Monday, October 30, 2006

Republican GOTV: your tax dollars hard at work

Whether or not he is on his farewell tour, wouldn’t it be nice if the establishment media stopped treating Karl Rove like a rock star? I mean, it is now four years since the 2002 midterm election, and folks on both sides of the aisle have weighed in about the “genius” of “energizing the base” by spreading negative bile through whispering campaigns and “advocacy” ads, while paying more audible lip service to hot-button issues. (I know this will come as news to Mark Halperin and John Harris, who act like they’ve just discovered this in their new book.) Many trumpet this victorious strategy, and even look for ways to mimic it, but few seem to assess the collateral damage—a polarized and cynical electorate—or take into account that for all his “brilliance,” Rove and his Bush-wacky Republicans wouldn’t have won much at all without cheating.

And no, I’m not talking about Florida or Ohio, at least not this time.

I remember (for it was less than a decade ago) when it was considered a scandal of the highest order that then Vice President Al Gore didn’t step outside to telephone possible donors to the DNC. Countless column inches and broadcast minutes were spent on what turned out to be Gore’s use of a Clinton-Gore ’96 calling card from a White House phone. Now, this was worthy of a look—because it is illegal to do political fundraising on government property—but contrast this with the ongoing reaction of the establishment media (and Congress and the courts, for that matter) to the partisan politicking coordinated by Rove from a desk that is spitting distance from the Oval Office.

You don’t have to dig. Look no further than Sunday’s Los Angeles Times’ article once again breathlessly describing what the “maestro” Rove is up to (apology in advance for the very long excerpt):

. . . the most significant element of Rove's effort to help four-term Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds keep his job may have occurred behind closed doors, when the White House strategist met with a federal disaster relief official contemplating how to respond to the storm. Four days later, Reynolds announced that President Bush would authorize millions of dollars in federal disaster aid for the area.

The timing was perfect: Reynolds broke the news hours after testifying before the House Ethics Committee about his role in the Mark Foley sex scandal — knocking reports on the scandal out of the spotlight.

. . . .

Rove is giving a virtuoso performance designed to prevent the Democrats from taking control of the House and Senate or, if that is no longer possible, to hold down the size of the Democratic victory to make it easier for the GOP to come back in 2008. His plan is three-pronged: to reenergize any conservatives who may be flagging; to make sure the GOP's carefully constructed campaign apparatus is functioning at peak efficiency; and to put the resources of the federal government to use for political gain.

. . . .

On Tuesday, Rove used the White House itself to fire up the base, setting up a tent on the lawn for Cabinet secretaries and other officials to deliver the GOP's hard-edged message on the dangers of a Democratic triumph to 42 generally sympathetic radio talk show hosts who could pass the message on to millions of conservative listeners.

. . . .

They will oversee a mobilization of political employees from Cabinet agencies, Capitol Hill and lobbying firms — many of them skilled campaign veterans — to more than a dozen battleground states. Many will act as "marshals," supervising the "72-hour plan" developed by Rove in 2001 with Ken Mehlman, the former White House political director who now heads the Republican National Committee.

. . . .

But the success of the get-out-the-vote effort depends on putting a reliable army of volunteers into the field, and some worry about the sour mood among Republicans this year. Rove and Mehlman have tried to ensure quality control by recruiting experienced operatives to supervise key state operations.

In the summer, they invited hundreds of political appointees from Cabinet agencies, along with other GOP activists and Hill staffers, to attend a pep rally in Washington. The event featured appeals to politically experienced federal appointees to volunteer for campaign work in battleground races in the final two weeks of the campaign.

In a twist that resembled an Amway sales meeting more than a political strategy session, they offered those who signed up on the spot a chance to win an iPod and other prizes.

As the political landscape shifted in September and October, Rove's office suggested new destinations for some of these volunteers, pointing them toward races that had become more critical.

But to senior-level political appointees, such conversations with the White House would not be anything new: Nearly all have had regular contact with Rove and his political deputies to a degree previous generations of appointees did not.

For example, Interior Department employees describe regular visits from Rove's staff during Bush's first term. On one occasion, Rove visited a retreat for the 50 top Interior Department managers. The lights dimmed in an agency conference room as Rove went through a PowerPoint presentation showing battleground races in the 2002 midterm election, and occasionally made oblique but clearly understood references to Interior Department decisions that could affect these races.

By stopping short of explicitly calling on the Interior Department officials to take action, Rove stayed within the rules against exerting improper political influence.

This year, Rove's deputy, Sara Taylor, has delivered similar presentations to nearly every Cabinet agency — providing managers with a look at polls showing presidential approval ratings and the latest data on House and Senate races.

In addition to Taylor's visits to Cabinet agencies, Mary Matalin, the Republican consultant and former advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, spoke to agencies this fall describing the stakes in November.

"These visits are a reminder of what's important," said one agency manager who attended one of the sessions. "They didn't need to say anything explicitly. We already knew what to do." The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the sessions.

As the White House official considered closest to the president, Rove — along with his staff — not only influences government decisions and the travel schedules of GOP officeholders, but organizes leaders of private-sector groups who are investing heavily in the election.

No, there is nothing in the article that talks about using a calling card and a White House phone to raise $50, 000 for the RNC, but it does talk about redirecting millions in government aid to politically sensitive districts, coordinating federal employees to do partisan political work, consulting potential campaign contributors on policy initiatives, and using the grounds of the White House for a Republican get-out-the-vote rally! And LAT writers Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten report on all of this without so much as a raised eyebrow!

Now, it’s late, and I don’t have a copy of the Federal Code handy, but it would seem to me, at least from an everyman definition, that if the things Gore did were hinky, the things Rove and his White House are doing are almost certainly against the law, or, at a minimum, a betrayal of the public trust and a misuse of public funds.

Maybe Karl Rove got George Bush elected Texas Governor by chatting up evangelicals and muttering under his breath that Governor Richards was a lesbian, and maybe Rove got his boy into the White House with a similar “strategy” (and when we say strategy, we of course mean tactics), but let’s be clear, Rove and the Republicans have clung to power in large part because they have organized the Federal Government to do their partisan bidding in a way that far outstrips all that have come before.

Maybe that makes Rove as audacious as a rock star, but does that make him a genius?

I’m not sure, but I know this: it makes him a criminal.

(A version of this has been cross-posted over at Daily Kos)

Update: Well, surprise, surprise. Thanks to JamesB3, I now know that writers Hamburger and Wallsten don’t raise an eyebrow while fawning over Karl because they have a bit of an interest in maintaining the myth of the “maestro’s” magic:

Mr. Hamburger and Mr. Wallsten have no qualms in hyping Mr. Rove, obviously. Per Hotline:

This piece does not mention that the authors of this piece also have a book titled "One Party Country The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century."

This sounds like quite a fair and balanced read:

In 2004, Republicans won a clean sweep of the national elections -- 232 House seats, 55 Senate seats, 28 governorships and, of course, the presidency, expanding on gains from 2000 and 2002. It's the kind of electoral dominance that could lead a pair of White House reporters to wonder: "[I]s the United States becoming a one-party country?"

Such is the provocative contention of Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten's behind-the-curtains exegesis of the Republican plan for perpetual political power -- and why it just might be crazy enough to work. "Republicans," they write, "are the New York Yankees of American politics -- the team that, at the start of every season, has the tools in place to win it all."

Is this what the media is reduced to? The LA Times running this journalistic pom pom wave for SuperKarl?

Well, James, in the case of the LA Times, recently forced by the parent Tribune Company to drastically cut news staff, um, yes.


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