So We'll Go No More A Rove-ing
September 1, 2004
By The Plaid Adder
Republicans were almost too much for me this week. First, there
was that uncharacteristic moment of candor and perception from George
W. Bush, who admitted on the Today Show that the war on terror could
not be won. Then, as he and his advisors suddenly began to realize
that the country might be a tad upset at him for having started
a war he didn't think we could actually win, he speedily "reversed
himself," as Reuters put it - or as some others might put it, "flip-flopped"
- to insist that "make no mistake about it, we are winning and we
He claims that people just didn't fully understand exactly what
he meant when he said that we couldn't win the war on terror - that
this is simply a "different type of war." What's that, George? Are
you asking us to grasp nuances? Are you trying to get us
to be sensitive to fine shades of meaning? Sorry, can't do
it, I gouged out those parts of my brain with a melon scoop because
you told me they were un-American. So what's this about your getting
us into a fight we're doomed to lose?
Then there's the sad, sad spectacle of the Log Cabin Republicans.
If I had a dime for every time someone had asked me, "There are
gay Republicans? Really? For God's sake, why?" I'd have... well,
I'd have almost as much as Halliburton's going to be paying in taxes
Well, yes, folks, there are gay Republicans, and the answer to
your question is complicated but the short version is this. There
are a lot of rich white men out there who don't like paying taxes
and don't see why they should have to give a damn about poverty,
reproductive freedom, civil liberties, peace, justice, or social
security just because they happen to like having sex with other
men. And in a perfect world, that position might make some sense;
but unfortunately for us all, this country is locked into two-party
politics, and the same party that protects the economic privileges
that these people believe are their due is also in thrall to a gang
of crazed religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with homosexuality
and who will stop at nothing until they have both the Log Cabin
Republicans and progressive wackos like yours truly back in closeted
misery where we belong.
So until the Republican Party splits down the middle into the
Duty Free Party and the Sodom And Gomorrah Party, these people are
faced with that old highwayman's challenge: your money or your life.
It's a hard choice for them to make, poor bastards, and it's as
sad as it is funny to see Patrick Guerrerro frothing on the LCR
website about how "The Republican Party Platform is an outrageous
insult to all of us and our families." Really? Wow, thanks for the
heads-up, Pat. Has anyone told Andrew Sullivan?
No, I guess you were too busy working on that advocacy ad you were
planning to air during the Republican convention... which CNN has
just decided they're not going to run. Apparently, images of the
kind of bullshit that gay people have to put up with in this country
disturbing for the delicate constitutions of CNN's viewers.
Jeez, Pat, do you think it really makes sense to give all that time
and money to the Republican Party when both they and their media
lapdogs are just going to treat you like... well... like a Democrat?
So I was contemplating these two possible column topics and hesitating,
as we say in the Plaidder household, like an ass who knows not which
bag of hay to eat, when I stumbled across a story about a Republican
delegate from Virginia who was roaming the convention hall floor
Monday night handing out band-aids with purple hearts on them. Because,
as we all know now from the Swiftboat Vets for Truth campaign, whenever
you get a paper cut, the military gives you a Purple Heart. And,
as it slowly sunk in that in fact this was a real story and not
something that was made up by a ham-handed satirist with no sense
of proportion or subtlety, I felt the spirit moving within me. And
then I thought, to paraphrase our great leader George W. Bush, "Fuck
Rove. I'm taking him out."
I can't take Karl Rove out all by myself, of course. But fortunately
I don't have to. He's in the process of self-destructing more spectacularly
than I ever could have dreamed he would, and eventually he's going
to bring his friends to rack and ruin with him. The Swift Boat smear
campaign is just the latest piece of evidence that goes to prove
something I've been saying for a long time now: Karl Rove's fifteen
minutes are up. He has pushed the politics of despicability as far
as they can go, and I sure hope he and his cronies are braced for
the backlash, because it's gonna be a doozy.
Since I believe in giving the devil his due, let me say right
away that within certain narrowly defined areas of expertise, Rove
is - or at least, has been - a genius. Having liberated himself
from scruples and thrown off the shackles of conscience and decency,
Rove has for the past several years made himself a very effective
kingmaker simply by approaching human nature the way a hacker approaches
Windows XP - by searching for weaknesses and then writing programs
that exploit them in order to infect and destroy the rest of the
Probably the biggest bug Rove's tactics have targeted is laziness
- on the part of the American voters, but also on the part of the
American media. He has shrewdly figured out that in an environment
where cable news channels are expected to produce 24-hour 7-day-a-week
coverage of, well, of something, there are plenty of producers
out there who are more than happy to pick up a story that has already
been packaged for them and pad it out into six hours of talking-head
chatter whether or not it has any merit. And he has also figured
out that most people would rather look at pictures than read. If
there's one hallmark of Rovian politics, it's the exaltation of
the visual image as not just everything, but the only thing.
All of his machinations are based on the assumption that image dominates
perception and perception determines reality.
The basic premise on which all of his tactics are founded is that
what your candidate has actually done should have no bearing whatsoever
on whether he will be returned to office. All that matters is how
you can make your candidate look. With enough money for the special
effects, in the world according to Rove, it should be theoretically
possible to make a ham sandwich the President of the United States.
And indeed, some would argue that that's what happened in 2000.
