Monday, July 31, 2006

Karl, Rudy, wage-hike trickery, and an '08 strategy

Catching up after a long summer weekend:

I note that Karl Rove apparently has a few complaints about journalists. On Saturday, the architect of President Bush's political career delivered a commencement address at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and told aspiring campaign operatives that members of the Fourth Estate (as opposed to people like him) are really to blame for ruining American politics.

While assailing the "cynicism" of political journalists, he lamented "the corrosive role their coverage has played, focusing attention on process and not substance."

OK, I will stipulate that we veteran scribes can be cynical, and that we sometimes focus on the "process" of polls and primary calendars and tactics, etcetera. But being accused of cynicism and corrosiveness by Karl Rove is akin to being accused of anti-Semitism by Mel Gibson.

Cynicism? Corrosiveness? Let's review just a small sampling of past Rove behavior:

1. Rove target John McCain, in 2000, was hit with a whispering campaign which suggested that he was mentally unstable, that he fathered a black child, and that he was too close to gays.

2. Rove target Ann Richards, the Democratic governor of Texas, was beset by rumors, during her '94 campaign against Bush, that she was a lesbian.

3. Rove target Mark Kennedy, a Democratic incumbent judge in Alabama, was hit with rumors, during a '94 state judicial campaign, that he was a gay pedophile.

4. Rove, as a young operative in 1973, ran a GOP seminar that taught other young operatives how to perform dirty tricks.

5. Speaking of dirty tricks...Rove target Kenneth Ingram, an incumbent Democratic judge on the Alabama Supreme Court, was hit with rumors in 1996 that he was a personally vicious individual. It appeared that Ingram was circulating flyers that personally attacked the family of opponent Harold See. In reality, Rove (on behalf of his client, Harold See) concocted the flyers, figuring that the voters would pin the blame on Ingram.

The See incident was thoroughly vetted by Atlantic magazine a couple years ago. Here's an excerpt: "According to someone who worked for him, Rove, dissatisfied with the campaign's progress, had flyers printed up—absent any trace of who was behind them—viciously attacking See and his family.
"'We were trying to craft a message to reach some of the blue-collar, lower-middle-class people,'" the staffer says. "'You'd roll it up, put a rubber band around it, and paperboy it at houses late at night. I was told, Do not hand it to anybody, do not tell anybody who you're with, and if you can, borrow a car that doesn't have your tags. So I borrowed a buddy's car [and drove] down the middle of the street … I had Hefty bags stuffed full of these rolled-up pamphlets, and I'd cruise the designated neighborhoods, throwing these things out with both hands and literally driving with my knees.'
"The ploy left Rove's opponent at a loss. Ingram's staff realized that it would be fruitless to try to persuade the public that the See campaign was attacking its own candidate in order 'to create a backlash against the Democrat,' as Joe Perkins, who worked for Ingram, put it...Presumably the public would believe that Democrats were spreading terrible rumors about See and his family....See won the race."


I note that the conservative backlash against Rudy Giuliani has begun in earnest. The ex-New York mayor, 9/11 icon, and darling of the speaker circuit, had been scoring very well in the GOP '08 primary matchups against all potential rivals, including John McCain. Too well, as it turns out. Now the GOP's conservative wing has moved to take him down a few pegs, before he gains any more traction.

Just check out the Aug. 7 lead of National Review magazine. There, on the cover, is a color photo of Rudy Giuliani in drag -- blonde bewigged and feathered.

He had dressed up for a satirical dinner back in 1997, a spoof of Victor/Victoria; the magazine is virtually inviting conservatives to use it against him. The article, clearly fed by conservative party strategists, lays out all the reasons for laying waste to "America's mayor": He "has regularly marched in the city's vulgar gay-pride parades"; he moved in with a gay couple when he was on the outs with his second wife; he is "thrice married," with a history of paramours; he endorsed Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994; he once called Ed Meese, Reagan's attorney general, a "sleaze"; he has supported gun control; he and his first wife were second cousins.

This shot across Rudy's bow carries a clear message: Stay out of Iowa, or we'll fit you for that blonde wig all over again.


