Ed Driscoll

The Bully Pulpit Boxes 'Em In Again

As this link-filled round-up from Glenn Reynolds indicates, Karl Rove has gotten the left into a fit over his remarks on Wednesday at a Manhattan fundraiser for the Conservative Party of New York State.

The irony is that this is a strategy the White House has done again and again, arguably since the Adam Clymer maybe it was/maybe it wasn’t a gaffe incident during the 2000 campaign.

Perhaps the most impressive example was last August, arguably the pivotal month in the 2004 president race. (click through my archives that month: August bisected both parties’ conventions similar to that river that snaked through the Vietnam war like a main circuit cable plugged straight into Col. Kurtz. Whoops–sorry to go all Apocalypse Now on you–and speaking of which, it was also the month when the Swift Boat Vets and Kerry’s Christmas in Cambodia debuted as national issues.) Back then, I titled a post, “The Bully Pulpit Boxes Kerry“:

President Bush has gotten Senator Kerry to publicly state that he’d also have gone into Iraq, even knowing, as do today, that their capacity to produce WMDs was much more limited than we know now.

One of the commenters on the Brothers Judd Blog makes a great point: Kerry is now in a box. This is one opinion that he can’t flip-flop on, because if he does, President Bush can call him on it, via the Bully Pulpit–and the press, which has to cover the President of the United States, has to report it, no matter how much they loathe the man. And as Jim Geraghty wrote, “Somewhere, some Republican operative is emailing that statement to every anti-war voter he can find. Or perhaps the Nader campaign is.”

The chief reason that so many on the left would vote for Kerry–that he would have avoided Iraq, is now off the table.

The Bully Pulpit–or at least an adjunct to it, since Rove gets almost as much exposure from an obsessed press as the President does–has boxed the left in again.

One element that makes this strategy work is the fact that neither Rove nor President Bush are extemporaneous, free-flowing speakers–and they know that everything they say will likely be used against them by a hostile press that lives for gaffes by conservatives. I wish I could find the article where President Bush and Senator Kerry’s speaking styles were compared, I think during the presidential debates. Kerry’s years of rambling extemporaneously in the Senate caused him gaffes throughout the campaign, the most deadly of which was the “I actually voted for the $87 million before I voted against it” line, which tarred him, very early in the election cycle as a flip-flopper in the public’s eye when pointed out repeatedly by the president and his aides. As with Rove this week, the press may hate the president and his staff, but they have to report them and quote their speeches.

Similarly, as Glenn noted, the Democrats’ demands for Karl Rove’s resignation “just provide an excuse for Republicans to repeat every single stupid or unpatriotic thing that every Democratic politician ever said. And there are a lot of those”, as the examples in his links illustrate.

And the next time someone on the left does another Durbin–and they will–the White House or any one of a zillion conservative bloggers and talk radio commentators can say simply remind them of how spot-on Rove was.

What’s really curious is the escape valve that he gave them, when said:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers

How hard would it have been for Dean or Hillary or Kerry to have said to the press, “Hey, Karl was talking about liberals. Both parties have their extremists both in office and on the Internet and on talk radio. But we Democrats in the vital center have been as patriotic as we possibly could be on this vital issue, while occasionally disagreeing with specific elements of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Instead, in their rush to tar Rove, Democrats self-identified as liberals for perhaps the first time since before Michael Dukakis ran for the White House. As Rich Lowry noted last July, Democrats have shunned the L-word for decades:

It must be particularly galling to committed liberals that some time in the past 30 years the natural word to describe them — “liberal” — became a political embarrassment, so much so that Republicans gleefully hurl it as an epithet, Democrats avoid it if they can, and it is sometimes known only as “the L-word.” Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham shed light on this phenomenon a few Sundays ago when he challenged “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos to call him a conservative, begged to be called a conservative, and noted the Democratic ticket would never be so happy to be called liberal.

In a mirror image of Graham’s appearance, great liberal hope Barack Obama, the young black Senate candidate from Illinois, refused to say he was a liberal on a recent Sunday show. When liberal dinosaur Ted Kennedy was recently asked if John Kerry — who has consciously modeled his liberalism on the Kennedy family’s — is a liberal, he said he doesn’t find labels useful. This will be news to all the “reactionary right-wingers” denounced by Kennedy throughout the years.

As GayPatriot wrote about Rove’s comments:

They were in my view is a brilliant chess-move by Karl Rove to refocus the country on the matters of national security and the War on Terror (Worldwide Theatres). There is no doubt in my mind that Republicans do see this as a war, while on the whole, Democrats/Liberals see this as a “police action”….in the words of John Kerry.

Karl Rove was spot on… and the Dems fell for the bait: Hook, Line & Sinker…

Like I said, it wasn’t the first time.

Update: Related thoughts on the L-Word from Jonathan Last:

Here’s where the Rove trap is sprung: Democrats as a whole, did not behave like the far-left establishment in the aftermath of September 11. Democrats acted like pretty much everyone else in America.

It was the far left–the group which has hijacked American liberalism–that reacted with such sourness. But in the intervening years, the far left has somehow convinced us that they and the Democratic party are one in the same–all numerical and electoral evidence to the contrary.

To be sure, Republicans have tried to help sell this notion, but now it seems that the Democratic party itself confused as to who it really is. Rove has just goaded them into self-identifying with a bunch of nuts who really don’t represent the party’s mainstream.

I mean, do Democrats want to keep losing elections?

Another Update: Mark Steyn compares the reaction to Governor Schwarzenegger’s “Girlie Men” speech, and reprints his essay from last summer about that speech’s ensuing controversy.

One more: Roger L. Simon writes about “how deeply reactionary the Democratic Party has become”:

Liberalism as we knew it no longer exists. What we have now are holographs of liberalism in the form of spectres like Chris Dodd and Joseph Biden. Nothing is really there.

Sadly, I agree.