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REPORTING FROM SEPTEMBER 10! E.J. shows us—all too well—why Rove’s approach just keeps working: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2006

THE GREAT PRETENDER, CONTINUED: What’s Frank Bruni doing today? Just read his new piece, “My Week as a Waiter,” in this morning’s New York Times! Ironic, ain’t it? Today, he poses as a waiter. During Campaign 2000, he posed as a political writer—and endlessly kissed the keister of Bush for the great paper of record.

We chronicled Bruni’s ludicrous work during and after that fateful campaign (links below). But it was very lonely duty; polite, scrubbed fellows at our “liberal” journals kept their mouths shut about his weird conduct. Meanwhile, by complete coincidence, some of them jumped to excellent jobs at the big orgs they refused to critique. Milbank and Lane moved on to the Post. Mnookin ran straight off to Newsweek.

Today, Jane Hamsher is leading the liberal brigade—because these journals have passed on such duty. Indeed: To our ear, career liberal writers are still unable to describe the press as it actually is—as it has strangely (but plainly) been over a long stretch of years. Hamsher is a fabulous writer, but we’d guess that a movement led by ol’ “Snarky Snatch” will be easy to marginalize. (Puzzled by our language? Click here.) Why is Hamsher now leading our Pitchfork Brigades? Because liberal journals can’t bring themselves to challenge or examine the puzzling world which gave rise to Frank Bruni’s “reporting.”

Today, he poses as a waiter. Then, he posed as a campaign reporter—and his editors pretended they didn’t see how odd his reportage really was. And uh-oh! Liberal journals still seem to flee from such topics—so the job has been outsourced to Hamsher.

REPORTING FROM SEPTEMBER 10: We rarely disagree with anything E. J. Dionne says (we sometimes think he doesn’t say quite enough). But we do disagree with his Tuesday column—a column which has been widely praised around the liberal web.

Dionne discusses Karl Rove’s recent speech, which assailed Dems as “wrong” on security issues. As Dionne notes, Rove expressed a political theme which has worked for Bush since September 11: If you don't want to get blown up, vote Republican. For the record, that’s E.J.’s capable paraphrase. But he also supplied some real quotes:

DIONNE (1/24/06): 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.”

Dionne goes on to explain “why [this] same approach keeps working” for Bush. But uh-oh! He doesn’t just explain why it works. In our view, he helps to show why this approach keeps on working. In our view, he helps to show why many voters end up thinking that Rove is right.

Why might average voters think that Dems are living pre-9/11? Here is E. J.’s prescription for Dems—a prescription which would surely broadcast that world-view to many voters:

DIONNE: 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?
Dems mustn’t “evade the security debate,” Dionne says. Instead, they must challenge the way Bush conducts it. But what does he say as soon as he joins it? The first thing he suggests talking about is the legal matter of Bush’s wiretaps. This is like wearing a sign on your chest. That sign would say: “Pre-9/11.”

Today, we won’t even bother explaining why that stance is such bad politics. The problem with it is easy to see—unless you’re part of the Pitchfork Brigades—and a long list of Republican strategists have been going on TV and explaining it.(We’ll let Ed Rogers do so below.) As E. J. notes at the top of his column, “there is a beguiling openness” to the conduct of Rove and many Republican strategists. They simply tell Dems why it is that they’re losing. But so what? Democrats reliably persist in their losing ways.

Last night, on Hardball, it was Rogers—but every night, on every channel, someone tells Democrats how to wise up. As E. J. says, there is “a beguiling openness” to the advice these people are willing to broadcast. But Rove and them can give this advice because they know Dems are too dumb to take it. They know that modern Dems can’t see why E. J.’s approach is such a big loser. Result? Bush could fall to 10 percent in the polls—and, when push finally came to shove, this sales pitch would continue to work.

Why does that same approach keep working for Bush? Simple! Rove says that Dems are pre-9/11—and Dems can’t wait to rush out and prove it! E. J. said that he would explain. In our view, it’s more like he modeled.

