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Friday, June 24, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg a Republican running for re-election in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, issued a statement urging both sides to keep politics out of the war on terrorism. 'We owe it to those we lost to keep partisan politics out of the discussion and keep alive the united spirit that came out of 9/11,' he said."

"Both sides" have made intemperate remarks about the war on terrorism.

Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism.

Therefore, "both sides" should stop criticising the war in Iraq.

I watched the Rove interview on Scarborough last night and it's quite clear that this is a coordinated public relations "rollout." The Bush administration clearly believes that creating this controversy will result in turning down the heat on Iraq and boosting their prospects on other issues. I think they are counting on the press and the distracted public to see "partisanship" running amuck, which is how the Republicans have already positioned themselves for the '06 elections. Bush and his speech condemning the Democrats as the "party of the stop sign" has already laid out the roadmap. But the immediate agenda is to rile up the base with red meat attacks on "liberals," re-brand Democrats as wimps on national security and intimidate ... wavering Republicans.

There are two ways we can play this. We can step back in the hopes that the Republicans will look like slavering beasts, or we can slug it out and see who comes out on top. The first is probably the instinctive reaction of the Dems because we keep relying on the public to "wake up" and realize what crazy fuckers we have running the country. But I think that works against us --- they may look like slavering beasts but we look like a bunch of wilted pansies. No matter how crazy the Bushies are, wilting pansies aren't an appealing alternative. I don't think we have any choice but just keep pounding away. The Democrats really have one meta-issue that they must contend with --- wilting pansy-ism. Everything else flows from that.

As Jeffrey Dubner pointed out yesterday, next week a Supreme Court justice is rumored to be resigning. And I think we know that things are going to escalate dramatically. Bush is going to nominate someone completely unacceptable and he's going to do it for a reason --- he wants the nuclear option. Rove pretty much said it last night on Scarborough. (I don't know if the "gang of 14" will go along; they may decide that James Dobson on the Supreme Court is just fine.) The Republicans are going to spend this summer throwing red meat to their base and hoping that the voices of the noise machine drown out everything else.

This is Karl's overarching theory of everything. Feed the base. Threaten and intimidate anyone who strays from the party orthodoxy. Demonize the opposition. That's pretty much it. Oh and he's also a big fan of the bandwagon effect, if you'll recall. He thinks that if he can give the appearance of winning (which he thinks that a hopped-up rightwing base does) that a fair number of people will always jump on board to be with a winner. In the case of the press, he's right.

His big problem right now is that he's starting to lose Republicans, which is why they are escalating the traitor talk. If Republicans know what's good for them they'll stop airing any misgivings about Iraq or risk being lumped in with us liberals. Rove cannot let them start to drift off.

Like many Republican strategists, Rove was convinced that in order for any president to be "great," he must have a war.(Reagan got to claim victory in the cold war which sufficed very well, thank you.) Certainly, Bush signed on to that theory:

One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.

Do you think he thought that up all by himself?

And the GWOT just isn't good enough. It got the people behind him, but he needed the pictures with the invading army racing across the desert and the codpiece on the carrier and the big speeches to the congress. So, when Rove was consulted about Iraq, I have no doubt that he saw it as the key to victory for Bush in 04, and figured that the GOP could ride both 9/11 and Iraq for years. A war that never ends is a gift that keeps on giving.

The problem is that he didn't realize that while people love a war president, they hate a president who loses a war. He failed to factor in the political price if things didn't go well --- or maybe he did and nobody listened to him, I don't know. In any case, Iraq is now Bush's albatross. It's his war and he's losing it. And the public is blaming him for it. For the first time public opinion is showing that more people believe that Bush started the war than Saddam. And he's losing. Nothing could be worse --- ask the last real Texan who sat in the White House, Lyndon Johnson.

Here's what they are afraid of. When asked about whether they would support a draft, here are a couple of people's answers:

One draft supporter said expanding the size of the armed forces might help move the Iraq campaign along faster.

"If we had more manpower in the Middle East we could get this over with," said James Puma, a retiree from Buffalo, N.Y. "I'm a Republican, I'm with the president. But things in Iraq are not going good at all."

However, Jeremy Miller, a sales manager from Denver, said the Iraq war is "a situation the president has gotten us into and should be able to get us out of" without bringing back the draft.

That's a big, big problem and they are now reduced to Cheney's "you can believe me or you can believe your lying eyes" defense while Rove claims that it would have been even worse if the liberals had had their way --- we're all Hanoi Janes, giving aid and comfort to the enemy and tying the military's hands behind their backs with condemnations of their conduct of the war.

But as Harold Meyerson pointed out the other day, there are no long haired hippies in the streets and there are no street riots and the liberal enemy within looks remarkably like plain old everyday working Americans. The practitioners of political street theatre are the ones who put tape over their mouths with the word "life" written on it. The political revolutionaries are the ones who demand that the government intervene in people's most private and complicated medical decisions. The easily demonized hippies of yesterday are a nostalgia show for kids, like the depression was to me. There's a brand new group of radicals in politics and they certainly aren't liberal. Which is why this has to be troubling as well:

According to the Pew poll, at this point more of the public believes the Republicans are too conservative on social issues (38 percent), than believe the Democrats are too liberal on these issues (35 issues). (Roughly the same pattern, incidentally, obtains in the public’s views on the parties and economic issues.)

