Adventures in Cosmopolis

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Tonight I scored an invite to one of those innumerable D.C. meet-and-greets, The Week magazine's Opinion Awards. Journalists, think-tankers and policy geeks from the high and low circles of the city gathered in a Georgetown hotel, downed free drinks, and ate free food, as The Week handed out prizes for cartooning (Mike Lukovich), blogging (Joshua Micah Marshall) and column writing (Ruth Marcus). Mingling around the small ballroom, seemingly seated at random, were figures from all over the political spectrum. Karl Rove, seated next to Ben Bradlee and across from Ana Marie Cox, was right next to the stage as The Week editors awarded journalists who'd exposed his misdeeds. And they joked while they did so.

When Josh Marshall (in absentia) was credited with exposing the White House's abuses in the U.S. attorneys scandal: "Karl… I'm sorry to bring this up." Big laughs.

When Mike Lukovich got his award: "When I got this I got a call from Karl Rove, telling me, "I want to be there for you, Mike!'"

When emcee Margaret Carlson made a joke about wiretapping abuses, Rove stage-whispered a joke: "Your calls aren't that interesting, incidentally."

MSNBC host Chris Matthews arrived a bit late, and Carlson pointed him out as he took his seat. "I want more recognition and attention!" He laughed that glass-shattering "HAH!" that Darrell Hammond has such an easy time parodying. Throughout the night, even though I wasn't close to Matthews, it was hard not to hear him.

Rove was there for a purpose: He, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen, and former New York Times Editor Howell Raines ambled onstage after the awards for a rambling forum on "How We Pick the President." Magazine editor-at-large Harold Evans trodded up and down the stage, asking them open-ended questions about the election, and seeming way too surprised when fireworks started burning. Schoen mostly antagonized the audience, wrenching every topic back to his belief that Centrism was what Americans were lusting after, refusing even to call Fox News a conservative network. Raines seemed to curdle whenever Rove spoke, and crackled when he got a chance to attack him. "One of the biggest changes in my lifetime," he said, "has been this rise of negative campaigning."

Rove was a bit more credible. Hillary Clinton, he said, had run an "appalling, lousy" campaign. He'd beaten Al Gore in 2000 by making it look like Gore was running away from Bush, looking weak, instead of defining himself and looking strong. When the conversation turned to Jeremiah Wright, Rove rolled out an argument he'd been using on Fox News and in other interviews: Obama missed the opportunity to denounce Wright, and the fact that he'd stayed in the pews for 20 years implied that he agreed with Wright's craziest statements. There was some applause and a lot more low-decibel grumbling. Raines challenged Rove on how John McCain had sought the endorsement of fanatics like John Hagee. "That's not the same as sitting in that church for 20 years as this pastor said the government created crack to kill the black community," said Rove, "that the CIA created AIDS."

Chris Lehmann, an occasional reason contributor, piped up from the second row from the stage. "He wasn't in the pew!"* Lehmann said. "He wasn't in the pew when Wright said that!" Evans tried to quiet the room down. "We're moving on to another subject," Evans said. "Then he should stop lying," Lehmann said.

The rest of the panel followed this pattern: Schoen getting rolled, Raines getting annoyed, Rove launching effective Republican attacks. Negative campaigning only worked if it reinforced a worry that voters held: For an example, he used Mike Dukakis and the issue of crime. Ana Marie Cox (who's married to Lehmann) was obviously thrown. As the panel wound down, she raised her hand. As the speakers filibustered, she waved both her hands with more an more energy, swinging them like a distress signal. When Evans called on her she sarcastically complimented the organizers for putting together "so many experts on race and gender," then asked Rove if Dukakis's problems with crime had anything to do with race.

"The Gallup poll showed that 60 percent…"

Cox repeated her question.

"It was first reported in Reader's Digest. Al Gore was the first to make it an issue."

This sounded like a non sequitur, and the audience wasn't satisfied. So Rove clarified: "I will not say it had nothing to do with race. But the ad the Bush campaign ran on this did not exploit race. The image was blue." Everyone scratched their heads, including me, because the iconic Willie Horton ad was on a blue screen… with an embedded picture of the very black Horton.

