Democratic Underground

So We'll Go No More A Rove-ing

September 1, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

The 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 will win."

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 this year.

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 are too 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 system.

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 retina.

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 at the Adder's Lair.

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