January 24, 2006

Having nothing to hide is the strongest position of all...

I'm going to indulge myself in a Fisking of today's piece by EJ Dionne, in the Washington Post. Dionne writes:

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.
I'm going to spoil the suspense and tell you that poor Mr Dionne will not, in this essay, grasp that having nothing to hide is the strongest position of all. One pities his bewilderment.
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.
"Beguiling and open," yet "divisive and ideological." Will our intrepid columnist reach enlightenment through this strange koan?

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.

Thus Rove's speech to the Republican National Committee last Friday, which conveniently said nothing about that pesky leak investigation.The investigation of the New York Times? 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."

"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.

Here's why the same approach keeps working. Aside from its being obviously true?

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.
Well dog my cats. The man just wrote that to be a Democrat is to be WEAK. And if you are acting strong you have "broken with the party." Amazing.

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), a patients' bill of rights, the economy and education. Those issues sure worked wonders, didn't they?
It doesn't even occur to him that Dems were wrong on BOTH the war issues and domestic issues.

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."
Just saying, "Of course" gives the whole game away.

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.
A majority values "winning." You know, that's what you're supposed to do in wars.

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?
Actually Bush and the Republicans reject it too. The Administration is just doing what we've always done in war time (see previous post). So, sorry, no issue.

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.
Notice there's no suggestion that Democrats have or can or should eschew corruption. It's just an "issue."

And, yes, the core questions must be asked: Are we really safer now than we were five years ago? Looks like it. Has the Iraq war, as organized and prosecuted by the administration, made us stronger or weaker? Did Osama bin Laden just mention "truce?" Do we feel more secure knowing the heck of a job our government did during Hurricane Katrina? The party of Nagin and Blanco sees an issue? 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? No, nor under two-party government.

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.They have no good options.

What blows me away about this and most Democrat productions is that, even considering that it's about tactics, it is utterly AMORAL. There is not the least mention of doing what is right or good for the country. And it is totally without any plans or dreams or hopes for building a better world. Contrast it with a bit of Mr Rove's speech...

...In late January 2001, America's new President said, "We are here to make progress, we are not here to mark time." George W. Bush has been true to his word. He is one of history's Consequential Presidents. He has fundamentally recast America's national security strategy. And he has put forward a bold domestic agenda.

In foreign policy President Bush has earned the title as one of history's Great Liberators and in domestic policy he will be seen as one of its Great Reformers. Much has been achieved and much more remains to be done.

Whether that vital work gets done depends in large measure on all of you. Our ideas will prevail only if you continue to strengthen our grassroots efforts that can make all the difference between victory and defeat...[link]
Posted by John Weidner at January 24, 2006 7:34 PM
Weblog by John Weidner