Karl Rove: Honest political genius

Why does anyone listen to the "advice" and assessments of GOP operatives when it comes to choosing the Democratic candidate?

By Glenn Greenwald

Published April 28, 2008 2:46PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Karl Rove, The Financial Times, December 2, 2007: "Memo to Obama":

First, stop acting like a vitamin-deficient Adlai Stevenson. Striking a pose of being high-minded and too pure will not work. Americans want to see you scrapping and fighting for the job, not in a mean or ugly way but in a forceful and straightforward way.

Hillary may come over as calculating and shifty but she looks in control. You, on the other hand, often come over as weak and ineffectual. In some debates, you do not even look at her when disagreeing with her, making it look as if you are afraid of her. She offers you openings time and again but you do not take advantage of them. Sharpen your attacks and make them more precise.

Karl Rove, Newsweek, May 5, 2008: "Dear Senator Obama":

Stop the attacks. They undermine your claim to a post-partisan new politics. You soared when you seemed above politics, lost altitude when you did what you criticize. Attacks are momentarily satisfying but ultimately corrode your appeal.

So absurdly, both the political and media class -- including many Democrats -- insist on taking seriously Republican assertions like this about Democratic candidates, as though they're engaged in some good faith, generous, honest effort to critically evaluate them and are trying to help Democrats decide who the better candidate is. Is there anything less relevant than what Karl Rove thinks about the Democratic candidates and what his "advice" is for how they could be better? The fact that he offers completely contradictory "advice" to Obama in a matter of a few months ought to reveal what he is about.

The inanity of all of this is manifest. When the Right and the media assumed that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable nominee and that Obama couldn't win, the Right just "loved" Obama, and people like The New Republic's Jason Zengerle marveled at what they actually believed was the astonishing (and real) phenomenon that no "conservative writer [is] able to withstand Obama's charms." Now that it appears that Obama rather than Clinton will likely be the nominee, that has, quite predictably, reversed itself completely: suddenly the Right hates Obama and has great respect for Hillary Clinton.

And, as always, the media follows along exactly the same path. When it looked to them as though Hillary would win, the media hated her and was largely deferential to Obama. Now, the reverse is true. As Thomas Edsall wrote last week: "In a blink of an eye, the media has jumped ship from the Obama campaign and become a crucial Clinton ally." One can trace the media's complete reversal regarding Obama to exactly the moment when it appeared he would actually win.

None of this is to be taken seriously. Karl Rove's army, including those in the media who revere him, aren't objectively evaluating each Democratic candidate to decide which one is strongest, which one is best, what they ought to do to win, etc. Their goal, instead, is to demonize and weaken whoever the nominee is going to be. There's a preexisting media narrative that will be fulfilled no matter who the nominee is; it's the same one that is applied in every national election.

Praising whoever appears to be the loser at the expense of the winner -- while issuing "advice" designed to exacerbate tensions and wedges -- is one prong in that strategy. Why would anyone take any of that seriously, as though it's some sort of serious political analysis being offered in good faith?

UPDATE: Jason Zengerle uses rather strong language to object to the sentence in this post that mentions him -- "I see that Glenn Greenwald is quoting me out of context in such an egregious way that I should probably respond" -- but then proceeds to articulate a purported correction so trivial that it's ultimately unclear what his objection even is. He says that he was merely surprised by the praise heaped on Obama by The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, because Hayes "is not exactly known as an intellectually honest conservative journalist" and, therefore, "the fact that [Hayes] was saying nice things about Obama was sort of like Glenn Greenwald saying nice things about The New Republic: in other words, unexpected."

But that doesn't negate the point I was making when referencing Zengerle's post. To the contrary, it is my point: there was nothing "unexpected" about right-wing admiration for Obama back then because it wasn't authentic. Their assumption was that Hillary would be the nominee, and building Obama up was thus easy and cost-free, as well as useful, since the stronger he became, the more he could weaken Hillary. Zengerle's post was written at a time when it was often suggested, by Obama supporters and others, that he provokes less animosity than Hillary does, as evidenced by the respect, or at least muted criticism, he induced among the Right.

But it seemed clear then, and has been conclusively proven now, that the Democratic nominee will provoke exactly the same scorn and demonization efforts from the Right no matter who it happens to be, and the alleged respect the Right pretended to have back then for Obama was merely the by-product of the fact that they assumed he wouldn't be the nominee -- which is what accounts for their newly discovered respect for Hillary Clinton. I made that point several times back then in response to arguments that Obama would not be demonized by the Right with the same vigor and scorn as Hillary would be:

There's a prevailing sense that Obama is not as offensive to the right-wing GOP faction as other Democratic and liberal candidates in the past have been, or that he's less "divisive" among them than Hillary. And that's true: for now, while he tries to take down the individual who has long provoked the most intense hatred -- literally -- among the Right. But anyone who doesn't think that that's all going to change instantaneously if Obama is the nominee hasn't been watching how this faction operates over the last 20 years. Hatred is their fuel. Just look at the bottomless personal animus they managed to generate over an anemic, mundane, inoffensive figure like John Kerry. At their Convention, they waved signs with band-aids mocking his purple hearts while cheering on two combat-avoiders. There will be more than enough of that intense hatred to go around if Obama is the nominee.

I rather innocuously referenced Zengerle's post as an example of that line of thought, and his strongly-worded insistence that I quoted him out of context actually seems to confirm, not undermine, my characterization. [And, just for the record, my praising TNR, while certainly not common, isn't all that rare. See, for instance, here ("The New Republic's Michael Crowley [has] one of the better discussions of the Obama speech"); here ("Michael Crowley, in a quite good article in The New Republic . . ."); and here (defending TNR from the coordinated military/right-wing-blog attacks against it)].

Glenn Greenwald

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