Well, barring massive election fraud, the ham sandwich is not getting
another term. Rove's viruses are all still out there merrily exploiting
human weaknesses - fear, hatred, greed, ignorance - but they're
not helping his candidate any more. Rove's playbook basically has
two pages in it. Page One: Manipulate the images of your guy so
that he looks like General Patton, Superman, Santa Claus, and Jesus
Christ all rolled into one. Page Two: Attack the other guy.
That's it. That's the whole bag of tricks.
Both strategies have gotten Rove and his crowd this far; but both
strategies are foundering now, for one simple reason. Rovian media
tactics only work on what you might call a "naive" reader - someone
who doesn't realize that these images are not a transparent representation
of reality. Four years ago, they had a lot of naive readers to work
on. Bush's presidency has wised an awful lot of people up. It's
2004, and people in this country have experienced Bush's policies
for long enough to be aware of the ironic and often tragic distance
between the images projected by Rove's magic lantern and the reality
that we are all currently mired in. Once people start reading those
images ironically, Rove's Page One doesn't work worth a damn.
For instance, Bush's landing in the flight suit on the aircraft
carrier, which Rove had intended to be campaign footage for 2004,
is forever poisoned by that "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner, which
as everyone knows turned out to be a bitter joke. A Bush campaign
commercial that included footage of the body of a fallen fireman
being carried out of Ground Zero draped in a flag caused a furor
when it first aired because it was already clear by then that Bush
had exploited September 11 in order to trump up his bogus war, and
therefore to see him trying to climb back to re-election on the
bodies of the dead was just too much for people. A hagiographic
made-for-TV propaganda film about George W's supposed heroic and
steadfast exploits on 9/11/01 has sunk below the surface of the
cultural unconscious, while the image of a paralyzed, hollow-eyed
Bush passively listening to a recitation of My Pet Goat while
the towers collapse has been branded by Fahrenheit 911 on the American
The Abu Ghraib scandal has provided Bush's opposition with a whole
range of viscerally disturbing visual images that do not require
any nuance receptors or sensitivity to understand. Rove might have
tried to counter this by producing some equally powerful positive
images of success in Iraq. For instance, the Bush campaign could
really have used some footage of the public celebrations marking
the moment at which we formally liberated Iraq: the transfer of
sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi
interim government. Unfortunately, there were no public celebrations.
The security situation was so bad that the transfer had to be done
two days ahead of schedule in a heavily guarded private ceremony
that took about 15 minutes. When we closed on our house the deal
was attended by more pomp and circumstance than the American PR
machine could muster for the inauguration of this supposedly independent
government. Reality has now gotten so bad - especially in
Iraq - that Rove can't even manufacture his images any more.
All right, then, on to Page Two: Attack the other guy. And we've
seen the newest variation on this strategy: the Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth campaign. The fact that none of the allegations can be
substantiated is, according to the Rovian Way, not the point: you
just keep throwing the shit until it sticks. The problem for them
that this particular load of horseshit splattered not just Kerry
but every other American veteran who has ever been wounded in combat;
and we're now seeing the collateral damage. Rove's machinations
have created a political climate where it is acceptable and even
encouraged - at least within the ranks of the Republican Party -
for people who have never served and will never serve in the U.S.
military go around cheapening and belittling the sacrifices made
by people who have.
Now, the rest of us, those of us who are humans first and ideologues
second, can tell that this is appalling. After all, I hate war,
but I don't hate soldiers; and I would never have the gall to walk
up to someone who got a Purple Heart and say, "Big deal, I bled
more than that the last time I grated a block of cheddar." But that's
what everyone wearing those purple heart band-aids on the convention
floor was saying to every veteran who was watching.
Have they sent Jessica Lynch her band-aid yet? Or what the hell,
why not just take a big box of those band-aids down to Walter Reed
and hand them out to the people who are there recovering from amputations,
brain trauma, and shrapnel wounds? They're all going to have Purple
Hearts eventually, and I think there's no better way for the Republican
Party to show just how much they really support our troops.
I just can't believe that people in this country are so depraved
that they are going to accept this as politics as usual. And indeed,
you wonder why Rove would have made this blunder in the first place;
but the answer is pretty simple. He no longer has that little voice
in his head that says, "You Are Now Leaving The Realm Of Human Decency."
He's just doing what's worked for him before; and since desperate
times call for desperate measures, he's doing it harder and meaner
and more ruthlessly than ever. Well, I doubt we'll ever be able
to say that Rove has truly hit bottom; but I think the American
people are slowly drawing back from the edge of the abyss. There
are limits to everything, even human weakness.
What's more, Rove knows it. You can see them flailing around now,
trying to come up with some kind of seat of the pants strategy that
will allow them to reconcile the enormous conflict between their
projected Bush presidency and the reality everyone knows and hates.
Their new "catastrophic success" line is just the latest, best,
funniest and yet most tragic example. They can't admit that the
war in Iraq is a catastrophe, but they know nobody would believe
them if they said it was a success. So they try to come up with
something that will combine both the world as it is and the world
as they wish it to be; and voila, the Bush campaign gives birth
to the newest bouncing baby oxymoron.
But don't worry. They'll never come up with a strategy that works;
they'll just keep using the ones that are broken. That's what they've
done for the past four years, anyway. As others have pointed out,
the Bush administration has long been ignoring what they call the
First Rule of Holes, which is that if you're in a hole, preparatory
to anything else, you stop digging. Rove will go on digging, and
digging, and digging, no matter how deep the hole gets, because
it's all he knows how to do. Eventually, a disgusted American public
is going to shovel the dirt in on top of him and leave him there.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally
demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found
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