I've been reading around the blogosphere this morning quite a bit of advice that the Democrats should ignore Rove's comments. That by responding we are "playing into his hands" and "doing exactly what he wants us to do." I would reiterate what I wrote below and say that Karl's not playing chess; he's playing dodgeball.
Neither did Rove invent this technique of derisively referring to Democrats as liberal hippie fags and dykes. Republicans have been doing this for a long, long time. As long as we've been losing they've been doing it with gusto.
Dukakis didn't respond. Gore didn't respond. Clinton did respond, (although I suspect that the real reason it didn't work as well with him was because his womanizing problems made it difficult to subtly label him unmanly.) They just spent a hundred million dollars calling Kerry a "flip-flopper" which in case you didn't get it, was designed to make you think of a flaccid penis. These guys aren't very subtle.
The truth is that to ignore this stuff it is to play into Rove's hands. Because the whole point is to make us look weak. When you don't respond when people call you weak, you reinforce the charge.
Now, how you respond is the real question. I would like to have seen some Democrats say "Karl, why don't you say that to my face." I'd like to see women like Hillary and Pelosi pull out the ferocious mother card and angrily say "how dare you say that I would recklessly put America's children at risk the way you people have done!" No demands for apologies --- veiled threats. Bring it on.
Or we could respond with laughter and eye-rolling derision designed to make them look ineffectual and silly. The Republicans are also very good at doing this. I can't think of a single time we ever have.
This is ultimately about simple leadership archetypes. (The "gender studies set" will know what I'm talking about --- king, warrior, lover blah, blah, blah.) And we are failing to embody them on a very basic level. Asking for an apology is better than nothing. Hitting back in simple ways that convey strength and conviction is even better. If we could come up with something more sophisticated that would work, I'd be all for it. But ignoring it is the guaranteed wrong thing to do.
Republicans are very successful at connecting with the primal instinctive feelings voters have about people in charge. We aren't. It is their greatest weapon against us and it has nothing to do with policy or positioning or demographics. It has to do with the fact that a lot of people make their decisions about leadership on the basis of who looks the strongest. It's primitive shit. And the Republicans strip it down even more simply than it has to be. There is some room for experimenting with this in innovative ways if we would just accept that it exists and work within it.
It's very hard for me to believe that a party led by limp, myopic chickenhawks and closet cases is getting away with this, but they are. And they have for a long time. We are fools if we let it continue.