Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Three Prongs of Attack

As usual, Stirling has excellent advice for Democratic strategists inside and outside the beltway--advice which fits nicely with Frank Rich's Sunday op-ed. Stirling suggests Democrats have the upper hand in what might just be the greatest Whitehouse scandal in American history. Republicans only have a defensive position; it is only possible for them to obfuscate, which on the surface is the simpler course of action, but is also limited, especially in the face of a determined special prosecutor.

Democrats, on the other hand, have at least three different fronts on which to attack. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, but as each is confronted by its inherent limitations, the others can proceed depending on the situation:
The Democratic Party has a more diverse body of messages. First because the Democratic Party has different desired outcomes, and second because the side on offense has to send prongs into the defense from a variety of angles. This helps the scandal, because it means that when one prong gets bogged down, another front moves forward. The Democratic beltway message is "abuse of power" - since this is their 2006 campaign theme. The Democratic outside the beltway crowd wants this focused with laser like precision on Rove, since that is the one thing they think everyone can agree on: Rove broke the law. The Democratic Party base wants to connect this with the big picture - the scandal of Iraq itself. Each line has its merits and problems.
Rich's op-ed most reflects this latter view, that is, the view of the Democratic Party base. For him, Cooper and Miller, Plame and Wilson, Rove and Libby, are all subplots in the more significant drama surrounding how the administration manipulated facts, and attacked anyone who contradicted their representation of reality, in order to make the case to invade Iraq. Unlike some NYT reporters, he admits at the outset that Rove did it, but:
Even so, we shouldn't get hung up on him - or on most of the other supposed leading figures in this scandal thus far. Not Matt Cooper or Judy Miller or the Wilsons or the bad guy everyone loves to hate, the former CNN star Robert Novak. This scandal is not about them in the end, any more than Watergate was about Dwight Chapin and Donald Segretti or Woodward and Bernstein. It is about the president of the United States. It is about a plot that was hatched at the top of the administration and in which everyone else, Mr. Rove included, are at most secondary players.
Following Stirling's advice, the important matter is to combine the three different fronts, to link Rovegate to GOP corruption to Iraq--they are all pieces in a larger puzzle:

And taking a step back, one can see how these three layers of message can work in harmony. The beltway attack is a logos message - it only works if you can logically explain how all of this web of stuff fits together. To believe it, people have to first feel it and want it.

Which drills down to the "Roveroveroveroveroverove" message: it is fundamentally a pathos attack, to turn people's feelings. "Look he violated national security!"

And beneath all of these is the "Republicans Lie" message. This attacks the ethos of the matter. It blows the Republicans off the board by saying "all you do is spew".

This means that the way to make these messages work, is to harmonize them:

1. First, and in a general almost broad brush way, attack Republican lies. Don't support it, just assert it as too obvious to be explained. This is how "big picture" message helps: by giving the Democratic base a secure and unshakeable belief that Republicans lie, and enough shotgun factoids to blow any objections off, it creates shock troops.

2. Second, establish that "Rove breached Security". The message here is two words "Rove talked". Connect this with every "loose lips sink ships" form of message. "We are at war, and Rove talked."

3. Third, elaborate outwards, once one has the logical floor. Remember that people will listen to endless explanation - as right wingers are already boning up on long obfustications. But only once there is trust, and an emotional need to have the logical apparatus.

The Republicans, playing defense, have a simpler, but more cramped, project. They need to generate counterplay - change the subject, smear the sources, or create a fog of complications and hope the Democrats misstep. But there is a big difference between chess and politics - in chess the other side can only make one move at a time. Where as, given the three prongs of Democratic message - there can be multiple attacks in the same time period.

The other problem the Republicans have is that this scandal is breaking loose: Scooter Libby, named last year, is back in the mix as another Cooper source. And Cooper's testimony flatly contradicts earlier White House denials. Even the right wing apologists can't hide that.

For my perspective, sooner or later, one gets back, not to 2003 and the Seven Days in July of the Plame outing, nor even the 2002 run up events in "fixing intelligence". But back to the roots of the scandal.

To 2001, when the Executive first started trading in forged documents to get Saddam.


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