Two thoughts occured to me after Evans moved the conversation on from here. The first was that Rove must get this a lot, touring the rubber chicken circuit in a country and a city where he's still largely loathed. The second was that the crowed must have loved what Lehmann and Cox were saying. That second thought was proven after the event was over, and a bevy of journalists, who'd largely sit and smiled during the presentation, rushed over to thank Cox for her question.

You have to respect Chris Matthews: He's blunt enough to say what he thinks without waiting for someone else to say it. When Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute asked Rove about John McCain, Evans asked who Ebell's ideal candidate would be. "I would have liked to see Haley Barbour," Ebell said.

"Hah!" said Matthews. "I could tell you stories about him!"

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  1. Gore didn’t lose because he looked weak, he lost because he irritated people. He’s got a hefty dose of that “do what I say, you ignorant peasants!” attitude about him, kind of like a watered-down Hillary Clinton.

    -jcr

  2. Gore didn’t lose because he looked weak…

    Certainly that little Florida thing was a factor…

  3. Rove must not be terribly loathed or he wouldn’t be touring…..

    Hey, I don’t get it either, but money talks and you-know-what walks. If you can draw a crowd you win. If you draw flies, well, not so much.

  4. Snuggling up to a chortling Rove gives me the creeps. But love the sinner….?

  5. Am I reading this right?

    Schoen (the Democratic pollster) was the ‘centrist’ and Raines (the former NYT man) was the ‘Democratic partisan’?

  6. Lehmann sounds like a real fun guy. Glad he had the first-hand evidence to clear up that rumor about Obama though. Obama’s been so precise about which things he heard and didn’t hear, and there’s no chance he would just fall back on ‘misremembering’– it’s eminently clear Rove that was directly and purposely lying. Really got ’em good on that one.

  7. I like Rove. I think he’s the only political strategist who’s actions don’t leave me screaming at the TV “what, are you a fucking idiot?”
    The things he advocates are fucking evil, but you got to appreciate how well he plays the game of politics.
    Plus, the liberals hate him.

  8. I’m halfway convinced that Rove is a communist plant whose mission is to corrupt the GOP and turn it into a national laughingstock.

  9. Sounds like an utterly horrible night of statist enablers and apologists. Did they have Tums on the hors doeuvre cart? The Wonkette crowd must be curling its toes in superficial delight. Rome is burning . . . If only Henry Miller were alive, at least he wouldn’t care.

  10. You got to appreciate how well he plays the game of politics.

    No, you really don’t. People like him (and Frank Luntz) are people that:

    a. Perpetuate the (becoming deserved) notion that conservatives are evil power-mongers

    b. Debase what ought to be a conversation about policy

    c. Are what is wrong with America

  11. she sarcastically complimented the organizers for putting together “so many experts on race and gender”

    What does that even mean? That there were too many white men in the audience? Cox sounds like the epitome of the arrogant PC liberal. And her husband sounds utterly obnoxious.

  12. Sounds like an utterly horrible night of statist enablers and apologists.

    Heh. It’s considered rude to point that out.

  13. I may be crazy, but I never thought the Willie Horton ad was racist. Conservatives essentially pulled the same attack against Mike Huckabee in the primaries with Wayne DuMond. DuMond’s whiteness didn’t dampen the effectiveness of the “soft on crime” smear.

  14. Cox is a moron who is convinced she’s the coolest, hippest political reporter that ever walked the planet. I imagine she even thinks she’s hipper than Weigel. The fact that she can make an idiotic, unfunny joke and not get slammed for it just shows how well she’s built her image.

    Incidentally, the chumminess of people who ostensibly hate each other’s guts just goes to show what an inbred statist circle jerk Washington is.

    Hope you enjoyed the circus, Dave. Don’t get sucked in.

  15. You know I read this and the only thought I have is that Washington might as well be on another planet.

  16. Journalists, think-tankers and policy geeks from the high and low circles of the city gatered[sic] in a Georgetown hotel, downed free drinks, and ate free food, as The Week handed out prizes

    Another glorious evening of congenial insider backslapping, and wallowing in that special warm feeling one gets from being superior to the lowly, ignorant slobs of the booboisie, eh?

