Suppose a head coach is given a copy of the opposing team’s playbook,
a week ahead of the Super Bowl.
Wouldn’t he be some kind of a simpleton if he failed to take advantage of
that windfall, and to plan a counterstrategy?
The Democrats have Karl Rove’s playbook, they are into the opening quarter,
and while Rove’s team has made a couple of fumbles, his team has formidable
resources and is beginning to utilize a series of plays that have proven to
be extraordinarily effective in the past.
Meanwhile, that purloined playbook sits unopened and ignored on the coach’s
The GOP “playbook” is no secret. It may be found in the accumulated history
of campaign strategies employed with great success by evil political
geniuses from Donald Segretti and Lee Atwater in the Nixon and Bush-I eras,
to Karl Rove in our own time.
And sure enough, as the new presidential election campaign begins, the same
GOP tricks are in play. And yet, the Democrats have apparently devised few
defenses or counter-strategies. Instead, unable or unwilling to learn from
past mistakes, it appears that they are about to repeat their past debacles.
To change the football analogy just a bit, the GOP is playing Lucy to the
Democrats’ Charlie Brown. Lucy is holding the football again, and sure
enough Charlie Brown is convinced that this time she won’t pull it away.
Poor Charlie Brown!
And so the GOP strategy is unfolding right on schedule: as soon as the
opponent becomes apparent, they define him and put him on the defensive. As
with Al Gore in 2000 (stiff, “unlikeable,” habitual liar, “invented the
internet,” “Love Canal,” Earth tones), so now with John Kerry (waffling,
inconsistent, hyper-liberal and, believe it or not, “a captive of special
All this despite the fact that no American President in history is more
vulnerable to or deserving of negative definition than George W. Bush.
The Credibility Issue:
At long last, Bush’s lies and blunders have seeped through the media
barricades and into the public awareness, as his approval ratings continue
to plummet. “The Shrub” is on the ropes. Why won’t the
Democrats strike. What are they waiting for?
Virtually nothing will cripple a candidacy as much as a public perception
that a candidate can not be trusted. Karl Rove knows this, and that is why,
in 2000, the GOP concocted a series of lies to “prove,” ironically, that Al
Gore was an untrustworthy liar. (No, Gore never claimed to have “invented
the internet” nor to have “discovered Love Canal”). Public opinion polls in
2000 disclosed that this GOP slander was quite successful, as was the
unmerited portrayal of George Bush as a “straight shooter.”
Today, Bush’s lies stand revealed for all to see. There is no need for the
Democrats simply to say, “Bush and Cheney lied to you.” Far better to
display those lies in their own voices as they issue from the faces of Bush
and Cheney. For example, Bush -- "There is no question we have evidence and
information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and
chemical;" and Cheney – "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam
Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." The supply of these
whoppers is virtually inexhaustible. (See the recent books by Al Franken,
David Corn, and Joe Conason, and Jerry “Politex” Barrett’s forthcoming
collection “Big Bush Lies,” to which your Crisis Papers editors have
contributed three chapters).
Once a candidate’s credibility is in ruins, so too is his capacity to issue
denials. Case in point: the likely return of the military draft, soon after
Bush’s projected victory in the fall. Obviously, the Bush neo-con visions of
empire require a draft. But if the Bushistas were to admit now that a draft
is in the works in early 2005, they would critically, and perchance fatally,
damage Bush’s election prospects. So, if challenged, Bush’s campaign would
emphatically deny that such an idea had ever crossed their minds.
Were Bush, circa 2000, to issue that denial, a widespread response would be,
“well, I believe Bush – he’s a straight-shooter, unlike that sneaky Al
Gore.” No more. Today, if Bush says, “there will be no draft – trust me,” a
more likely response would be, “yeah sure – like we trusted you about WMDs
and all that.”
Credibility, as one wit has said, is like virginity. Once it is lost, it is
impossible to get it back. Bush and the Busheviks have proven, time and
again, that they can’t be trusted. So the Democrats must remind the public,
time and again, that “their President” is a pathological liar – they must
“grind in” the credibility issue until it defines Bush, his Administration,
and his campaign.
Bush’s lack of credibility is not a “case to be made.” Bush and his crowd
have made it for us.
Perception is Political Reality:
In a memorable scene in the movie, “Inherit the Wind,” Matthew Harrison
Brady (patterned after William Jennings Bryan), admired to the point of
worship by the citizens of “heavenly Hillsborough,” overplays his role and
reveals himself as a pathetic windbag, whereupon his public support is
immediately punctured and deflated.
“Inherit the Wind” is fiction, derived from an historical event: the Scopes
“Monkey Trial.” But there are abundant real-life examples of sudden
reversals of political fortune, following a shift in public perception. The
fall of Richard Nixon, of course. Before him, Senator Joe McCarthy –
weakened by Edward R. Murrow’s courageous exposé,
and then dispatched by an venerable old Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch. (“Have
you, at long last, no shame, Sir?”).
History also teaches us that apparently rock-solid despotic regimes can be
brought down, once a public “smells” anxiety and insecurity in their
oppressors, discovers cracks in the official façade, rejects the official
propaganda, and senses an emerging community of grievance in the populace.
Battista in Cuba and Marcos in the Philippines, seemed secure up to the
moment of their downfall. But once the masses came to believe of their
revolution, “¡si, se puede!,” the despots were finished.
