Rovian Rules Uncovered: Closer Look at Cheney & Reid Remarks

Cheney's speech last night is an excellent example of the Rovian Rules at work.  The attack on Democrats for charging that Bush lied about going to Iraq was perfect in almost all ways, except at the highest level.  Bush is clearly desperate, as his White House is now attacking Democrats on specific issues and charges, and not just by attacking individual persons.

DICK: The suggestion that's been made by some U. S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

Rovian Rule (violated): Attack the person, not the issue.

Why this rule matters: The debate is about the person, are they or aren't they (fill in the blank).  If the issue is attacked, the debate becomes (in this case) did Bush lie?

Reason the rule wasn't applied: Too many people are making the same charge, and from too many sides.  There's an ever-growing line of former Administration and other Republican critics, as well as ever-growing line of newly-found-the-light Democrats. (Note that this line is directed at U.S. Senators - which functions to narrow the focus a bit.)

DICK: Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein.

Rovian Rule: Blur unfavorable distinctions.

This helps Bush's message, but only to a degree.  Since there is no arguing that any given politician did or didn't vote or make such statements, the focus quickly goes back to the specific charges made against Bush: Did he provide bad intelligence to get those politicians to vote as they did? And while the unfavorable distinctions get blurred, it's most likely that all but Bush's most loyal supporters know the difference between the role of a Senator and that of a President in going to war.  The President can only pass the buck so many times.

DICK: What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war.

Rovian Rule: Frame the debate.

Are some politicians contradicting their own statements or not?  The weakness of this is that the question (a) must be resolved on a case-by-case basis for many politicians, and (b) once resolved requires little more consideration.  Once again, by violating the Rovian Rule to attack persons and not issues, the debate is already on the wrong track. It does make sense to bring up the contradictions, it still provides to easy of a dodge: Conditions changed, we learned more, and my views have changed.  And it still begs the question: Did Bush lie or not lie?  At its core, this is a weak defection that shouldn't work.

DICK: The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out.

Rovian Rule: Go right for the jugular.

The tactic of claiming your opponent is harming the troops is effective.  That's one reason that Bush was able to keep so many Democrats at bay for so long.  If a large segment of the population becomes associates a political party, and if that segment includes marginal voters, the party is essentially doomed for many election cycle failures.

This doesn't mark desperation on the part of Bush's White House.  Rather, it's business as usual.  I expect more of this to come, since it's worked so well in the past.  It will take a while for the White House (and everyone else) to know if this is a dead horse or not.  But there's a good chance that Bush have overplayed his hand with marginal voters, who have likely canceled out the noise created by Bush's never-ending cognitive dissonance tactics.  The relevant question is, Have Americans become habituated to this noise? If so, Bush will need to take on a whole new set of tactics if he wishes to become effective again.

DICK: The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them. And far more important, we're going to continue sending a consistent message to the men and women who are fighting the war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other fronts.

Rovian Rule: Create false dichotomies

The false dichotomy here is consistent vs. inconsistent, with inconsistent being associated with weakness.  That association creates another, deeper, dichotomy: strong vs. weak.  Never changing course is strong.  Changing course is weak.

DICK: The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.

Rovian Rule: Incorporate internal weaknesses of your opponent.

The word backbone serves a very intentional purpose: It feeds off of a notion that liberals have been building about Democrats for some time.  Even more effective, is how it feeds off of this idea, while depriving Democrats the one way to get a backbone.  By making it backboneless to attack Bush, Democrats become nothing but backboneless.

It's too bad for Democrats that the Bush White House is applying the term "rewrite history" now, since this is a very effective tactic.  The best way to defeat this is to ignore its application to Democrats, and to use it in the context of the White House repeatedly.  To neutralize the power of this phrase, words applied to the White House like "deceit,""dishonest,""untruthful," and "lied" should be stricken from the mouths of Democrats, and replaced with "rewrite history" from this point forward.

Beating Bush and the White House at this Game

Reid demonstrated, once again, that he is beginning to understand and apply the Rovian Rules in his remarks immediately following Cheney's speech.  First, his remarks were immediate, which provided the counterpunch for the fight narrative following Cheney's remarks.  Had Reid waited, the counterpunch would be the Democrats themselves, the meat of Cheney's remarks.  But since Reid had already made the counterpunch, his remarks stood in place of the Democrats Cheney was attacking.  Second, Reid stayed on message - he incorporated Cheney's speech into the narrative that Reid has been building over the past few weeks.  Third, Reid responded by attacking Cheney himself, which was actually the rule that Cheney didn't follow in the lead of his attack.