Independents are particularly likely to believe Republicans are too conservative on social issues (38 percent), rather than that the Democrats are too liberal (29 percent). More generally, on a six point ideological scale (1=very conservative; 6=very liberal), independents place themselves (3.6) twice as far away from Republicans (2.8) as from Democrats (4.0).

Ooops. More people now think the Republicans are too conservative than think Democrats are too liberal on social issues. That's the Schiavo effect and it's yet another example of Rove making a mistake and overplaying to the base. Republicans would very much like to get people thinking of liberals as a bunch of cowardly peaceniks and conservatives as upright defenders of the nation again. One wonders if they will be able to do that if we have a huge Supreme Court battle this summer. This is a risky time for them.

But it was only a few short months ago that the administration thought they had finessed their war, through demonization of their opponent and anti-gay marriage initiatives, and got themselves re-elected. And they thought that because they had their war they had the political capital to do "great things." Bush would be America's Margaret Thatcher, with an even bigger codpiece.

But Rove was wrong. Bush had almost no political capital at all. His narrow victory, hardball tactics and "play to the base" strategy meant that he couldn't get any Democrats to support his "bold" plan to privatize social security, which was rolled out immediately after the election as his signature domestic issue. This was the conservative issue that was designed to finally secure his place in the pantheon of great presidents --- the book-end to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Tax cuts in a time of surplus, as in 2001, aren't exactly "bold.") But Rove failed to recognise that a tried and true political reality --- that you can't do "big things" without a huge majority in congress or bipartisan consensus --- is still operative. And, of course, you don't get political capital from a war that you are losing --- you lose it.

These are all political decisions I'm talking about. They are decisions for which the alleged Magus, Karl Rove, is responsible. The jury is still out, of course, and he may yet succeed. But he didn't actually get Bush elected in 2000 as we all know, despite having more money than God and the unified support of Republicans. 2002 wasn't a huge victory either. (If one can assume that tradition holds, the party that won the previous election, which in this case was the democrat Al Gore, always loses in the first mid-term because of places where he had weak coattails. Jean Carnahan would be a good example of that.) They didn't win big, even though we were just one year from 9/11 and Bush was heralded in the media as being the second coming of Alexander the Great. And in 2004, he had the massive power of a wartime incumbency and he still barely managed to pull it out.

A win is a win, so there's little point in belaboring how narrow it was except to wonder whether Karl Rove's feed the base strategy can keep on working forever in an environment where Bush is rapidly losing support everywhere else. At what point does it become a zero sum game in which he loses one voter for every loudmouthed wingnut?

I don't know. Maybe never. But what I see happening right now is a concerted effort to shore up Republicans before the bottom falls out. Democrats --- excuse me "liberals" --- are the preferred whipping boys to get the GOP base blood pumping. And it is a very thinly veiled warning to any Republican who is tempted by these numbers to not play ball. This is Bush doing what he does best --- putting his boot to the throat. Look at what they did to the hapless Bill Frist just this week:

Reversing field after a meeting with President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he will continue pushing for a floor vote on John R. Bolton for U.N. ambassador.

Frist switched his position after initially saying Tuesday that negotiations with Democrats to get a vote on Bolton had been exhausted.

Talking to reporters in the White House driveway after he joined other GOP lawmakers for a luncheon with Bush, Frist said: "The president made it very clear that he expects an up or down vote."

Just over an hour earlier, Frist said he wouldn't schedule another vote on Bolton's nomination and said that Bush must decide the next move.

What an embarrassment. Bush "made it very clear" did he? Did he tell the majority leader of the senate to go to the naughty room? This was a very public rebuke to any Republicans who are thinking about defying Bush's agenda.

That's your genius Rove's plan. Intimidate all opposition. Feed the base. Play chicken. It ain't Machiavelli. It ain't even Dick Morris.

It's time for the Democrats to stop thinking so much about what Karl Rove is doing.He is not god. He does not have supernatural powers to control events. And he's not hard to figure out. The only thing he ever does is rile up neanderthals by making Democrats look like wimps. Look at the campaigns he's run. (It is the opposite with a woman candidate --- he makes them look like man-hating harpies.) The whole schtick comes down to exploiting masculine and feminine archetypes. And he didn't invent this. This has been the main political staple of the modern Republican party. He just does it with more relish and less decency than others.

We need to stop worrying about Karl and play our own game. And right now that's keeping the heat on Iraq, stifling any SS plan (it's important that Bush gets NOTHING) and continuing to fight back with fury and authority when we are unfairly attacked. The only way Rove's plans ever work is if the opposition rolls up. Let's not do that.

Update:And here's the in-depth analysis we can expect the gasbags to set forth this week-end, via John Moltz:

Rove’s comments — and the response from the political opposition — mirrored earlier flaps over Democratic chairman Howard Dean’s criticism of Republicans, a House Republican’s statement that Democrats demonize Christians and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin’s comparison of the Guantanamo prison to Nazi camps and Soviet gulags.

I can hardly wait to hear the Gods of Mt Olympus, Gwen and David and Monsignor Tim, have a good chuckle over all this silly partisanship. But, we should not care what they think, ever.

Update II:

Did little Rickey have permission to stray off the reservation because his poll numbers are as bad as Bush's? Or will he be sent to the naughty room too?