The offenses of George Bush and his regime against the American public and
its political traditions are myriad and profound. The Bushistas lie
repeatedly and without scruple, making claims that can readily be proven to
be false. They accelerate the transfer of national wealth from those who
produce that wealth to those who own and control the wealth. They dismantle
social services and educational institutions, despoil the natural
environment, and openly dismiss and defy scientific fact and expertise. They
ruthlessly violate the mandates of our national charter – the Constitution
and the Bill of Rights. They wage aggressive war against nations that are no
threat to us and they overthrow sovereign and democratic governments – all
this in violation of international law.
Even so, at this moment, among a bare majority of us, these grievances are
held privately, and are publicly regarded as “unfashionable,” in the face of
the corporate media’s celebration of “our warrior President.” Meanwhile, the
legal, professional, intellectual and scientific elites, though well aware
of enormity of the transgressions of the Bush Administration, are strangely
and inexcusably silent.
This is an unstable and unnatural condition of the body politic, subject to
In politics, perception is reality. Thus George Bush is as vulnerable as we,
the People, are willing to believe him to be. Bush, Rove & Co. are
desperately aware of this vulnerability, and they are determined to see to
it that we are not. As the poll numbers continue to drop, as news of the
lies are exposed, as the grievances percolate up to the surface of public
awareness, and as news of growing international contempt seeps in through
our borders, the Rove campaign machine and the mighty media Wurlitzer must
realize that they are in the path of a potential avalanche. Perhaps they
will be able to hold the slope in place for the requisite eight months. But
if that slope fractures, begins to move, and then accelerates, no force on
Earth will spare them from being swept away.
The Power of Ridicule.
A public that is slow to respond to evidence and structured argument, will
respond instantly and with relish to ridicule.
Remember Michael Dukakis and the tank? The Howard Dean Scream? Ed Muskie and
the (alleged) weeping over “the Canuck letter?” Poppy Bush and the checkout
Karl Rove remembers. This is why, in 2000, the GOP piled on Al Gore with the
“inventing the internet” scam. Of course, it was 100% certified slander, but
no matter. It served its purpose: Gore was made an object of ridicule,
No politician in memory is more deserving of ridicule than George W. Bush.
Only by the grace of a protective media, has he escaped his well-deserved
If Al Gore can be seriously damaged by reports of lies he never made, how
does Bush escape public mockery for the his transparent lies, known far and
Now that the shameless showmanship of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” fly-boy
stunt has been exposed – in embarrassing contrast to his “flight” from his
National Guard obligation – the Democrats have been handed a pot of pure publicity
gold. So why don’t they cash in? Where are the cartoons depicting Bush as begoggled Snoopy atop the dog house. (Seen any? If so, send them to me).
Could it be that the Democrats are swallowing the GOP line that “the public
will not tolerate a belittling of their President”? If they are taking their
campaign advice from the GOP, then the Democrats are worse fools than I
dared to imagine. “Respect for the office of the President” mattered not one
iota to the likes of Newt Gingrich or Ken Starr.
George Bush – incurious, adolescent, unread, inarticulate George Bush – is
an object of derision, contempt and ridicule throughout the world. Time to
bring that message home. Time to laugh at this pitiful figure. Time to send
him back home to Crawford.
Then we can go about restoring “respect for the office of the President of
the United States.”
I see by my notes, that I have much more to suggest about political tactics
for the coming campaign. But this is about as much space I am accustomed to
use in my editorials.
And so, for the rest, “to be continued.”
Accordingly, I close with this most urgent plea to the Democrats and their
apparent candidate, John Kerry.
Tear up your old campaign playbook, then think and act anew. Begin by
studying the GOP’s playbook. Your opponent is a captive of dogma, habit, and
fixated thought, so he is almost certain to repeat his tactics of old – as
indeed he is doing today, as this new campaign begins.
Above all, take the offensive now – boldly, massively, and persistently.
Once your attention is distracted by incoming GOP salvos, you may be put
into a defensive posture from which you will never escape. If you do, your
cause is doomed.
The best defense is a strong offense. No Administration in our history has
been more “target rich” than this one. No Administration has had more
iniquities to defend and, at the same time, less justification to offer for
The GOP will have upwards of a quarter billion dollars in their campaign war
chest, and the solid support of the corporate media. They also have their
record of the past four years to defend – a record of lies, broken promises,
unconstrained greed and corruption, remorseless slaughter, and the betrayal
of our Constitution.
You may not have Superman on your side, but you do have Truth, Justice and
The American Way. You have on your side the rising rage of a public
exploited and betrayed, and the support and good wishes of an international
community, bewildered by our turn of bad political fortune, but mindful of
our enduring accomplishments in science and technology, the arts and
humanities, in economic well-being, and in political enlightenment.
Put all this to work for you.
Then pity the poor GOP.
In this essay, I am returning to topics that I
have dealt with several times before at The Crisis Papers.
Those who have read the earlier work will recognize some repetition of
themes and ideas. "Covering old ground," while an academic no-no, is
a political necessity. We've all heard of "The Big Lie," whereby a
lie endlessly repeated becomes widely regarded as the truth. But
there is also "The Big Truth," which has the same result. At this
site, I wear my political hat, and thus shamelessly repeat ideas that
clearly deserve to be repeated.
Here are Some of those earlier "tactical treatises:"
Taking Stock (December
Strategies for Underdogs (January
at the Gate: The Media Problem (January 23,
in Action: The Democratic Party (May 12,
The Democrats: When Will They Ever
Learn? (December 2, 2003)