Rovian Tactics Are Here to Stay

September 25, 2006 at 2:51 pm | Posted in America, American politics, Democracy, King George | 28 Comments

At least that is the gist of this article in newsweek. It seems the tactics of fear and smear will not be going away for a while to come. Maybe until Bush passes away so that he won’t be tried for treason for violating the Constitution…..

In a darkened edit room in downtown Dallas, admaker Scott Howell is tinkering with his latest political firebomb. The ad starts with illegal immigrants running across the border. It then cuts to images of Osama bin Laden and Zacarias Moussaoui. Finally comes the real target of Howell’s attack: Harold Ford Jr., the Democrat locked in a close race for the Senate seat in Tennessee. Over an edgy hip-hop soundtrack, the ad castigates Ford for voting against border security and the Patriot Act. “No wonder Harold Ford has been rated the most liberal congressman from Tennessee,” the narrator intones. The ad ends with the word “liberal” pulsing on the screen as a shadowy figure walks down a long hallway.

Andrew Sullivan calls it the Coulterization of American politics, but the real mastermind is Rove. And he has apprentices who salivate to follow in his footsteps. The days of Republicans vilifying Democrats will not come to an end anytime soon. Is this what America wants?


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  1. Dan, the days of either side villifying the other won’t come to an end anytime soon. The real challenge is not to lower ourselves to the standards of the political pundits. We do this by refraining the use of political slurs, insults, polemics. We can elevate the political discourse one person at a time, but only if we ourselves don’t fall trap to our emotions and let them ourselves get carried away. Contention is a wicked, sneaky, devious beast and the enemy of the Holy Spirit…

  2. Please, do me a favor an point out a time when “fear and smear” were not part of American politics. The disire by many, especially those self-proclaimed moderates, to imagine a time when politics was a civil game played by civil oponents is just pure fantasy and a method of participating in the “smear” by accusing other (typically political opponents) of perverting an imagined idyllic. Grow up (politically)!

  3. endlessnegotiation,

    forgive me for assuming we’ve learned a thing or two and “grown up.” Are Rove’s tactics the tactics of grown-ups? Seems quite childish to me.

  4. Seriously, although the fear and mear has happened throughout US History, it hasn’t happened to the degree it does now. Grow up politically? Seriously, maybe you need a refresher of US political History.

  5. Dan, is endlessnegotiation your best buddy, Steven?

  6. Is it? hmmmm…..

  7. If it is, it was sure nice of him to stop and say hi.

  8. I don’t think it is him. I googled “endlessnegotiation” and found many of his comments, plus a wordpress blog called Endless Negotiation, but that guy says he’s basically from St. Louis. Last I recall, our esteemed Steven hadn’t left Texas.

    If it is though, “Hi Steven! Thanks for posting on my blog!” 🙂

  9. ah, it looks like you have an “endless” fanbase. Good job.

  10. joy,

    That is another unsubstantiated assertion regarding “fear and smear” being worse today than at any other time in history. The Burr-Hamilton duel was the direct result of political mudslinging of the worst sort– reading transcripts of the official rhetoric spewed forth by Hamilton against Burr is worse than anything one sees today. The mudslinging that occurred during the 1824, 1828, and 1832 elections would make modern political advisors either cringe at the level of viciousness in those elections or shrink in embarassment at their own reserve. Take the time to read editorials from 1860 and 1864 and you will find a significant number of personal attacks on the character of Lincoln. I could go on. Sounds like you could use the refresher course in US political history (assuming you’ve studied the phenomenon at all).

    Political rhetoric and tactics today are the same as they’ve always been because the stakes have been the same in all periods. The only difference of note is that as the scope and size of government has expanded so has the volume of political discourse to acomodate that growth. Combine that growth with modern communication technology and it only seems that the rhetoric has been dialed up. Of course those who don’t know their history will fail to identify this significant difference.

    Like I said in my original comment, those complaining that their oponents are perverting some idyllic, mud-free political process are themselves guilty of the political smear.

    BTW… I am not this Steven guy.

  11. EN when you say that those complaining that their opponents are perverting the process are themselves guilty of the same?

    So in other words, you call me a jerk.

    I say, hey you called me a jerk

    Then, you say..hey joy called me a jerk.

    Um right. It doesn’t work that way. Sorry, you better go back to square zero.

  12. Or in other words….What you’re saying is that the whistleblower is no better than the person committing the crime.

  13. EN,

    Like I said in my original comment, those complaining that their oponents are perverting some idyllic, mud-free political process are themselves guilty of the political smear.

    BTW… I am not this Steven guy.

    I’m glad to hear you are not Steven. Thanks. 🙂

    I am quite familiar with American history. I know fear and smear tactics are not new, or even invented by Americans. It is my judgment that they are worse today than at any other time because of several reasons.

    1. The need was not there. After 9/11 America had a wonderful moment where 90% of the country united behind her leader. Most of America approved of the actions in Afghanistan. Was there a need to use fear and smear tactics in the 2002 Congressional Elections? No. But we have Rove telling Republicans in January 2001 to sell war in the election campaign. This is where the fear and smear began. Was there a need for it? Nah. So why use it?

    2. It divided the country when the country needed to remain united. The near civil war of 1800 did not see the United States as the most powerful nation on the planet trying to lead the world in a crusade against evil. Even the Civil War in the 1860s, America was not a leader in the world. Presenting America as a divided nation to the world today, in this conflict, which is a conflict of ideas more than warfare, has led to a divided world.

    3. Lies are used in a day when truth can easily be found. The Swift Boat Veterans for “Truth” are the perfect example of this. Truth and Facts are shoved aside for degrading the character of an individual even though truth and fact about an individual is readily available. Use just enough of a lie, and one’s perception of an individual is forever tarnished. Kerry will forever be known as a flip-flopper, even though all politicians have flip-flopped at some point or another. Yes, this has been used in the past, even right from the beginning, but it is at its worst today because of the professionalism of the smear campaigners. These men who do this know their art, whereas the men who tarnished Hamilton and Burr were not professional smear artists. Rove’s talent and main skills are at destroying the perception of his political opponent.

    It has become an art, with specific methods for perfecting the destruction of the reputation of an individual. The smear campaigners of the past have nothing on today’s Roves.

    I’m sure I can bring up many more reasons why today’s smear campaigners are far worse than any America has ever seen in the past, but this should do.

  14. sorry, Rove told Republicans in January 2002 to run the November 2002 elections on war and paint Democrats as soft on terror, even though most Democrats voted for the war in Afghanistan.

  15. joy:

    Your analogy is as severely flawed as your grasp of history. A better analogy would be like this:

    We both draw water from the same source and it comes out muddy. You then publicly accuse me of spoiling your water with mud with said accusation representing an attempt to impugn my character.

    Politics is today and always has been a dirty business. Everyone who participates (and in a democracy that’s most people) should know that they are playing in dirty water. To then accuse political oponents of being the one’s who have “dirtied” the water smacks of “smear” by accusing someone of something that cannot demonstably be proven to be true.

  16. redhatman:

    Re #1: That seems like a pretty tame political position (i.e. Democrats are soft on war). The Democrats have had to fight that persona since Woodrow Wilson. That’s not a very strong argument for your position.

    Re #2: It takes 2 parties to divide the country. If Democrats would have just said something like, “Regarding war, we’ll rubberstamp anything the President asks” and then followed through they would have eliminated the war as a political wedge. Here you’re trying to place the blame on only a single party when both are at “fault” for “dividing” the country. You attempt to present Democrats as innocent bystanders which is at best disingenuous. You also make the assertion that we need to appear united without substantiating that remark. Other nations should take note of our nation’s history and realize that it took us 3 years to decide to enter the last two world wars due to division at home. Most of your assertions here are fantastical.

    Re #3: This is all selective memory where the worst offenses of the Dems are ignored (again you try and play Dems as innocent bystanders– shame!). Hamilton was a professional smear artist. The reason he never sought elective office is because he was the Federalist’s designated hit man (Burr and Hamilton were both Federalists). He wrote hundreds of political “hit” pieces under his name and various other pseudonyms. Burr challenged Hamilton specifically because Hamilton had authored a number of pieces that claimed that Burr was trying to incite some sort of secession movement– an unsubstantiated accusation that destroyed Burr’s political career (he was Jefferson’s VP at the time). This last bullet point demonstrates that your grasp of history is tenuous at best. The political operative is not a new phenomenon. Name for me one Democrat who’s political career is legitimately over due to anything Karl Rove (or one of his minions) has said or done.

  17. Endless, does it make you feel better to insult others?

    I don’t think its necessary for me to flaunt my knowledge of US political history to carry on a conversation about the ethics of political history.

    Oh, and your analogy doesn’t hold water.

  18. Sorry Endless–the democratic political process isn’t “dirty.” Anyone who has a casual concept of American political process knows that there has been dirty dealings, but the process itself in theory isn’t dirty.

    Calling someone out isn’t a “smear,” if Dan calls you a antiamerican…and I say, hey he called you an antiamerican…..that can be proved. Sorry, its not a “smear.”

    Seriously EN, if someone does something wrong even though its happened for years, that doesn’t make it less wrong. That makes it just as wrong as if it were an unprecedented act.

  19. joy:

    It doesn’t make me feel better… but I don’t feel any worse pointing out others’ publicly demonstrable flaws. And BTW, you have to have some knowledge to be able to flaunt it (or was that statement made intentionally with appropriate irony– if so please forgive that last jab as I do tend to respect those cognizant of their own shortcomings).

    You also fail to understand the difference between politics and the electoral process– that’s something one learns the first day of POLI SCI 101. Politics is “the authoritative allocation of values.” Politics is always “dirty” becuse a lot of what gets allocated in politics represents a zero sum game– there are winners and losers. I happen to think that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the way things are today– I don’t think the water is dirty but if it is I don’t think that one side can be singled out as the culprit. Attempts to blame one side or the other just happens to represent a more sophisticated mechanism for smear as it holds the accuser up as a paragon of righteousness while simultaneously impugning the character of the accused.

  20. You know, its funny. Two individuals can read the same historical documents, be versant in the same historical papers and yet arrive at opposing viewpoints and perspectives on what they read and how they apply it to current events. Oddly, even though they are opposing, neither viewpoint may be “wrong” or “right”

    Actually the political process (notice I didn’t say the electoral process in my original post) isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. However, when the player(s) perceive the process as a zero-sum game and view the politics as a brutal death-match is when all ethics can get thrown out the window. In reality, politics may or may not be a zero sum game–but perception sometimes trumps reality when both parties get so involved in the process.

    What we see now currently is that the political process to influence voters and change policy has been reduced to “public sound bites” and polemics. I think the process in the past 40 years has devolved. Yes, I have read various reports and papers to support that statement.

    If you’ve noticed, I haven’t targeted one side or the other in my posts. Personally, I actually agree with your last couple of sentences. If you noticed, I did say this, “Dan, the days of either side villifying the other won’t come to an end anytime soon.”

    Attempting to blame one party or another while holding your silver platter is disingenuious. You’re presenting part of my own viewpoint to me. I’m glad we can agree about something.

    Oh, and by the way…why do you persist with the ad hominems? You’re consistently attacking Dan and I rather than our points. I’m sure you’ll try and dispute this notion that you’re engaging in ad-hominems, and try and once again tell me something like “Your analogy is as severely flawed as your grasp of history.” That’s an ad-hominem. The wiki definition of ad-hominem is this, “An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin, literally “argument against the person”) involves replying to an argument or assertion by attacking the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself.” while you have been attacking the argument….you sure are attacking the persons presenting the argument also.

    Seriously, I’m not impressed by individuals who persistently crow about how much they’ve read. Show me what you’ve learned, tell me ideas–let me form my own opinions, if you’re well read I’ll be impressed, Self-aggrandizing tends to negate my opinions. I know its easy to do online, but if you are well read and well-versed in politics then just demonstrate your ability to put in practice the ideas you’ve learned.

  21. EN,

    the worst part of the smear campaigns of today vs those of the past is that Rove is playing politics with national security. Was there any other party that actually controlled the defending of this country based on the timing of elections? I’ve never seen another party besides today’s Republican party, that releases information, or holds back information because of elections. I’ve never seen another party cherrypick information that would be vital for the protection of America just so they can smear their political opponents.

    Perhaps my knowledge of American politics and history is not good enough to know of another time when the ruling party used national security to attack their political opponents as Republicans have done over the past five years.

  22. redhatmandan:

    Read a little more of your 20th century history. Roosevelt and Truman both were guilty of using world conflict and national security to serve their political goals (you think for a moment Roosevelt would have been elected to 4 terms without the war?). The Korean War can be laid entirely at the feet of Truman and his cabinet. Tyler used the war between Texas and Mexico for political ends. The Spanish-American War was a complete “wag-the-dog” type situation. Kennedy’s insertion of US troops into Vietnam was a political move to quail accusations that he was soft on communism. Need I go on. Nothing has changed except the medium for the message. Notice of the five examples I mention here only one was Republican. The standard in politics throughout time has been to take advantage of any situation in order to perpetuate power. It doesn’t matter if it’s the economy, national security, redistribution, etc. If one side percieves an advantage they are going to exploit it to the fullest extent possible.
    I’ve avoided bringing up recent examples of Democrats employing similar tactics to keep the debate about principles. Let me know if you’d like me to include some of those examples to more clearly demonstrate my position.

  23. Sherpa:

    I have not engaged in a single ad hominem attack. An ad hominem attach goes something like, “Person A is a Mormon so what he said about ISSUE 1 must be complete nonsense.” An ad hominem attack must fisrt include an attack on the presenter that is entirely irrelevant to the argument at hand.

