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Conquering by Dividing

This week's column for TAP Online is a bit complicated but argues for the following points:

  • Karl Rove's "liberals love terrorists" speech was not a gaffe, but a deliberate political strategy.
  • It will probably be successful as domestic politics.
  • Deploying this sort of divisiveness as a political ploy is bad for the country.
  • This is all very typical of the Bush administration, with talk of a Bolton recess appointment just the latest example.
Left unanswered is whether the strategy of polarization was an instrumentally rational response to 9/11 in the first place. Having chosen that strategy, Rove and Bush have no real choice but to keep doing it, and they've been doing it well for the past couple of weeks. Crudely speaking, the fact that Bush got re-elected proves that his political operation is pretty smart. My strong suspicion, however, is that it was a mistake and that a more unifying approach could have let Bush coast to re-election while simultaneously accomplishing more for substantive conservatism (though less for business lobbyists).

June 29, 2005 | Permalink


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Except that Karl sees this crisis as an opportunity to set up a long period Republican dominance, like Lincoln after the Civil War and FDR after the Great Depression.

Posted by: TheJew | Jun 29, 2005 2:36:52 PM

I know I'm in the minority but I still think it was a gaffe. I took marketing in Business School and I remember being told that buyers' remorse was a real problem, and something marketers had to deal with. Therefore a lot of marketing is designed not so much to attract new customers as to reassure old ones that they did the right thing by buying your product, in the hopes they will continue to buy your product in the future. Reading the full text of Rove's speech, it sounds like a textbook example of this sort of marketing. Basically what he said was, "we are the good guys, we are the ones who know what't right, we're not like those other guys, we are the good guys." This is not the sort of message you put out when things are going your way, it's the kind of speech you make when you are worried about desertion and mutiny. Also we have to keep in mind, the speech was not made in public, before a national audience, as it would have been if his intent was to discombobulate liberals. It was made behind closed doors, to people who should have been true believers in the first place.

That said, I don't think this means we shouldn't try to capitalize on it. To the contrary, we ought to capitalize on it to the hilt. We have a chance to hoist them on the own petard here by saying, "9/11 brought us together as a country, we learned that united we stand, divided we fall. Unfortunately Karl Rove is still trying to divide our country in order to motivate his base." When you get a chance to accuse them of exactly what they are guilty of, it should not be wasted.

Posted by: SadieB. | Jun 30, 2005 1:16:51 PM

Of course it was calculated. I was present for a speech by George Lakoff ("Don't Think of an Elephant") last weekend. One of his points was that by making outrageous accusations like this, you goad your targets into repeating your message for you. e.g. "We're not traitors!" The "traitors" meme just get repeated again and again and again. Responding directly to a blatant lie just gives it a spurious respectability by treating it as if were one side in a legitimate debate.

Posted by: Diogenes | Jun 30, 2005 9:36:32 PM

What's wrong with the idea of "therapy for terrorists," anyway?

I don't mean putting Osama bin Laden in a room for a couple of hours with Niles Crane.

But if you take it in a less literal way, to mean something like, "Big parts of the world hate us, partly because of stuff we did and do, maybe, but partly because of their own issues and problems. If we want them to stop wanting to kill us, we'll have to help them change their societies, their mentalities. This will involve some listening, some intervention, some preaching..."

Come to think of it, Bush's rationale for the Iraq War, at least in its latest form, amounts to: This will be good therapy for the Islamic world.

What if liberals did the unexpected and EMBRACED (while reinterpreting) Karl Rove's slander. Wouldn't that be cool?

Posted by: Lancelot Finn | Jul 1, 2005 4:23:25 PM

One central point that I think either gets missed or glossed over is that Bush and the Republicans actually have no interest in governing. Witness both their policies and practices: None--not one--is geared or intended to improve the country. All, however, are aimed at one thing: Consolidating and increasing power.

Bush, Frist, Delay and the rest of the Republican establishment are concerned only with raw power. Thus, Rove's speech was indeed a calculated move. Just as Frist's blocking the tort-reform payback bill was calculated to keep business donors giving through last year's election cycle.

Indeed, aside from dismantling the New Deal and shoveling tax dollars to campaign contributors, can anyone think of any policy put forth by Bush or the Republican leadership that has anything to do with actually governing the country? I can't.

Posted by: Derelict | Jul 2, 2005 12:06:04 PM

A touch of the Stahlhelm has always helped the right.

Historians however tend to be less than kind.

Posted by: otto | Jul 5, 2005 8:49:30 AM

Of course it wasn't a gaffe. Rove wants to put liberals in prison camps. These people aren't kidding and they are not amateurs. They mean exactly what they say.

Posted by: JR | Jul 6, 2005 6:53:45 PM

Liberals don't "love terrorists", but their weird mixture of cowardice, moral confusion, neurotic self-hatred and sense of superiority to normal Americans make them, whether they intend it or not, the terrorists' fifth column within the United States.

Posted by: Joe Willingham | Jul 7, 2005 10:19:31 PM

Still got that tinfoil hat on tight, I see, Joe. And Karl Rove playing on your therapy tapes, too. Good luck in rehab.

Posted by: joel | Jul 9, 2005 7:31:17 AM

Derelict says.
[One central point that I think either gets missed or glossed over is that Bush and the Republicans actually have no interest in governing. Witness both their policies and practices: None--not one--is geared or intended to improve the country. All, however, are aimed at one thing: Consolidating and increasing power.]

Dude, you need to calm down on the hyperbole.
The key words in question are "all", and "not one".

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