Monday, August 30, 2004

Shrum Versus Rove In the Hour of the Wolf


Now is the pregnant hush before the cacophanous beginning of the Republican Convention, after the protests, before McCain, and already we can plot the trajectory of events, anticipate the blizzards of buzz. Frequent mention has already been made about the sheer multitude of Moderates on display this week, while, in the shadows, out of view, The Council for National Policy maps out a more conservative strategy -- to compliment the already conservative platform-- on how to kick Democrat ass.

Tina Brown has, in the past, made an interesting comment about the differences between what she characterizes as the "Daddy Party," i.e. the Republicans, with their emphasis on competition, loyalty, a strong military, fiscal competence and the acquisition of wealth, over and against the "Mommy Party" -- i.e. the Democrats -- emphasizing nuance and sophistication, the feminine wiles, the caring of children and the elderly, education, environment and drug prices, as main concerns.

It is precisely this emphasis on nuance that Karl Rove is playing upon brilliantly to pick apart John Kerry at will -- what, with Kerry's "French" sense of diplomacy, which, as an unintended consequence, not only makes the Brahmin appear to be unsure of his identity, unsure of his masculinity, but also -- fatally -- makes him appear to be a thing of clay which can be molded into whatever the GOP wants him to be.

What John Kerry calls nuance, the GOP makes to appear to be prevaricating, hence the flip-flops. Of course, in the sophisticated precincts such Gramercy Park, Burning Man, Embassy Row in DC, among the ethnic restaurants in Austin, on the slopes in Aspen, with the environmentalists in Portland, and noshing at the Ivy in Hollywood, where everyone accepts the philosophical contingency of existence as common as Zinfandel with dinner, private nursury schools on the Upper West Side of New York, and Charlie Rose before-one-goes-to-bed.

But in the rest of the country, you know, those other unmentionable regions where people have never heard of The Observer and have never eaten arugula, and don't even -- quelle horreur! -- have a good organic grocery store or Farmer's Market in their vicinity -- the very idea of the contingency of human existence is regarded as a negative force unleashed by the 60s counterculture, a nihilism that would render the very social fabric of their reality -- a reality that values (yes, they actually believe in such quaint concepts as values) "heritage," tradition, the possibility of absolute truths such as Beauty and Knowledge (even -- gasp -- the possibility of an Eternal Life, however primitive, what with their "Mr. God," with white bears and tinkly Santa Clause eyes) to be wholly irrelevant. And that scares them, that scares them enough to vote for Bush.

I was especially struck by it yesterday when I saw how effectively George Bush spoke in West Virginia Steel Country. How does someone with such a silver spoon in his family tree pull that little fiasco off? He hit the perfect pitch, even throwing off lines that resonated "hilbilly." George Bush finally found his crowd. Years of talking to the unwashed masses at baseball games? Is that how he knows what they need to hear? It's spooky.

The Democrats will have to learn, once and for all time, that appearing to be on all sides of an issue, the natural state of the liberal -- a la Al Gore, the Way of the Liberal Ironist -- will not win Swing State votes if one does not take the initiative and escape the elitist confines of that whole vocabulary ("The L Word") so ably used by Bush the Elder against that other boring Massachusetts liberal, Michael Dukakis.

Say what you will about Howard Dean ("yeeea-argh!"), but you knew that he was a man of consequence who knew himself and where he stood on any issue. He would probably have been more formidable against Bush (the whole kooky thing was exaggerated, an MD can overcome such a stigma, especially in a one-on-one debate) There was no ambiguity about Dean. Dean would have been immune to a "flip-flop" charge.

Not so with Kerry.

Dick Morris brilliantly highlights Kerry's weakness in his column:

"Bush should also use the convention to fill in the blanks left in the Kerry senatorial record by the extraordinary oversight by the Democratic candidate. Let the media debate what Kerry did when he was in his early 20s. Voters care about what he did as senator. What is the Kerry Bill? What was the famous Kerry Amendment? About what were the Kerry Hearings? What famous speech did Kerry deliver on the Senate floor? None. His totally undistinguished record and his liberal votes need to be fodder for Republican orators during the convention proceedings.

"One would have thought that Kerry would have elaborated his Senate record in his speech. But, by failing to do so, he has left a gaping hole for the Bush campaign to exploit. Normally, negatives don?t work at a convention. But, in this case, the total absence of any positive residue from the Kerry speech leaves him open to let Bush paint in the details of his Senate career."

Bush will be sold as a Harry Trumanesque figure, at the end of a convention, resolute, the last man in the arena after the moderates have appealed to the single women and suburban moms and Swing State centrists. And, already, anticipating this Truman characterization, Senator John Edwards is asking Bush to take responsibility for the mishandling of the war -- this will be repeated all this week -- to make "the buck stop here."

Bush's primary weakness is that his political maneuvers are unintentionally responding to every mistake of his father, George Bush the Elder, a decade earlier; it's as if he were caught in some psychic continuum against the ruins of the past. Note the 2004 Convention, brimming moderates, a stunning contrast to his father's '92 Convention catered to the too far right, with Pat Buchanan and Marilyn Quayle tossing vinegar, turning off women voters; note the decision at the outset to cut taxes, in stunning contrast to Bush the Elder's reneging on his "No New Taxes" pledge, and, of course, the coup de grace, note the decision to finish off the war his fathers administration began ...

One wonders how devastating a blow to Bush's psyche the loss of his father in '92 must have been if, all these years later, his psyche is still governed almost entirely by making amends, restoring family honor -- ahh, but then, such are the mysteries between fathers and sons.

But this very fact, this psychological compulsion on the part of Bush the Younger, makes him predictable even, and allows Shrum, if he has indeed the political wit, to discern the patterns of his pathology and devise a trap, best unleashed in the heat of debates, delivered with said "nuance."

And Bush's best bet is to hammer Kerry on that "nuance," painting him as something French, sophisticated, and alien to the American shores. The swing staters and the industrial belt will favor a man who speaks his mind, in the tradition of Lincoln and Daniel Boone.

There is a reason why a nuanced aristocrat like Adlai Stevenson was never elected President.

No comments: