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Tilting at Windmills

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April 29, 2011

KARL ROVE AND THE AFFECTION FOR PROJECTION.... Karl Rove has a special, some might call it "pathological," quality as a political pundit. More than anyone I've ever seen or heard of, Rove identifies some of his own ugliest, most malicious, most pernicious qualities, and then projects them onto those he hates most.

I've long been fascinated by this, but he just keeps getting worse. Rove's latest WSJ column was almost comically lacking in self awareness, and concluded with this jaw-dropper:

Since Mr. Obama can't make an affirmative case for his re-election, he has decided to try convincing voters that Republicans are monstrous. As a result, America is likely to see the most negative re-election campaign ever mounted by a sitting president.

As best as I can tell, Rove wasn't kidding. His column wasn't intended as satire. He seriously believes the president with the most successful record of accomplishments in a generation "can't make an affirmative case for his re-election." Rove also seems genuine when he thinks Obama will be more negative than any incumbent president in history.

I don't know if there's a prescription available to treat these kinds of delusions, but maybe Rove's buddy Rush Limbaugh can give him a hand.

Look, 2004 really wasn't that long ago. Rove was the "architect" of the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign strategy, and he designed what can fairly be described as the most negative re-election campaign ever mounted by a sitting president.

BC04, for example, launched 64 television commercials after John Kerry had secured the Democratic nomination. Of those 64 ads, 45 were attacks directed at Kerry. That's the not a ratio used by a campaign eager to make an affirmative case for its re-election.

For that matter, if you have a few minutes, take a look at Bush's stump speech from the 2004 campaign. Before the then-president could name a single accomplishment from his first term, Bush's stump speech blasted Kerry as a flip-flopper. From there, Bush touted tax cuts for the wealthy as his most notable accomplishment, and then lied about Kerry's record of supporting tax increases.

Bush then transitioned to mentioning No Child Left Behind, before blasting Kerry on education, health care, medical liability, gay rights, abortion, and liberal judges.

The stump speech then moved on to national security, with Bush boasting, "Afghanistan is free and is an ally in the war on terror" -- how's that one working out? -- and touting progress in Iraq, before spending the rest of the speech condemning Kerry on "voting against the troops," Cold War strategy, counter-terrorism, international cooperation, and something to do with 9/11.

The accomplishment-to-attack ratio in Bush's stump speech was roughly seven to one. (Count all the times the rhetoric pauses so the audience can boo Kerry.)

And ol' Karl is worried about Obama being overly negative in 2012?

This does, however, fit into a remarkable pattern. Rove has spent his professional life engaged in political sleaze, so he's accused Obama of adding "arsenic to the nation's political well." Rove ran a White House that embraced a "permanent campaign," so he's accused the Obama team of embracing a "permanent campaign." Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he's accused Obama of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted " political events, so he's accused Obama of relying on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted" political events. Rove looked at every policy issue "from a political perspective," so he's accused Obama of looking at every policy issue "from a political perspective." Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he's accused Obama of snubbing snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan. Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he's accused Obama of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons. Rove questioned the motives of those with whom he disagreed, so he's accused Obama of questioning the motives of those with whom he disagrees.

A lesser hack might find it difficult to launch political attacks that are ironic, wrong, hypocritical, and examples of projection, all at the same time, but Rove is a rare talent.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

It's not exactly projection. He's simply taking his side's own weakness and accusing his opponent of having it. Psychology tells us that people believe the first thing they hear and they continue to believe it even after they are shown evidence to the contrary (in fact, this evidence makes them believe even more strongly; see what happened this week). Rove's favored candidate has some weakness so he accuses the other side of having that weakness and then my goddamn wingnut relatives will simply never believe reality. George Bush single handedly won Viet Nam with his awesome Air Force piloting skills and John Kerry is a feminine weakling who faked his war injuries.

Posted by: mws on April 29, 2011 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

It is lucky for me I have a hinge on my jaw , keeps it from hitting the floor .

Posted by: FRP on April 29, 2011 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with mws. This isn't a psychological syndrome at all, it's a policy consciously pursued. By its sheer effrontery it's an effective way to disorient the opposition, and it fires up the GOP supporters to see their pols constantly playing offense.

Posted by: davidp on April 29, 2011 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Rove is Satan in human form.

This guy should be in prison, along with Little Boots and Darth Cheney.

