THE PLANK AUGUST 20, 2007
I don't often agree with the press critic Jay Rosen, but I think he had a smart point when he argued in one of the thousands of Rove postmortems from last week:
Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, "with it," and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.
There may be no better example of Rosen's point than this article about Rove in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, which tries to divine the meaning of Rove's recent attacks against Hillary Clinton:
Rove's weeklong broadside against Clinton -- which he is expected to repeat in multiple appearances on television talk shows today -- looks suspiciously like an exercise in reverse psychology that his team employed three years ago when it was preparing for President Bush's reelection bid.
The ploy was described by Rove lieutenant Matthew Dowd during a postmortem conference on the 2004 election at Harvard University the month after Bush defeated Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when it was not yet clear who Bush's opponent would be that November, Rove and his aides had begun to fear that their most dangerous foe would be then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
With his Southern base, charismatic style and populist message, Edwards, they believed, could be a real threat to Bush's reelection.
But instead of attacking Edwards, Rove's team opened fire at Kerry.
Their thinking went like this, Dowd explained: Democrats, in a knee-jerk reaction to GOP attacks, would rally around Kerry, whom Rove considered a comparatively weak opponent, and make him the party's nominee. Thus Bush would be spared from confronting Edwards, the candidate Republican strategists actually feared most.
"Whomever we attacked was going to be emboldened in Democratic primary voters' minds.
"So we started attacking John Kerry a lot in the end of January because we were very worried about John Edwards," Dowd said. "And we knew that if we focused on John Kerry, Democratic primary voters would sort of coalesce" around Kerry.
But what if Rove is so super-savvy that he anticipated articles like this one, and his attacks on Clinton are, in fact, an exercise in reverse reverse psychology. In other words, he really thinks Obama is the comparatively weaker opponent, and he's attacking Clinton because he knows Democrats, post-2004, are wise to his ways, and so that in the face of his attacks on Hillary, they won't actually rally around her--because they'll think that's what Rove wants them to do--but instead will coalesce around Obama as a way to stick it to Rove. But, in fact, that's exactly what Rove wants them to do--since he think Obama's a weaker general election candidate than Clinton. I tell you, the man's a genius!
P.S. My head hurts--which is just further proof of Rove's savvy, since there's nothing he loves more than giving the liberal media headaches.