MR. ROGERS HAS ALWAYS MADE SENSE: It’s much as E. J. says about Rove. In today’s world, Republican are willing to go on TV and explain the politics of these situations. Why do they do it? Because they know that Dems will just keep f*cking up even after they’re told how the politics works! Here was Rogers on last night’s Hardball. We hate to tell you, but his statements do make very good sense:

ROGERS (1/24/06): The president hopes that the State of the Union address is going to talk about peace and prosperity and I hope he’s going to talk about the wiretap issue. Maybe I’m missing something, but I love this issue for us [Republicans], in a partisan context.

In Washington, we always say a bumper sticker beats an essay.
Right now the Republicans have a bumper sticker. The Democrats have a convoluted essay, and the degree to which the election is going to be about who is tougher on terror and who is not, that’s a clear Republican advantage.

This notion that we’re going to say “Peace and prosperity, we’re tough on terror” and they’re going to say “Wait a minute, there was a scandal 10 or 11 months ago that we’re partially implicated in as well” is ridiculous.

Moments later, Rogers explained a bit more. Remember, he’s talking about the politics, not the ultimate merits:
ROGERS: The Republicans have an aggressive, forthright tack on national security and the war on terror. The Democrats are wanting our war on terror to be more lawyer-driven. The Republicans are wanting it to be more special forces-driven. I’ll take that argument in a political context any day.

The Democrats are reverting to form, since the end of the Cold War, we have sort of—national security issues diminished somewhat and I think it’s partially what elected Bill Clinton. Now we have a 21st century national security issue where again the Democrats are reverting to form as being more passive, more docile, more weak on national security issue. I like this NSA issue.

Lawyers versus special forces. “I’ll take that any day,” Rogers said, making the world’s most obvious judgment. Meanwhile, if you want to see chunks of that “convoluted essay,” just check out Dem strategist Steve McMahon, who appeared with Rogers last night.

It isn’t that Democrats can’t, or shouldn’t, challenge and oppose the NSA wiretaps. This may be a great approach, on the politics and on the merits—especially if we ever find out what actually happened. It’s just that Dems can’t afford to make this the first, main or only thing they discuss. Unless, of course, they want to see Rove hang that “September 10" sign on their necks. Why does that same approach keep working? Because, unless you’re a partisan Dem, it may seem that Rove’s statement is accurate.

TOMORROW: Responding to readers’ furious e-mails, we give you the Wal-mart analogy about the NSA wiretaps.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Bruni pandered to Bush throughout—except, of course, during the (roughly) ten weeks when Saint McCain had a chance to win. Then, he clownishly spun against Bush. He was perhaps the most transparent panderer in all of Campaign 2000.

For a review of Bruni’s early clowning, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/00. For a striking disclosure from his campaign book, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02, with links to earlier posts. Also, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/02, to compare one aspect of Bruni’s work with that of Katharine “Kit” Seelye.

We never wrote up another surprising revelation from Bruni’s book. In it, he described Bush’s remarkable clowning at a memorial service in September 1999. During the somber service for the victims of a mass shooting in Texas, Bush kept turning around, making silly faces for the assembled campaign reporters. In his book, Bruni describes how astounding it was. But it never astounded any New York Times readers! The great paper never reported it.

What the heck—we’ll post Bruni’s full account tomorrow. To Bruni, this incident was so strange that he used it to open his book. And it occurred just weeks after Bush mocked Karla Faye Tucker, an executed prisoner, in an interview with Tucker Carlson. Bush had received a fair amount of heat for this weird, inappropriate conduct.

Why didn’t the Times report this second bit of bizarre public conduct? Conduct so odd that it opened Bruni’s book? If you have an advanced sensibility, you may even find yourself wondering why those fiery liberal journals never asked.

ANOTHER GRATEFUL READER RESTORED: Another reader effusively thanks us for helping him get his dignity back:

E-MAIL: Now I don't feel so stupid. I think I only got to page 20 of [Stephen] Hawking’s book and have felt like an ignoramus ever since.
New rule: The less you read when you cracked this book, the smarter you actually were!