January 24, 2006
Rove's Early Warning
J. Dionne Jr.
WASHINGTON -- Perhaps it's an aspect of compassionate conservatism.
Or maybe it's just a taunt and a dare.
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.
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.
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.
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.''
Bush and the Republican Party do,'' Rove informed us. ``Unfortunately,
the same cannot be said for many Democrats.''
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.''
those Dems aren't unpatriotic, just security idiots.
the same approach keeps working.
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.
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), 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-9/11 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
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 9/11
line. Does having a ``post-9/11 worldview'' mean allowing President
Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants to,
without having to answer to the courts, to 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?
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.
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? 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
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
2006, Washington Post Writers Group