Wednesday :: Apr 9, 2003

How Does Iraq and The Rove Game Plan Shuffle the Democratic Pack?


by Steve

The recent hailstorm of righteous indignation whipped up by GOP chickenhawks over John Kerry’s remarks last week that the US needed a regime change in order to regain its credibility with the world points out two things. One, Kerry came away from the trashing just fine, by using the attacks as a badge of honor and throwing the smears directly back at the combat-dodging charlatans who attacked him (Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Rush Limbaugh). Second, we got to see a page from the GOP’s 2004 playbook, where Karl Rove will adhere to his modus operandi and trash the courage and patriotism of any challenger who calls into question the same qualities in Mr. Bush, who deserted his National Guard post for 17 months while dodging combat duty.

On the first point, Kerry appeared to sucker the GOP into overreacting, which they obligingly did. The GOP’s lack of credibility in attacking others’ patriotism in wartime is well known and chronicled, if not well reported by the Bush-fearing media. The Chickenhawk Database, put out by the folks at the New Hampshire Gazette, is a great sourcebook. Thankfully, our friends across the pond aren’t shy about pointing out the hypocrisy of such cowards smearing the patriotism of those who actually served.

On the second point, we know going into 2004 that Rove will run on national security and patriotism; any GOP arguments on the economy will be based on blaming Clinton for the mess, or on the GOP-dominated Congress not passing a big enough tax cut. Even though a credible counter argument can be made on both points, it will be up to our nominee to effectively attack the White House on the economy and Bush’s role and responsibility for it. It is on the Rovian sledgehammer issues of national security and patriotism that the Democrats must be smart in picking their standard-bearer, knowing in advance that this will be all Rove will have in his quiver.

As I said, Kerry seemed to almost relish the opportunity to blast back at the smears from the GOP. He at least has going for him the fact that he served with distinction in Vietnam and the contrast between him and Bush could be lethal in a one-on-one debate if Bush ever dared to raise the patriotism issue. However, Rove’s MO is to have surrogates do the smearing (see McCain and South Carolina) rather than the candidate, so Kerry’s chances to tag Bush to his face may be limited. But Kerry, given his waffles on issues as John Nichols of the Nation notes, may not be the only candidate who can effectively handle the issues of national security and patriotism.

Others, such as Bob Graham of Florida, who has forgotten more about national security in his time on the Senate Intelligence Committee than Bush has probably ever learned, would be a formidable opponent in that there is virtually nothing that Bush could claim an edge on that Graham wouldn’t already know about himself in the area of national security, 9/11, and foreign policy. And just having Graham on the ticket screws up Rove’s electoral assumptions because Florida would be up for grabs, no matter what scam Jeb cooks up this time.

And as E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post noted yesterday, John Edwards can trumpet his support for the Iraqi invasion in this area, as can Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt. As for Howard Dean, he is appealing to the vast anti-war base of the party in an effort to grab the nomination, and his ability to effectively deal with the Rovian smears of a general election campaign would remain to be seen.

Besides the known commodities above, there is retired General Wesley Clark, who has had a good run on CNN as their primary on-camera military consultant during the war. Clark has come across as a moderate presence, who is already courting help from the Clinton crowd and talking about fundraising behind the scenes. He obviously would be a credible presence against either Bush or Cheney, both of whom dodged combat.

My own thoughts on the field are tempered by the Rove game plan already in play. Putting aside my misgivings about some of them, it is clear that Howard Dean would have an easier time getting the nomination than being elected. The relatively quick victory in Iraq and resulting victory dance underway by the White House will make it all the harder for a staunchly anti-war candidate to gain traction against Bush, as his approval ratings now show. However, if the occupation goes badly or if Bush cheapens the sacrifice made by our troops and the carnage inflicted upon the Iraqi populace by confirming that it was all about oil, Israel, and spreading Christianity in the Islamic world, then Dean is definitely viable in the general election.

Those of you who read my screeds on Kos know what I think about Gephardt, which is admittedly overly-colored by his record as Minority Leader and his knee-capping vote with Bush last year on Iraq. He doesn’t bring anything impressive to the mix on national security or patriotism.

Edwards has the Iraq vote on his side in a battle with Bush, but despite his impressive first-quarter fundraising totals, he is still a relative lightweight on national security and foreign policy, due to his limited time in the Senate.

Kerry’s advantages and limitations are known, and he has shown an eagerness to respond to what Rove will serve up. Again, Bush cannot tag him on either issue, and Rove would have to resort to the Dukakis annihilation strategy created by Lee Atwater.

Lastly, we have Lieberman, a man who I have also trashed over at Kos. I also concede a couple of significant points about Lieberman that cannot be overlooked in this Likud-dominated, post-war environment that Rove has created for 2004. First, Lieberman oozes trust to many people. Second, his presence seriously undercuts all the work Rove has done to court Jewish voters next year. Third, Lieberman has been a hawk on foreign policy and Iraq. And fourth, with his faith on his sleeve, Lieberman amongst all the Democrats could most effectively challenge Bush’s attempts to inject the Christian missionary ethos into our foreign policy.

In summation, I am still not happy with Lieberman for many reasons. However, the recent circumstances in Iraq and knowing what we know about the Rove game plan change my calculations. We know the economy will be important to our base, and we need to pick a candidate who can make an effective case on the economy, while still projecting a convincing and realistic set of national security, anti-terrorism, and foreign policies. In looking at candidates who I think scare Rove and Bush next year, and who cause problems for the national security/patriotism game plan that Rove will use, I think our best options lie in a mix between Lieberman, Kerry, Graham, and Clark.

Your thoughts please.

Steve :: 4:30 PM :: Comments (32) :: Digg It!