  17. Drudge is featuring two links to this event:

    ROVE: Hillary’s run ‘horrific campaign’… at
    http://www.examiner.com/blogs/Yeas_and_Nays/2008/4/9/Rove-and-Raines-go-a-round-or-two

    and
    HOWELL RAINES: Bill Clinton is race-baiting…
    at http://www.politico.com/blogs/jonathanmartin/0408/Howell_Raines_says_Bill_Clinton_playing_race_card.html

    Looks like you got to an A-list event, David…

  18. JW,

    Certainly that little Florida thing was a factor…

    Yea, Gore getting fewer votes than Bush, by every single count during and after the election, in a State with that many electoral votes sure can set you back.

    Some are still disappointed that the Florida SC plan to keep counting until Gore wins, no matter how many recounts are needed, was overruled by the USSC.

  19. Love the ad at the top of the page. Yes, Pam Anderson is a robo-hottie, but I hate I-Phones so not clicking through. Sorry.

  20. So Karl Rove gave a speech and Q&A for a bunch of journalistic has-beens (Lukovich) and never-weres (Cox)?

  21. Oh — and Chris Matthews and David Weigel also attended.

  22. The banality of evil, indeed.

  23. Say what you want about Rove, but he’s pretty damn good at his job. These journalists can pat themselves on the backs for calling him out on misleading statements, but the reality is what will be on the minds of voters this election will be the frame he designed for these polticians, not anything these guys wrote.

  24. “Journalists, think-tankers and policy geeks from the high and low circles of the city gatered…”

    Did y’all wear togas, too?

  25. I may be crazy, but I never thought the Willie Horton ad was racist.

    The argument is that it was intended to play upon the racial fears of white people. Which are completely unjustified because blacks commit murder at about ten times the rate whites do (oh, that’s not part of the argument).

  26. Some facts about the Horton case (beyond “They showed a picture of a black man – they’re racists!”).

    “On October 26, 1974, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Horton and two accomplices robbed Joseph Fournier, a 17-year-old gas station attendant, stabbed him 19 times, and left him in a trash can. Fournier died from blood loss. Horton was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment, and incarcerated at the Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts.

    On June 6, 1986, he was released as part of a weekend furlough program but did not return. On April 3, 1987 in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Horton twice raped a local woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fianc?. He then stole the car belonging to the man he had assaulted, but was later captured by police after a chase…

    Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts at the time of Horton’s release, and while he did not start the furlough program, he had supported it as a method of criminal rehabilitation. The State inmate furlough program was actually signed into law by Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent in 1972. After the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, the Massachusetts legislature quickly passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill…”

  27. The bigger Dukakis problem, IMHO, was the video of him riding around in a tank, plus a bunch of other self-inflicted wounds.

  28. According to Rove, the attacks on Dukakis were completely pounded in when he gave his muddling answer to Bernard Shaw’s question at one of the debates: “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered,” would he want the death penalty for the killer? When Dukakis mumbled through an unemotional answer, that convinced people that the Bush attacks were right. This is a mobius strip, though. Dukakis would never have been asked a question like that if his opponents hadn’t stoked the crime issue.

  29. DW,

    Excellent point.

  30. Yea, Gore getting fewer votes than Bush, by every single count during and after the election, in a State with that many electoral votes sure can set you back.

    When I think “that little Florida thing was a factor,” I think of 20,000 morons who couldn’t fill out a ballot.

    But Gore really, really had to work to make the election close enough to be thrown by bad ballot design. He should have run on, “I am Bill Clinton without the whole intern thing.” Instead he ran on, “I am Al Gore, supersmart liberal.”

    By the way, Hillary Clinton is making the same mistake.

  31. Yea, Gore getting fewer votes than Bush, by every single count during and after the election

    Nope.

    The most comprehensive recount – one that looked at every overvote and undervote in the state – found that Gore had won by several thousand votes.

    But since the results came out in the Fall of 2001, there were some other stories that made the front page instead.

  32. Don’t forget Nader’s effect on the race.

  33. Karl Rove managed to 1) lose a presidential election by half a million votes to a guy who was bleeding support to a third-party candidate, 2) deliver high approval ratings to a president in the aftermath of the largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, and 3) get an incumbent wartime president narrowly re-elected.

    But, on the other hand, it does appear that he’s managed to use the war to create that permanent majority he was always talking about.

  34. The most comprehensive recount – one that looked at every overvote and undervote in the state – found that Gore had won by several thousand votes.

    That’s not what the NYT says .