HARRY: In the last 24 hours, 10 of our brave soldiers have been killed in far off Iraq. On such a night, you would think Cheney would give a speech that honors the fallen and those still fighting by laying out a strategy for success.

Rovian Rule: Create false dichotomies

The false dichotomy: Either you are laying out a strategy for success or you are attacking the Democrats.  In reality, of course, one could do both at once.

HARRY: The White House needs to understand that deceiving the American people is what got them into trouble. Now is the time to come clean, not to continue the pattern of deceit.

Rovian Rule: Frame the debate.

Reid repeats the central charge: Bush lied about going to war.  So long as this remains the question (is the Bush White House lying now, as they did then?), the Democrats are in a good place.  That's why Reid didn't address the conduct of Senators, he didn't defend the right of Senators to change their minds, or defend Senators who made a vote for war and are now opposed to it.

HARRY: The Vice President needs to stop stonewalling and hold a press conference.

Rovian Rule: Change the topic.

Rovian Rule: Frame the debate.

Rovian Rule: Attack the person, not the issue.

If Reid and the Democrats keep sounding this call it would mark an impressive application of Rovian Rules on their part. That's because the call for Cheney to hold a press conference can become a symbol for the narrative Democrats want to develop.  (And it can frame the debate: Will Cheney hold a press conference or not?  If not, why not?) Reid started his comments with Cheney in a bunker, and could continue this narrative by continuing to demand that Cheney hold a press conference.  That demand could be the overriding demand made by Democrats in regards to their "Strategy for Success" narrative.  The focus then turns to Cheney, who is hiding from the American people.  Of course, it's a small step to be hiding from the American people and hiding something from them as well.

Cross posted: Political Porn

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Rove and his rules
The rules you attribute to Karl Rove, senior Advisor to the whitehouse, and chief architect of what both republicans and democrats call "an administration that knows how to campaign, but not how to get anything else done" are correct. Your analysis is sound.

But you're missing the best one, the one that is used most frequently - of course, since Rove himself has a Nazi sympathizer in the family it's not too far a stretch to know that this rule was attributed to Josef Goebbels, minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich - it is:

The best propaganda is the truth, with just one poison peanut thrown in the mix.

Lets look at how this Administration, which Karl Rove plays a large role in, has destroyed the 200 year old tradition of White House keeping its top secret documents classified and out of reach of the enemy. Cheney, who previously employed accused felons as chief of staff officers peering to rove - allowed massive numbers of emails sent out to the Phillipines. These documents collected top secret information regarding all levels of operations of the white house.

Rove clearly was involved in the drawing up of the map that divided the gulf oil amongst texas oil companies - he was johnny on the spot in Texas during the 2000 campaign and the map appeared and was cited as early as January 2001. And Rove was known to whisper, in meetings "stick to principle, George" several times over.  

Clearly the poison peanut is electoral victory at all cost. As his tactics so utterly broke down and backfired on Kilgore in Va the next step has to be to rewrite history, just as his grandfather aided and abetted those who would rewrite the history of the German people to claim descendancy from Norse gods and justify killing blacks, and jews, and gays in their final solution.

But will the democrats play into his hands? Will they try to play fair? If you are a Nazi, or even if you are friends with a Nazi - then you are going to hell. I would argue that Rove himself and his german blood is what Americans are hungry for.  They know that the destruction of a secret soldier in the war against Al Qaeda is a criminal offense, and even if it is a "CAMPAIGN STYLE" attack it deserves justice. We cannot attack men in Iraq whose families are destroyed by American bombs and not stop fat cats in DC who would help Al Qaeda as well. It cuts both ways.

Rove's rules are well stated here. But the view that the Iraqi rebellion and the flowers in the street - is the greatest rule broken of all - his truth, is a bowl full of poison peanuts and even the fox news viewers are looking at the ones who've been eating them and noticing how sick they look.

God forbid they should get really sick. Then they'd have to find the new "Michael Brown" Mr. Simonsen who is neither a doctor nor an administrator but a cozy , fat cat political appointee at the head of the national flu response.

Sure, we should be on high alert too.. right..?

by turnerbroadcasting 2005-11-17 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Rove and his rules
"The best propaganda is the truth, with just one poison peanut thrown in the mix."

yes - that is the key to good propaganda.  And knowing that is the key to avoiding its effects.

Thanks for the comments.

by Tom Kertes 2005-11-17 04:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove and his rules
What is the best political porn?
by turnerbroadcasting 2005-11-17 06:21PM | 0 recs
Don't you mean BUSH's grandfather, Prescott Bush
He was one of the Nazi party's main financiers in the US, or at least that is what the book "American Axis" and "The Secret War Against the Jews" and the bio on say..


by ultraworld 2005-11-17 09:07PM | 0 recs


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