I have been reading this week about the Sophists – a group of Athenian teachers who were denounced by Plato for misleading the public by “making the great appear small, and the easy appear difficult” and were derided by Aristotle for being “ones who make money from sham wisdom.”
So it seems something like fate that Karl Rove, perhaps the most effective Sophist in recent memory, also came this week to Las Cruces for the Domenici Public Policy Conference. You can catch the video here.
ABC newsman Sam Donaldson did his best to moderate the discussion between Rove and fellow panelist Joe Lockhart, a former Clinton White House press secretary, but any hopes for serious public policy discussions were quickly disappointed. It is my opinion that Joe Lockhart was interested in a discussion based in facts but that Karl Rove used his arsenal of “spin” and half-truths to distort the debate.
Lockhart responded gamely but in the end seemed outgunned and weary of the cable-news style discussion that Rove insisted on, as though Lockhart understood that our countries’ problems were too big for such shortsighted behavior.
Rove continues to distort the health care reform debate
An example of Rove’s effective deployment of half-truth occurred in a discussion about health care. When Donaldson asked him about Republican’s unwillingness to work with Democrats on health care reform, Rove claimed Republicans were never asked to help (or perhaps not asked at the time or in the way they preferred). After all, did Republicans need personalized invitations to the health care crisis? Besides, Rove’s claims aren’t true.
This Washington Post article tells the real story:
“After a year-long effort to build a bipartisan consensus around the plan, Baucus has so far been unable to persuade any Republicans to sign on, and fellow Democrats have accused him of wasting his time courting conservative Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.).
“The chairman said, though, that he would change nothing about the arduous process, and he continued to work Monday night toward incorporating Democratic and Republican amendments into the bill.
“’I felt from the get-go that bipartisan was better than not,’ Baucus said in an interview. ‘It’s more durable. It’s more sustainable.’”
Furthermore, despite Rove’s claims, not only were Republicans consulted but Grassley admitted also that Republican ideas were incorporated into the bill:
“’This bill, except for the five to 10 things that weren’t resolved, has been put together with some Republican input,’ Grassley said.”
Joe Lockhart offered up another explanation for Republicans’ obstructionism. He argued that Grassley (and other Republicans) ducked out of conversations with Democrats because of pressure from right-wing activists. Turns out the evidence supports Lockhart’s version:
“After weeks of assuring reporters that the Gang of Six has made good progress, Baucus has sounded a different tone in recent days and begun to acknowledge the talks might fail because of political pressure on GOP negotiators from their colleagues and conservative activists.
“’I talked to them and they all want to do healthcare reform,’ Baucus told The Associated Press earlier this week. ‘But the sad part is a lot of politics have crept in. They’re being told by the Republican Party not to participate.’”
No Republicans would vote for the bill, in the end, but that’s different than not being consulted. For further evidence to support Lockhart’s story, take a moment to read between the lines of this ominous call for transparency from Republican hatchetess Michelle Malkin.
Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, according to the nonpartisan watchdog group Factcheck.org, organizations funded by Karl Rove’s group American Crossroads are right now spending millions of dollars across the country on ads that spread similar half-truths and distortions about health care reform (and some new ones as well).
It is typical of Karl Rove to try to rewrite history to serve his political goals. However, what makes his misrepresentations about Republicans’ unwillingness to work toward a bipartisan health care reform bill so cynical is that he claimed to know how important health care reform is to Americans. He waxed passionately at the conference about how desperately businesses and families need reform. Then he misconstrued his parties’ role in preventing the best possible bill from being written and passed. Masterful political sophistry.
Rove misrepresents the Iraq war
Rove also attempted to spin the end of combat operations in Iraq primarily in terms of the relative success of the surge. He piously argued that it would have been more “gracious” for President Obama to go out of his way in his speech on Tuesday to claim that, although he hadn’t supported it, combat operations in Iraq could cease thanks to former President Bush’s surge.
More gracious? Let’s break this claim down a bit.
At the time of the surge, according to a Pew Research survey, 67 percent percent of Americans felt that the Iraq war was “not going well.” Furthermore, 54 percent of Americans believed it was the wrong decision to have gone to war with Iraq, and nearly the same percent thought we should bring the troops home (although not an immediate troop withdrawal). In other words, most people thought that the war was going badly, that we should not have gone there in the first place, and that we should get out of there as soon as we responsibly could. Simply put, Iraq was a mess.
The only solution the Bush administration could imagine for cleaning up the mess enough to allow U.S. combat troops to responsibly leave Iraq was to commit more blood and treasure to the effort. Since then, violence has decreased in Iraq enough for combat operations to end. The mess has been sufficiently cleaned up to allow many of our troops to return home. However, many troops will remain.
Considering this chronology, does Rove really expect Obama to thank Bush for the surge? Maybe something like this: “Thanks for sort of cleaning up that big mess you got us into. You know, that mess that we’re still basically in. That we still need to pay for. That most people think we shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place. Thanks for that.”
As you can see, not only is Rove suggesting that Obama needs to brush up his manners, but he’s again trying to rewrite history to serve his political agenda. Although Rove’s tactics are nothing new, his shamelessness may be unique. It’s essential that we remember where we’ve been or else we’ll keep falling for these tricks over and over again.
Why does Rove do it?
Rove’s bluster, which is one part misrepresentation of the facts, and one part righteous indignation, is an intoxicating cocktail for a lot of people.
He has two basic audiences that he’s trying to reach. The first audience is hardcore Republican partisans who will believe without much resistance most of the things that Rove says. He hopes to provide these partisans with enough half-truths to rile them up sufficiently to crack open their pocketbooks and give a little money, and also to go out into their neighborhoods and repeat and disseminate these same half-truths on behalf of his candidates.
His other audience consists of the independents, the soft Democrats, and the soft Republicans who are still puzzling through the issues – the ones who haven’t yet decided. He talks to these folks either to convince or confuse. If members of this group are persuaded by his misrepresentations, he is happy. But he is also happy if he just confuses them. If he can make these voters suspect that facts cannot be known or, better yet, that everyone is out to hoodwink them, then he erodes their trust, not only in the political system but in the whole country.
As we lose faith in our fellow citizens, we may grow afraid. We might begin to only look out for ourselves and ours, and to forget the multitude of blessings that come with living in the United States. This is a victory for Rove’s brand of political rhetoric but bad for the country.