Rove should be held to public ridicule any day he steps out of his lair.

I just want to live long enough to spit, piss and sh*t on the graves of these three evil MFers.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 29, 2011 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

I stop reading after I see "Karl Rove" ....

Posted by: bigtuna on April 29, 2011 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

"The accomplishment-to-attack ratio in Bush's stump speech was roughly seven to one." You might want to reverse that, either by saying "the attack-to-accomplishment" or "one to seven". The way you phrased it says seven accomplishments to one attack, which I'm sure isn't what you meant.

Posted by: DavidNOE on April 29, 2011 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think that @mws on April 29 has it about right but not quite. The pathological "architect's" MO against opponents has always been the same: Identify their forte and relentlessly attack it so as to turn it into a perceived weakness. It is what he did to John Kerry, and it is what he has now started to try to do against President Obama by taking what is his strength, i.e. "the most successful record of accomplishments in a generation" (turning around the economy that Rove's boss had run aground; passing the ACA, which had eluded POTUSes since at least Truman. etc...), and making them look like a weakness. The White House is going to have to push back against this and do so forcefully and relentlessly because I fully agree with @mws on April 29 on this point: "...people believe the first thing they hear and they continue to believe it even after they are shown evidence to the contrary..."

Deny this buffoon yet another undeserved electoral success that would be touted as some kind of "political genius."

Posted by: dcshungu on April 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

mws is right, but doesn't PROJECT that thought far enough into the land of RW wing-nuttery. It's true that Rove's MO is projecting his candidate's weakness onto his opponents. However, you have to have the gullible masses of Bush-loving Tea-Baggers who'll swallow it. It doesn't take a genius to realize that Bush-era policies of Iraq invasion and torture-gone-wild were completely counter-productive. And yet, these 'with-us-or-against-US' idiots have been convinced otherwise. Someday I'll write an essay on the nexus of born-again religious types and their certitude on being 'Right'. It's blasphemous.

Posted by: Captain Obvious on April 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Rove is just like every Republican today. He has NO morals, No values, and NO integrity.

Given that as a base, lying is perfectly OK and quite expected.

Republicans can't win telling the truth, so they take the olny available path - with no reservations or conscience at all.

Posted by: Mark-NC on April 29, 2011 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I'd still like to know who that Gannon-Guckert fake journalist/male prostitute was 'visiting' in the White House during the Bush years...

Posted by: Captain Obvious on April 29, 2011 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Lee Atwater! Lee Atwater!

Posted by: ComradeAnon on April 29, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

The only reliable characteristic of Karl Rove is that anything bad he says about his opponent is something he has done 10x worse.

That nugget you can take to the bank every single time.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 29, 2011 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Atwater died years before. So who's the closet homo in the Bush MANLY White House?

Posted by: Captain Obvious on April 29, 2011 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe Karl Rove is the reincarnation of Lee Atwater. Whether he is or not, however, really is irrelevant. The fact is that this garbage works so well with the wackos they covet.

The Democrats need to figure out how to counter this stuff because however wrong this stuff is it seems to drive all the debates. So, in my mind, we need to find some effective strategies to combat these crack pots that want to destroy the country.

While the counter to ending Medicare as we know it seems to be working for now, it is not clear that it will materially change the 2012 election. Sorry I'm just too pessimistic about some of our supposed Dem stalwarts such as Manchin in WVA and Conrad in ND.

Without effective ways to counter the right wing echo chamber and the vast ability of these folks to fund this stuff we won't materially change the debate.

Posted by: davidi on April 29, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

You left out my favorite, during the 2008 campaign when Palin was chosen as McCain's running mate:

Earlier this month, Karl Rove repeatedly argued that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) would not be capable of being Vice President. He complained that hes been a governor for three years and said Kaine was mayor of only the the 105th largest city in America, referring to Kaines tenure as mayor of Richmond, VA. Its not a big town, he quipped.

Yesterday, however, Rove argued just the opposite with regard to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). He explained on Fox News that Palin was a good choice as McCains vice presidential nominee because she was mayor of the second largest city in Alaska:

ROVE: Shes a populist, shes an economic and a social conservative, shes a reformer, she took on the incumbent governor of the state Frank Murkowski Republican beat him in the primary, won an upset in the general election. Shes a former mayor. Shes the mayor of, I think, the second largest city in Alaska before she ran for governor.

Kaine was indeed mayor of the the 105th largest city in America. While there, he governed nearly 200,000 people and managed a bureaucracy of over 8,000 employees. By contrast, Palin was mayor of Wasilla, AK, a town of just over 8,000 people that currently employs just over 100 individuals and contrary to Roves claim didnt even make it into the 10 largest cities in AK while she was mayor.

Rove is an attack dog pure and simple. He operates in a universe where only one rule applies: IOKIYAR. full stop. The idea that he is a paid lackey for Murdoch's empire of spew is just proof that Rupert owns the GOP.

Posted by: majun on April 29, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, this has driven me absolutely NUTS for years, so thanks for writing it up.

Posted by: jTh on April 29, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get it Steve. You regularly argue that the Prez should go on the offensive and attack the Republican agenda for the radical pile of steaming dung it is, then complain when Rove says he expects Obama to do what you say he should do more of.

Posted by: Popeye on April 29, 2011 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

My idea of PROJECTION is that you think everybody else thinks like you.

My simple example. As a non-violent person (never been in a fight, and I aint ashamed of that), and I say "I am going to get you", I mean legally, in a court of law, etc.

A violent person hears that,and they think I am "threatening" physical violence. This is because the violent person migrates to violence very easily in their mind, sooo, everybody else must think violence when they say that, and I must be threatening them.

NO KARL Normal people DO NOT think(?) like you!

Karl is "WHAT RAT FCKING, can I think of today", so naturally, Obama MUST be thinking the same thing, and I, being a great, defender of moral and civilized America, must WARN everybody about Obama and his ideas.

Posted by: barkleyg on April 29, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Pure. Satirical. Genius.

Posted by: LoveHate on April 29, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

mws get is part right. While projection may play a role, the real issue is that Rove knows what works. By warning that Democrats will try what works he is effectively getting them to NOT do what works, because, after all, Democrats are Nice People.

Nice People who lose elections.

Going negative wins elections. Rove knows this. In the DC echo chamber liberals want to be seen as the good guys.

I'd like to see a negative campaign that paints Republicans as the soulless bootlickers they are. The kind of campaign that puts them in the minority for the next 50 years.

Posted by: Optimist on April 29, 2011 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I know that the projection argument is made all the time, but it seems to me more like facile pop psychology than plausible explanation. As hypocritical as Rove's pronouncements are, I've noticed that whenever someone like Rove comes out with one of these memes, the next thing you know they're being repeated by rote by wingers everywhere. It's really more to try and control the narrative.

Posted by: Rasputin22 on April 29, 2011 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Any nasty piece of offal that this man dreams up, he blames the Democrats for as if he truly can't recognize what a low rent piece of crap he really is.

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 29, 2011 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of rat-fucking: "Since Mr. Obama can't make an affirmative case for his re-election" - did anyone else get a double vision and see "Obama affirmative action"?

Posted by: Glidwrith on April 29, 2011 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

More important than playing to the right wing nuts is manipulating the press. Rove wants to start the meme in the press that Obama is going negative. By the summer of 2012 it will be established and everything Obama says will not be fair criticism, but him just being negative. We will have to listen to endless interviews and analysis on "how negative is Obama really being"? NPR will have a weekly segment with EJ Dionne and David Brooks on the subject. It will undermine whatever he says and he will have to waste time defending himself. Meanwhile the Republican canadiate will be able to say whatever he/she wants. Because, after all, pointing out the horrible things the Repub says is just being negative.

Posted by: Homer on April 29, 2011 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of rat-fucking: "Since Mr. Obama can't make an affirmative case for his re-election" - did anyone else get a double vision and see "Obama affirmative action"?
Posted by: Glidwrith on April 29, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Yup. Had to read that sentence twice to make sure I was *not* seeing what I thought I saw. I still think the proximity was not accidental.

Posted by: exlibra on April 29, 2011 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't "Rovian tactics" already defined in Washington-speak?

(from Urban Dictionary)

1. Rovian

adjective. describing something exhibiting or employing fraudulent spin. Deft use of misleading information, double speak, or double logic for the purposes of manipulating policy and the general public.

2. Rovian

the political tactic of lying through implying, and without actually lying; leading listeners to a false conclusion without actually making a false statement.

Posted by: JS on April 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK
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