Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama's newest adviser

Karl Rove must be bored.

Rove, the mastermind of victories that put George W. Bush in the White House and kept him there, is regarded among Democrats as the very personification of evil. They blame him for everything from the Iraq war to gas prices and accuse him of exploiting his position of power to engineer persecution of fellow Democrats (see Don Siegelman).

In a column for Newsweek magazine, Rove reaches out to Barack Obama -- who was, the last time I checked, a Democrat -- and gives him the political equivalent of brotherly advice, telling him that the "weary, prickly and distracted tone" his stump speeches have taken, his inability to address the Jeremiah Wright controversy with "one, simple explanation. And stay with it" and a "lack of achievements" in the Senate that "undercuts (his) core themes" are the reasons his campaign has taken a turn for the worse.

Rove's prescription?

  • Write a new stump speech.
  • Cozy up to Republicans.
  • Spend less time campaigning and more time in the Senate.
  • "Stop the attacks."

I laughed as I read Rove's open letter to Obama. The idea that the architect of two Bush victories -- and, indeed, the wildly successful overall voter outreach strategy that elected or returned several hundred other Republicans to office throughout the country -- would help a member of the party he has dedicated his life to fighting is too funny to be plausible.

In diagnosing Obama's problems and in suggesting solutions to them, Rove doesn't miss an opportunity to deliver the same familiar Republican digs against Obama, even as he purports to be helping. Let's look at Rove's "advice:"

  • Rove tells Obama to discard his old stump speech -- the one focusing on hope and change, the one that has drawn and continues to draw millions to his rallies, the one that invites comparisons to Kennedy -- in favor of a new one focused on the general election. That would be great advice -- if the race for the Democratic nomination was finished. It's all but certain that Obama will be locked in a heated battle for delegates (all delegates are, in effect, superdelegates; click here) with Hillary Clinton throughout the summer and possibly even into the convention. Ignoring that fact by assuming the nomination will alienate delegates who are looking for Obama to show some general election-worthy fight, and it will serve only to reinforce the image of him as an aloof elitist.
  • He encourages Obama to begin identifying Republicans he would name to Cabinet posts and "highlight initiatives Republicans can agree on." This would make Obama a target in his own party by giving Clinton ammunition that Obama isn't committed enough to Democratic principles. In addition to being portrayed as not black enough, not patriotic enough and not experienced enough, Obama would also be portrayed to members of his own party as being not Democratic enough. Bipartisanship is good during the general election, but it can be downright detrimental when you're fighting for the support of hard core, lifelong partisans.
  • Rove encourages Obama to leave the campaign trail, where he is meeting voters, to return to the Senate to "pick a big issue and fight for it." In addition to giving feet to what Obama calls "the fierce urgency of now," Rove argues that it will "give (Obama's) argument substance." In addition to, again, reinforcing the aloof-elitist label as discussed above, it would doom Obama to toiling in assured futility; everyone knows that for all the complaints about a "do-nothing Congress," even less gets done in an election year, when regular Washington partisanship is replaced by Washington hyperpartisanship and everything is an opportunity for direct mail.
  • Rove's next gem is simply, "Stop the attacks." This is, without a doubt, the funniest part of Rove's article. If he wasn't a uberoperative, Rove could write for Colbert. Stop the attacks? This, coming from one of the most vicious attack dogs in the GOP kennel? Stop the attacks, coming from someone who has made his living attacking Democrats? Stop the attacks? Stop it, Karl; I can hardly breathe.

Rove uses the other two points -- stick to one explanation and give concrete examples of what he'd do as president -- to simply tweak Obama with the regular GOP lines.

But Obama has an opportunity with this piece, and it's not to take Karl Rove's advice. It's apparent that the "advice" is meant not to empower Obama and right his campaign, but rather to weaken Obama to the point where Democrats turn to Clinton as the authentic, experienced, tough Democratic standard-bearer the party faithful will need in November.

If Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee, it probably wouldn't matter which candidate Democrats installed at the top of the ticket. A Romney-Obama general election campaign would look much the same as a Romney-Clinton race. But with McCain as its nominee, the GOP knows that moderates and independents will be at a premium in the fall -- especially if social conservatives recruit a candidate that saps right-wing votes from McCain, one half of the nightmare scenario for the GOP.

The other half of that nightmare scenario is Obama, because Republicans know that he would draw more moderate Republicans and independents than John McCain will draw moderate Democrats and independents. With party registrations through the roof throughout this primary season, especially on the Democratic side, it's imperative that Rove and Republican strategists like him do all they can to run against Clinton, the GOP's dream opponent.

As the Democratic race descends into a streetfight for delegates and the candidates increasingly argue their electability, Obama can capitalize on Rove's letter by showing delegates that Republicans are more concerned about running against him than facing Clinton in the fall.

They've sent their top dog out to try to ensure the matchup they want -- and that should be all Rove-hating Democrats need to hear.