I was really going to try to avoid the Foley-age today but the Washington Post has a very good article about the meta-issues involved in this scandal.
Rove said he has used the new-media echo chamber to his advantage. When he gave a speech last year saying that liberals want to give terrorists understanding and therapy, he delighted when Democrats howled in protest. This then guaranteed that the story would stay alive for days. “I was sort of amused by it because it struck me, well, they’re just simply repeating my argument, which was good,” he said.
[Former President Bill*] Clinton — who regards Rove with a mixture of admiration and disdain as the most effective modern practitioner of polarizing politics — said in an interview that he has become fixated on the problem of how Democrats can learn to fight more effectively against the kind of attack President Bush’s top political aide leveled. Associates of the former president said he thinks that Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004 lost the presidency because they could not effectively respond to a modern media culture that places new emphasis on politicians’ personalities and provides new incentives for personal attack.
While the Foley and Allen episodes burned Republicans, Clinton said in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the proliferation of media outlets, as well as the breakdown of old restraint in both media and politics on balance, has strongly favored Republicans. Without mentioning Gore or Kerry by name, he complained that many Democrats have allowed themselves to become unnerved and even paralyzed in response.
It seems to me, even though this is a personal scandal perpetrated by a Republican in a Republican controlled House and Senate during an election year, the conservatives are still winning the media wars.
Look at the various websites and political pundits.
I blogged (memed if you will) the snark about Fox showing Foley to be a Democrat. At the same time, the image (D-FL) in connection with a sex scandal gets implanted in peoples brains. It then goes from the websites to the late night comedians (Craig Ferguson, Jon Steward). But the ‘scandal’ of coming out as a Democrat could and will be misunderstood by the people only marginally interested in politics. Those who would always vote Republican but might be induced to ‘just stay home’ in November. The Fox texters know exactly which chain to pull to get the liberal bloggers and media to bark. Right on queue – Woof! Me included.
I find it amazing that the conservative talk masters and pundits might successfully spin this into a Democratic misstep. How? Even while pushing the story just as hard [sorry] as the more liberal or centrist outlets, they can continually claim that the Democrats have leaked this in order to win the election. Further, if they can ‘report’ this as a liberal trick while spinning stories of gap dresses and scandals older than the mishandled pages, they can still manage to squeak this out.
There are two prongs that need to be approached. First, the Democrats must not allow the Republicans to use the press to show this as a Democratic failing. And the Republicans will; Drudge, Limbaugh, Coulter and the Foxes – Hannity, O’Reilly and herd, are and will continually try to show this as something only Democrats would have done. The rabid conservatives will want Americans to feel that only Democrats would have sex scandals or perhaps even more perverse, only Democrats would use sex scandals to effect electoral outcomes.
Second, the Democrats need to develop a longer strategy, framing new issue after new issue and pushing them into the media, new then old. Just as Rove has managed to keep the liberal and central thinkers off balance by continually shoving one issue after another into the limelight, the Democrats need to use this chance to push back. To add issue after issue after issue until the conservative media is overloaded.
I hope the Democratic strategists have 4 more bullets in the political revolver, one for each of the next weeks leading up to the elections. If not, liberal spin on this scandal might not be enough. As a matter of fact, the whole thing might just be a Democratic spinout.
*I get great satisfaction in specifying that it’s Bill and not Hillary being quoted here, even if it becomes clear later. While I can write Chaney and everyone knows I mean Dick not Lynn and when I say Bush I’m obviously referring to George (either Dubya or HW) but not Laura or Barbara, Hillary Clinton has managed to show enough talent and political skill to become a voice in her own right. Whether I want her as president or not is a different issue. I still find it good to see that since the early 1970’s, great women aren’t necessary behind great men, but next to them.