    The comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots solidifies George W. Bush’s legal claim on the White House because it concludes that he would have won under the ground rules prescribed by the Democrats.

    But they’re a notorious pro-Bush rag.

    Admittedly, there were hypothetical recounts that gave Gore a very narrow margin, but they applied the most permissive vote-counting standards, and applied them statewide, two things not really allowed by Florida law.

    Its over, joe.

  35. Oops. clicked too soon. Meant to point out that the Gore margin under the most favorable scenarios in the hypothetical recounts was 60 to 171 votes.

    According to the Washington Post, anyway.

  36. The most comprehensive recount – one that looked at every overvote and undervote in the state – found that Gore had won by several thousand votes.

    joe, I’m going to have to ask for a cite on this.

    My recollection is that the newspaper consortium that did the postmortem did the count using three or four different rules, with the margin always in the low hundreds. Gore won one of those, but it was not the one that the Democrats were seeking when the USSC ruled.

  37. RC,

    Would it be too difficult to ask you to read your own links?

    From the NYT editorial: because it concludes that he would have won under the ground rules prescribed by the Democrats.

    The Democrats did not prescribe a comprehensive recount of all overvotes and undervotes; rather, just a recount of undervotes in some counties.

    Its over, joe. Yes, it is. George Bush succeeded to the presidency despite being chosen neither by the American public, nor the Floridian public. As my comment was about Karl Rove’s ability to win elections, and not the legitimacy of Bush’s inauguration, I’m going to have to flag you for being off-topic.

  38. Mike P,

    You’re right, I mixed up two different things.

    The “several thousand” figure is based on a reasonable assumption about the intent of “Palm Beach Voters for Buchanan.”

    Gore’s margin in clearly-expressed ballots was much lower.

  39. “Palm Beach Voters for Buchanan.”

    They’re first album was great!

    As I note above, that’s why I recognize that Gore “should have” won, but that Bush was not “handed” the election by the Supreme Court.

  40. joe,

    Whether you count votes by the “most comprehensive” method, the Democrats’ method, or the Republican method, it really doesn’t matter because the margin should never have been that slim. 2000 was Gore’s race to lose. Gore was riding the coattails of a popular president, yet was untouched in most of those scandals. Issues that favor the GOP were not on the radar (economy was doing well, crime was down, national security seemed fine). Somehow, Rove helped to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. You have to give him some credit for that.

  41. Gotcha now.

    I read “should have won” as a statement about the election “should have been” a rout, and not close, because of the imaginary Vice-Presidential bump. That’s the most common context in which I’ve seen that phrase used.

  42. Abdul,

    Looking at history, I don’t think the coattails you’re talking about extend to a Vice President.

    Bush won in 1988, so that’s one.

    But Nixon didn’t win in 1960.

    Since FDR, the parties have managed to win the presidency three times in a row twice, out of thirteen elections. The number of fourth consecutive wins is zero. The public likes to change parties – they get sick of the incumbent party, and want to throw them out. Would Nader have gotten a significant % of the vote if the Democrats hadn’t been the incumbent party? Probably not.

  43. How the heck did a back-slapping, Beltway awards-party thread turn into the 2000 election?

  44. Because Karl Rove is being held up as a genius who orchestrated the victorious 2000 campaign and then went on to bigger and better political machinations. In reality, Rove won the 2000 election due to poor ballot design in one county of one state.

    A triple overtime win that got through the first overtime due solely to a referee’s bad call is not a resounding affirmation of one’s competence.

    And how on earth a genius like Karl Rove would allow Iraq to happen is beyond me.

  45. Rove is a genius like Dick Morris is a genius.

  46. From the NYT editorial: because it concludes that he would have won under the ground rules prescribed by the Democrats.

    I agree with Joe…the NYT is a rag filled with lies and cannot be trusted for providing accurate information.

  47. I’m a liberal, and I’ve always considered the 2000 election to be a tie, and the American election system doesn’t do very well with ties. I blame Nader more than I blame Rove.

  48. I agree with Joe…the NYT is a rag filled with lies and cannot be trusted for providing accurate information.

    Actually, the Times was absolutely right – by the standards requested by the Gore campaign, Gore still would have lost.

    The error here isn’t the Times’, but RC’s misrepresentation of what the Times wrote.

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