Re: Secret Strategy to Win the White House

| July 2003

IT'S A YEAR until election day but Democratic presidential hopefuls are off and running, well in advance of the usual political timetable. It's easy to see why. They are up against the most lavishly financed candidate in American history -- a fellow who can swoop into a banquet hall, offer a few remarks to a cheering crowd of millionaires, and walk out with gobs more money for his reelection coffers.

This cash is immediately funneled into an awesome political machine that makes the Daley family of Chicago look like amateurs. Bush's strategic mastermind Karl Rove believes that with enough money (a half-billion is a figure regularly mentioned) he can flood the campaign trail with all the paid messages and staged events necessary to keep the president's approval ratings up and, more importantly, he can depict Democrats as foolish, un-American, and possibly traitorous. It's a breathtakingly brazen step for American politics, and if Rove pulls it off our democracy will never be the same.

This helps explain Republicans' head-over-heels zeal for tax cuts and other generous offerings to the richest ranks of Americans. What at first looked like a boneheaded political move, disgruntling the 95 percent of Americans who will not benefit from Bush's economic policies, makes sense when you remember that money matters more than votes in today's elections. The wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers will shower Bush with so much monetary gratitude that Rove is confident he can repair any political damage with a blitzkrieg of attack ads, and have tens of millions left over to win big in Congress.

Will it work that way next November? Not necessarily. But Rove's fearsome electoral engine, (the power of which we saw in 2000 when Bush's operatives so expertly outflanked the Gore campaign in the post-election battle for Florida) is already working overtime with focus groups and marketing masters to spin any events that could conceivably arise over the next 13 months, from another terrorist strike to a prolonged drought, to Republicans' best possible advantage.

The differences between George W. Bush and the Democratic candidates are as dramatic as in any presidential race of recent memory. It's hard to think of an election with more clear-cut and explosive issues than this one. Pre-emptive military invasions. The fate of environmental regulation. The limits (if any) on corporate power. Reproductive rights. Jobs and a struggling economy. Civil liberties. The future (if any) for social programs. Protection from terrorism. If Democrats want to beat Bush and congressional conservatives next year, they must speak out boldly on these issues -- with far more passion than most of them have shown so far. At the same time, the party must inspire voters with fresh ideas on important aspects of American life that Republicans ignore.

Make no mistake, the big questions of war, environment, and economic fairness are as important as any choices we've faced as voters since the Great Depression. Yet the campaign against Bush can't depend totally on the fact that his administration and its congressional allies (of both parties) are militarily reckless, environmentally ignorant, and economically callous. Rove and his lieutenants successfully deflected those charges in 2000 and again in 2002.

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