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June 24, 2005

'06 & '08: No Illusions
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just in case you weren't absolutely sure how the GOP will campaign when its president and its Congress are collapsing in public opinon, Karl Rove clears it up for you:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

Now, before you want to spend the next three years yelling "no we didn't," we need a two-pronged response:

1)  a strong, substantive answer on what we did and what we will do to keep America safe;

2) a strong, substantive and convincing page-turn to broad national security, Iraq, proliferation and other policy areas, foreign and domestic, where conservatives are responding to current challenges with "timidity."

Why?  Because we weren't in office in '01, we aren't in office now, and no matter how many terrorists we promise to hunt down and kill, we still lose as long as the conversation stays on the response to 9-11. 

Being strong on terrorism also has to mean being strong enough to set the national-security agenda, not just respond to demagogues setting it in this cynical way.  This is a trap for us to get caught in.


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best entry ever. now the pesky issue of finding the right content for the page-turn and getting someone to pay attention to it.

...may take me a little bit to get back to you with a prioritized list. ;' )

"...getting someone to pay attention to it."


more, making sure that after the elections the content continues to evolve through implementation.

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war;"

We might want to emphasize that, apparently, they actually didn't.

"...we weren't in office in '01"

True enough, but it's not like the Clinton administration didn't have ample opportunity to go after terrorism for 8 years. The war on terrorism didn't start on 9/11, that's just the day we began to fight back.

Another trap Democrats fell in was getting cozy with a demagogue like Michael Moore while passing off John Kerry's uniform as evidence of security seriousness. It was bad pandering then and it is harming Democratic credibility now.

Rove made a bad generalization, expediently, but he didn't say anything new and there is plenty on the record for the Hugh Hewitts of the world to back him up. I agree it's necessary we get away from false bifurcations, but that means in part having a progressive base that is more than viscerally anti-war.

Having a progressive populism that is comfortable with anti-terrorism is essential, and ignoring the issue by claiming 'You're just playing their game' leaves that bad dichotomy in place -- it doesn't transcend it.

I have wondered what the 2004 campaign might have looked like if Senator Kerry (or President Bush) had pledged in a short convention speech to send all donations to his campaign to voluntary groups that supply our troops with the means to perform civic action work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Presidential campaign could have become a race to see whether Democratic or Republican voters could raise more money by October 15 to support our troops in these efforts. The last three weeks of the campaign could have been devoted to traditional debates and issues, but before then the entire campaign could have been a constructive race to involve millions of Americans on behalf of our missions and forces abroad.

If the political campaign had been effectively suspended until mid-October for this purpose, both parties would have taken up the challenge, the American people would have come together, and attempts at character assassination on both sides would have been impossible.

The problem is that neither party imagined turning an election into something like this. Realists would have regarded it as a waste of valuable time (even though the British are able to wage full campaigns and debate issues in six weeks or less).

Partisanship may win out in 2006 and 2008 if incumbents are perceived to be making a mess of things. But a better challenge is how to imagine a common ground for all Americans that can change the tone and tenor of politics itself.

Ms. Heather:

Delighted to come across this terse and straightforward (and non-self-promoting) commentary just after seeing George Lakoff's response -- in circulation via The Huffington Post at

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