    In the first instance to which you refer I attacked first her analogy (caling it flawed) and second her grasp of history (as indicated by her initial comment). I never attached the person. In the second incidence I again attack her demonstrated lack of understanding of history. Never once did I mention that she is an idiot and should be ignored at all costs. Oops, now I’ve done it!

  24. You may have never attached the person, but you sure did attack Dan and discredit our point of view. But like I said before, I knew you would dispute it..and try to make me look like an idiot. Seriously, you’d better brush up on your logical fallacies before you participate in any more online debate.

  25. Allow me to give you a refresher on what an ad-hominem is:

    The wiki definition of ad-hominem is this, “An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin, literally “argument against the person”) involves replying to an argument or assertion by attacking the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself.” while you have been attacking the argument….you sure are attacking the persons presenting the argument also.

  26. Only if those ideas define the person… then perhaps you’re correct. But I never once have attacked any individual… just what they write and in an argument what one writes is fair game.

    Review the definition… I have attacked ideas/arguments and not people. Your complaint is one I hear quite often from people without information sufficient to support their arguments. DKL gets a lot of unfounded flack in the bloggernacle for the same type of thing.

  27. EN,

    Let me share with you an example of why I think today’s smear campaigns are far more repugnant and evil than any in the past, and why today’s politics are worse than any other time in American history.

    In Ohio, a Battle of Databases

    There is no sexier topic in politics these days than “microtargeting.” That’s the new science (some say dark art) by which candidates use the latest data-mining technology to vacuum every last scrap of information about voters, then churn out custom-tailored messages designed to herd their supporters to the polls.

    Then they use this “microtargeting” to real effect with “push polls” which was extremely effective for Bush back in 2000 to ward off John McCain in South Carolina. The following question was asked in a push poll in South Carolina, that, knowing the people’s aversion to interracial relations, would never even consider voting for someone who had interracial relations in their family: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” While it is obviously untrue, voters in South Carolina were repulsed and voted for Bush.

    Smear and fear have obviously been used in the past to great effect, such as Lyndon Johnson’s famous mushroom cloud commercial, but my point is that it is worse now than it ever has been.

    As far as history is concerned, you’re right. It is my mistake to not have written my response well. I did know that Roosevelt used the war to his advantage, but the difference is that he didn’t use the war to destroy his political opponents. Nor Truman, nor any other previous administration or political party. The Spanish American war was a wag the dog, yes, but was it used to undermine the political opponent?

    The war in Iraq is being used by Republicans today to press the point, rather successfully, that Democrats can’t protect America. You’ve got pundits and leaders (the vice president comes to mind) actually saying that a vote for a Democratic candidate is a vote for terrorists.

    Moreover, it is my personal belief that the war in Iraq was timed specifically to benefit Republicans in the 2002 and 2004 elections. The 2002 elections was about the buildup to the war. If Democrats did not play along, they would be wiped out in the November 2002 election, irregardless of making sure our facts are correct about Iraq, which they weren’t. The timing of the war in Iraq was political, more than military-based. You never go to war in an election year, so 2002 was out of the question, as is 2004. The only year to go to war is 2003. You can’t start a war in the desert in the summer, so the best time is February or March. By May, we should be victorious (hence the “Mission Accomplished” scene on the carrier). Of course, things went bad, but at every turn, even with the most vile of things–torture–Republicans are using that to attack their political opponents rather than build a consensus. Take for example what Eric Russell said over on Bloggernacle just yesterday.

    Islamic terrorists, who are blowing up dozens of innocent men, women and children daily, thank you for your support.

    This line of thought is not new, but typical for anyone who dares raise a question about the morality of an action raised by Republicans. Of course, who can forget Mr. Ashcroft, just three months after the unifying of America saying:

    “To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve,” Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.

    When people rightly questioned why we were tightening civil liberties, they were called terrorist lovers.

    All these methods, while not new, are worse than they have ever been, and I believe if they continue, will get this country to a Hamilton-Burr, or maybe even a Civil War, situation here in America.

  28. Huh, I did just as you asked, and found this. Funny, this sounds familiar. Seriously, just because someone else is doing the same doesn’t make you’re argument style less “wrong.” I also find it amusing that you said this, ” Your complaint is one I hear quite often from people without information sufficient to support their arguments.” Could you be trying to discredit me yet again?

    Here’s a review of ad-hominem yet again. Are you going to follow up with yet another insult trying to discredit Dan or I?

    Sorry, you aren’t attacking ideas…you’re trying to discredit by attacking us personally. Very interesting.

    An ad hominem fallacy consists of asserting that someone’s argument is wrong and/or he is wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the person or those persons cited by him rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself. The implication is that the person’s argument and/or ability to argue correctly lacks authority.


    “You feel that abortion should be illegal, but I disagree, because you are uneducated and poor.”

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