Monday, July 18, 2005

The gift that keeps on giving
I'm a charter member of the camp that wants to make a major national issue out the corruption and hubris and power grabbing nature of the current Republican Party. Many Democrats don't want to pursue that line of debate claiming to prefer Positive themes like "we have values, too" and We like defense, too" and "if we become more like you, will you like us then?" I say, poop on that, let's go for their throats. That's why I'm enjoying the whole Karl Rove / Plame leak business.

The biggest danger of making scandal a strategic theme is that it can become distracting. It's easy to get tied up in the excitement of the chase and miss the big picture, which is that the Republican Party has changed and is now bad for America. The goal of the corruption theme should not be to defeat Tom DeLay or to get Karl Rove fired; those should be nothing more than mileposts on the way to achieving the real goal, which is to create a new public perception of the nature of the GOP.

Back in the early ninties when New Gingrich was the strategic master of the Republican Party, he famously instructed House Republicans to never say the name Clinton with out positioning the word "crime" or "criminal" in the same sentence. In this way the two nouns would become Our strategy should be to permanently linked in the public subconsciousness. At that time this was a proven strategy that had been used throughout the Reagan years to link "liberal" to "media," "liberal" to "Democrat," and to make "liberal" a dirty word.

Democrats need to adopt the same strategy to rebrand the Republican Party with "corrupt," "arrogant," and "power hungry." We don't want Tom DeLay, Duke Cunninham, or Karl Rove to go away too soon. We want them to stay and become symbols for the party. We want every Republican in the country to be requred to run on the record of DeLay's fund-raising ethics, Cunninham's home sale, The Ohio coingate scandal, and Rove's endangering national security.

This kind of strategy could be called a wedge strategy. There are two types of wedge strategy. The first, also called the slippery slope, is the type being pursued by creationists to push religion into public education. By getting a little religion into the science curriculum through Intelligent Design, they can create a precedent for bringing more religion into other subjects, eventually replacing the whole reason-based structure of enlightenment learning with a faith-based medieval structure of knowledge.

The other wedge strategy, and the one relevant to this discussion, is the reason the Republicans push values issues so hard in red states. The idea of this wedge is to force independents and moderates to take sides with the radicals. The presence of referenda on ballots concerning issues that don't really affect most people--issues like gay marriage--only serve to inflame passions and make people take sides. If people will take the radicals' side on such issues, they can usually be persuaded to vote for the radicals' preferred candidates as well. It is actually to their advantage the values referenda are illegal or unconstitutional. If the courts throw out the "will of the people" it frustrates and mobilizes the voters and allows the radicals to reuse the same issues year after year.

A wedge strategy of rebranding the Republican party as the party of corrupt bullies should force voters (and moderate candidates) to come down against corruption and arrogance. In the short term, such a strategy should allow Democrats to gain seats in congress and perhaps gain control of one house or the other. I think that would be a good thing. In the longer term, it should empower the moderate wing of the Republican Party to retake control of the party. In some ways, I think that's even more important.

Two years ago, when the White House dirty tricks squad went after Wilson and Plame, most people didn't get the seriousness of the issue and it vanished beneath a tide of Iraq current events. As dirty tricks go, it was something of a flop. However, because it involved a crime against national security, it didn't go away. As the story has been shaping up, it might be the perfect scandal to push the rebranding strategy. Personally, I'm surprised, I really expected DeLay and the congressional Republicans to become the poster children for the arrogance of power.

Like the best scandals, this one is expanding its scope at a dramatic rate. The original question of "who leaked?" seemed to have been answered last week with Karl Rove. Inquiring minds recall that Novak originally claimed to have received the information of Plame's identity from two White House sources. So who was the other? This weekend, Matt Cooper of Time revealed that he got the story from Rove, and Cheney's chief-of-staff Scooter Libby.

Bush and Cheney's top advisors! What could be better than that? Well, the White House, in the person of Scottie McClellen has specifically denied that Rove or Libby were the leakers. Their latest position is "no comment."

The White House is on record with an out and out lie. What could be better than that? One question that has bothered me is how Rove knew Plame's identity. Nothing in his job would have automatically given him access to that information. There must be an ur-leaker who provider the information to Rove and Libby. One tantalizing possibility, though I'm not aware of any specific evidence to support it, is John Bolton. When Plame worked on counter-proliferation at the CIA, Bolton was the chief officer for counter-proliferation at the State Department. Bolton very well could have known her identity and Bolton is well known to be ethically challenged.

Rove, Libby, and Bolton would be hitting the Trifecta (to use Bush’s phrase). But better than that, it looks to be a continuing scandal that all Republicans will have to weigh in on sooner or later. Democrats should not let this pass; they need to play hard with this one and push it for all it’s worth.

No comments: