What's All This Then?
Monday, August 15, 2005
MISHANDLING CINDY SHEEHAN
If you look on google or any other search engine, you’ll find a variety of versions of philosopher George Santayana’s warning about those who cannot remember the past being condemned to repeat it. But whichever way you say it, the meaning is clear. If you don’t learn anything from mistakes that have been made in the past, chances are you’re going to make the same mistakes in the future. And whichever way you say it, you can apply it to the way that American Presidents keep deciding how to handle potentially embarrassing problems.
We had the Nixon stonewall - the decision to cover up Watergate instead of coming clean, which would have stopped the impeachment express in its tracks. We had Clinton looking into the camera and lying about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. If he’d admitted it or at least said none of your business - if he just hadn’t lied, his impeachment express would have been derailed as soon as it left the station.
And now we have the troubles of Dubya down at the ranch. No, he’s not about to be impeached for lying to the American public about Iraq. Even if the Democrats take over the House and Senate at the next election, he won’t be impeached . I’m talking about the troubles he has dealing with Cindy Sheehan. Or maybe I should say the troubles he has not dealing with Cindy Sheehan.
This was a non story when it started out - or at least no more than a paragraph on an inside page of the paper and a tag line at the end of the news. And it would have remained a non story if - as soon as she showed up - the President had sent an aide to bring her up to the ranch for coffee - or for breakfast or lunch or for any other kind of get together. All he needed to do was to be as friendly and charming with her as he is capable of being without conceding that the invasion of Iraq was wrong in any way, which of course he wasn’t going to do and which no one would expect him to do. After all, this is the man who never admits that he is wrong about anything.
He wouldn’t have satisfied Mrs. Sheehan, but the news value of the story would have gone away. Having given her the personal one on one meeting that she had asked for, there would have been little sympathy for her to have continued to stand by the roadside with anti war signs. Even the most ardent opponents of the Iraq policy would have recognized the negative value of continuing that kind of protest after the President had been gracious toward her.
So you have to wonder why he has adopted the stance of hanging tough. Of refusing to take the obvious steps of disarming her by being disarming. After all, he has the brain of political genius Karl Rove working for him. How could a Karl Rove allow this affair to degenerate into the public relations disaster that it has become? That’s the question that political pundits from both ends of the political spectrum are asking, including people who operate inside the beltway and should know what the hell is going on.
Well, I don’t operate inside the beltway. Heck, I don’t think they’d let me in. Even if I came with the proceeds of a dozen fund raisers. But I think I know the answer to the question. And it’s not that there’s a Federally funded PR firm, chartered in 1796, that advises ALL Presidents on embarrassing or potentially embarrassing matters. It is simply that while Mr. Rove may be a political genius, it is a highly specialized genius. He is an attack genius. He is a maestro of political dirty tricks. He is the master of the character smear. His expertise is in destruction, not in construction. He simply wouldn’t understand the genius of doing the right thing - of disarming an opponent by being charming to that opponent.
In fact he probably thinks that its a great idea for the right wing talking heads to be attacking Mrs. Sheehan and her "motives" as they have been doing almost from the start of this story. Who knows, they may be working from talking points put out by the assault master himself.
I hope I’m right because it’s working. The protest in Texas - and sympathy for Cindy Sheehan - is growing and the President’s response is making him look more idiotic every day. Maybe it’ll carry over to the mid term elections and help our chances to take a detour from the road to political extremism that we’ve been on for the past half dozen years.