Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Karl Rove Defends Hillary Clinton

In today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove credits Hillary Clinton's recent win in the New Hampshire primaries to four things:

(1) her direct appeal to women voters,

(2) a couple of key moments when she has demonstrated wit and emotion in response to questions,

(3) her (and her husband's) questioning whether serving one term as a senator is enough preparation for Barack Obama to be president, and

(4) Obama's inability to discredit her.

Some good points and perhaps good insight from a proven political strategist.

My initial response to this report ("Why Hillary Won") is, given the accustomed underhandedness of Rove, to wonder if this column is some ploy to damage Senator Clinton.

Surely, Rove knows how most thinking Democrats regard him, and for him to very publicly defend, even praise Clinton would be an insidious way to undermine her appeal for liberal-minded Democrats.

One has to wonder exactly how devious Rove really is.

The article's more obvious target, though, is Barack Obama, who came in second in the New Hampshire caucuses after taking the gold in the Iowa primary.

Rove's focus on why Hillary won New Hampshire seems largely a cover for emphasizing how Barack lost.

In fact, despite the title, Obama's name is invoked as often as Clinton's--moreover, Senator Clinton and former President Clinton are sometime conflated as the "Clintons."

Rove emphasizes Obama's ineptitude when he quotes what he regards as a "needless and dismissive" follow-up to one example of Clinton's wittiness.

He further clearly feels that Bill and Hillary Clinton have not gone far enough in plumbing Obama's failings as a political leader. He states:

"Former President Bill Clinton hit a nerve by drawing attention to Mr. Obama's conflicting statements on Iraq. There's more -- and more powerful -- material available. Mr. Obama has failed to rise to leadership on a single major issue in the Senate. In the Illinois legislature, he had a habit of ducking major issues, voting 'present' on bills important to many Democratic interest groups, like abortion-rights and gun-control advocates. He is often lazy, given to misstatements and exaggerations and, when he doesn't know the answer, too ready to try to bluff his way through.

"For someone who talks about a new, positive style of politics and pledges to be true to his word, Mr. Obama too often practices the old style of politics, saying one thing and doing another. He won't escape criticism on all this easily. But the messenger and the message need to be better before the Clintons can get all this across. Hitting Mr. Obama on his elementary school essays won't cut it."

At this point, Hillary Clinton has slipped unmistakably into the background of an article ostensibly about how she won New Hampshire.

What Rove is doing is underscoring Hillary Clinton's critique of Obama ("all talk and no show," so to speak). At every opportunity, Rove emphasizes Barack Obama's gifts as a speaker, only to undercut them by asserting the speaker's ineffectiveness.

Rove further states:

"The fourth and biggest reason why Mrs. Clinton won two nights ago is that, while Mr. Obama can draw on the deep doubts of many Democrats about Mrs. Clinton, he can't close out the argument. Mr. Obama is an inspiring figure playing a historical role, but that's not enough to push aside the former First Lady and senator from New York. She's an historic figure, too. When it comes to making the case against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama comes across as a vitamin-starved Adlai Stevenson. His rhetoric, while eloquent and moving at times, has been too often light as air."

The words "inspiring," "historical role," "eloquent," and "moving," applied to Obama, are faint praise made damning by counter-thrusts like "often lazy," "ducking," "bluffing," "can't," "not enough," "push aside," and the snide aside "Mr. Obama comes across as a vitamin-starved Adlai Stevenson."

Note the archly ironic use of "Mr." not to mention begging the question of Adlai Stevenson's virility (the old Republican putdown of the twice unsuccessful--1952 and 1956--Democratic candidate, who was turned into a cartoon figure of contemptibly effete liberal idealism and intellectuality).

It's hard for me not to imagine Rove also struggling with himself on whether to write "articulate," a word that has sometimes been criticized for coded racism, instead of the more neutral "eloquent." Remember Joe Biden's slip in speaking of Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”? Apart from other problems with this statement, a principal point of offensiveness is the implied amazement that a black person can speak as well as a white person.

The climax, then, of Rove's explanation of "why Hillary won" is an assault on Obama's reputation as a forceful speaker ... by implying that the Illinois senator's words are empty and his arguments, futile.

I hate playing the thin-skinned and knee-jerk leftist, but the fact that the liberals have demonized Karl Rove over the past six or seven years does not take anything away from his actual devilishness.

Rove is trying here to do for Obama what his 1950s counterparts did for Adlai Stevenson: to dismiss intellectuality and the power of words as mere substitutes for true leadership ability--conveniently leaving the word "leadership" undefined.

He wants us to believe that leadership perhaps stems from irrationality and inarticulateness, something similar to the sophomoric jingoism and arrogant contempt for logic and democracy exemplified by his pals now in the White House.

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