Yet another example of the GOP's tactical brilliance:

For weeks, the Republicans on Capitol Hill were getting squeezed on the minimum wage issue. The Republicans didn't want to raise it, and the Democrats did. The public seemed to sympathize strongly with the Democrats, given the fact that working people hadn't seen a raise in nine years. Democrats readied themselves to use the wage issue in the '06 elections.

But last Friday, House Republicans pulled a clever switcheroo. They passed a $2.10 hourly wage hike, effective in 2007 -- but, in the same bill, they also voted to repeal the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans. The latter is a GOP favorite, mostly affecting the richest sliver of the electorate. This week, House lawmakers are essentially telling their Senate counterparts: The deal is, you either pass both, or you pass neither.

So now the Senate Democrats are in a somewhat tricky position. They can either vote for the long-sought minimum wage hike and thus deliver financial aid to working people -- or they can vote against the wage hike they have sought, on the grounds that it's unfair to also reward rich people with another anti-tax windfall. And even if they choose the latter, the Senate Republican majority might enact the whole package anyway...thereby leaving the Democrats to look powerless once again, exposing their inability to stop a tax giveaway that will further imperil Medicaid and Social Security funding. It's hard to see how that would please their liberal base, even in the wake of a wage-hike.

On the other hand, if the Senate fails to pass anything, expect the Democrats to tell their voters that the wage-hike trickery is merely the latest manifestation of the GOP's "do-nothing Congress."


Last Tuesday, I mentioned the potential '08 Democratic presidential rivalry between Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, and the latter's potential to become the unHillary alternative. Now we have a New Republic magazine article that takes up the same topic, and concludes this about Edwards: "A southern, moderate, antiwar, pro-labor candidate with low negatives and high positives who has already run for president is not a bad combination." The material about Edwards' wooing of labor unions in Nevada (which is set to become an early primary state) is particulary interesting. And since you would need to subscribe to the New Republic Online in order to read the whole piece, I'll excerpt a relevent chunk that deals with his quiet backstage maneuverings:

"Edwards seems to be the candidate making the greatest strides with the labor movement. It all started in 2004 when, trying to differentiate himself from John Kerry after the Iowa caucuses, Edwards attacked Kerry's stance on free trade and tried to scrape together some union backing. Only one union supported Edwards in that short, quixotic bid to overthrow Kerry: the textile union UNITE, which had supported him in his 1998 Senate bid in North Carolina. It has continued to be an important alliance.

"In the summer of 2004, UNITE merged with HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union (it was an ideal marriage: UNITE had money, and HERE had members). After the election, Edwards continued a close relationship with the new UNITE HERE union and especially its general president, Bruce Raynor, who engineered UNITE's 2004 endorsement of Edwards. Union sources credit this relationship with Edwards's current emphasis on poverty and the minimum wage.

"'Raynor and others at UNITE HERE start talking to Edwards about poverty and low-wage issues,' explains one union strategist, 'and someone starts telling him that unions are the best poverty prevention program in America. And Edwards, out of conviction or opportunism or whatever combination drives politicians, buys it.' The upshot is that Edwards has become a darling of the labor left, especially the more modern and progressive unions that represent service employees. And it just happens that one of the most powerful players in Democratic politics in the newly influential caucus state of Nevada is the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents 60,000 employees, mostly in the gambling industry, and is an affiliate of the Edwards-friendly UNITE HERE.

"Edwards's success with unions, one of the institutional pillars of Clinton's campaign, has started to rattle Hillaryland. In March, when Change to Win, the new labor umbrella group that includes UNITE HERE and several other large unions, held a convention in Las Vegas, only one prospective 2008 candidate spoke to the group: Edwards. But Hillary Clinton happened to have a friend in town as well: Bill. According to a labor source in Nevada, Clinton's husband flew in and met secretly with seven union presidents at the Change to Win convention. His message: Don't commit to anyone, and give Hillary a fighting chance. A spokesman for Bill Clinton confirmed the meeting took place but says 2008 wasn't discussed."

Hat tip to the magazine's author, Ryan Lizza.