Defending Rove by giving up the "L" word

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman says Rove was right because "Democrats" aren't the same thing as "liberals."

Published June 24, 2005 6:19AM (EDT)

In all the defenses we've heard of Karl Rove over the last 24 hours, our favorite comes from the chairman of the National Republican Committee. Ken Mehlman says Rove shouldnt apologize for saying that liberals wanted to respond to 9/11 with "therapy and understanding for our attackers" because, well, because "what Karl Rove said is true."

And how is it true? Recall for a moment that, just days after 9/11, the Senate voted 98-0 and the House voted 420-1 in favor of a resolution authorizing the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for the attacks. Among the approximately 250 Democrats in the House and Senate who voted on the post-9/11 resolution, all but one voted yes.

Ah, says Mehlman, but those were Democrats. "Karl didn't say the Democratic Party," Mehlman told the Washington Post. "He said liberals."

Well, that's just great then. Can we now assume that Mehlman and his fellow Republicans have decided that they'll no longer use the word "liberal" to refer to "Democrats" generally? From here on out, will Mehlman insist that his party-mates make a careful distinction between, say, "Democrats" like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and "liberals" like Michael Moore?

Don't count on it: Republicans have put years of work into making "liberal" a dirty word, and they're going to keep on using it to describe Democrats every time they can. Indeed, Mehlman's careful distinction between "Democrats" and "liberals" didn't even survive the duration of Rove's slanderous speech. After charging that the comments of "Democrat" Dick Durbin were "putting our troops in greater danger," Rove said: "No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

But Durbin was one of the "Democrats" who voted in favor of the post-9/11 resolution and is therefore not a "liberal" under Mehlman's definition. So how do Durbin's remarks reveal the true motives of "liberals"? "Democrats" and "liberals" are different things, right, Ken? Or could it be that Rove was just wrong?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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