-party government?
A lot better than if the weak on defense Dems get control.
Imagine one Super Bowl team tipping the other to a large part of its offensive strategy. Smart coaches would plot and plan and scheme. You wonder what Democrats will do with the 10-month lead time Rove has kindly offered them.

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