August 13, 2005


Democrats Conflicted on Playing Rough: Lack of Support for Roberts Ad Raises Question of Tactics (Dana Milbank, August 13, 2005, Washington Post)

Amid similar criticism against another controversial ad, most Republicans brushed aside demands to repudiate Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that had taken aim at John F. Kerry's war record. Some Democrats said the difference revealed on their side an ambivalence about modern political combat that helps explain why their party is out of power.

"Republicans don't mind running an ad that's entirely false, but Democrats have never learned, and I'm not sure many of them want to learn, how to play that kind of politics," said Robert Shrum, an adviser to several Democratic presidential campaigns. NARAL had to pull the ad, he said, because "they weren't getting support from any substantial quarter."

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who like Shrum favors hardball politics, protested that "we Democrats bring a well-thumbed copy of Marquess of Queensberry Rules while the other side unsheaths their bloody knives, with a predictable outcome." Lehane said the NARAL ad "was great, and exactly the type of offensive that breaks through in the modern age."

Republican operative Greg Mueller, who advised the Swift boat group, said the NARAL ad was pulled not because of Democratic wavering but because "it was so false, so outrageously false, that they were hurting the Democratic Party." He said Republicans have done "nothing even close" to that level of dishonesty.

The NARAL case was the latest incident to provoke Democratic recriminations. In June, Democrats demanded that Bush aide Karl Rove apologize for saying that liberals wanted "therapy and understanding for our attackers." Rove refused to apologize, and Republicans leapt to his defense. Just before the Rove episode, Republicans demanded an apology from Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the number two Democrat in the Senate, who likened U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to techniques used by Nazis. Democrats joined in criticizing Durbin, who eventually delivered a tearful apology on the Senate floor.

Republicans say that they have been no more severe or dishonest in their rhetoric than the Democrats, and that they are no more apt to circle the wagons than Democrats are. "They play as nasty and as dirty as you can," said GOP strategist Grover Norquist, who called the NARAL ad a success because "they got the cheap shot out there."

While both parties have participated in their share of nasty and dishonest politics over the years, a number of Democrats have come to the conclusion that they need to be tougher. "You can't blame your opponents for applying a strategy that beats your brains out," former president Bill Clinton said in a speech last month, in which he mocked Democrats for responding to attacks like Pavlov's dogs by saying, "Oh, how mean they are."

"You can't ask them to stop being mean to us," the former president said. "You've got to be tough enough to beat it."

It's not about who's tougher or whose attacks are more honest, but about the substance of the attacks. Americans hate the Vietnam peaceniks, so were receptive to the Swift Boat campaign. Meanwhile, we're conflicted about abortion but made most uncomfortable by extremism on the pro-death end of the spectrum, so Democrats themselves couldn't afford to let the anti-Roberts ads go forward.

Planned Politics (George Neumayr, 8/12/2005, American Spectator)

Under the pressure of shifting popular opinion, cracks between pro-abortion groups and the Democratic Party are widening. The cracks became visible after John Kerry lost "values voters" to George Bush, prompting prominent Democrats to begin their crawl away from organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Kerry and Hillary Clinton, among others, distanced themselves from the party's customary and straightforward enthusiasm for abortion on demand. Hillary Clinton was so bewildered by Kerry's defeat on moral issues that she even started speaking of a rapprochement with pro-lifers.

This drew gasps and head shaking from a group of pro-abortion activists who listened to her shortly after the election instruct them that "We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic, choice to many, many women." Abortion is a tragedy? This was not what the crowd wanted to hear. After the speech, Martha Stahl, director of public relations and marketing for Northern Adirondack Planned Parenthood, disputed the description of abortion as a tragedy, telling the New York Times that "we see women express relief more than anything else that they have the freedom to choose."

Now the cracks are spreading more as the nomination of John Roberts puts additional strain on skittish Democrats whose pollsters are telling them that NARAL and Planned Parenthood make them look like the evil party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2005 10:33 AM

For the love of Gad, can someone point me to a breakdown somewhere on the net of the swiftboat TV claims vs an actual factual assesment of their merits? I 'm so tired of lefties automatically claiming them all to be lies and righties automatically claiming them all as truth.

What's the actual verdict? Anyone know?

Posted by: Amos at August 13, 2005 12:10 PM

"Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who like Shrum favors hardball politics, protested that "we Democrats bring a well-thumbed copy of Marquess of Queensberry Rules while the other side unsheaths their bloody knives, with a predictable outcome.""

EXCUSE me?!?

The Democrats ran ads here in St Louis claiming that black churches would BURN if Republicans won the election. Lehane is just full of it...

Posted by: Dave at August 13, 2005 1:28 PM

Two comments.

Bill Moyers and the little flower girl.

"Call off your on-bringers"!" (please)

Amos - nothing I know of on the web, but my guess (as a reasonably partisan Republican who read the book) is that 80% of what the Swifties said was true. Otherwise, it wouldn't have gotten any traction, even among the right-wing blogs.

Had only 50% been true, the witnesses Kerry kept relying on would have been enough to relieve the pressure; instead, he kept having to bury boatmates and supporters who turned out not to be reliable. But John O'Neill never flinched.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 13, 2005 3:10 PM

The constant repetition amongst the left that Swift Boat Vets lied has always seemed like a smokescreen to change the subject from their most serious charge against Kerry. That's something that's much tougher to argue with, since it was entered into the Senate record on April 22, 1971, back when Kerry was still in the Naval reserves.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at August 13, 2005 5:38 PM

"Robert Shrum, an adviser to several Democratic presidential campaigns."

Shrum has never backed a presidential winner in his career as a consultant (he's an 8 time loser). That Kerry hired him was a good indicator Kerry would lose.

Posted by: George at August 14, 2005 11:13 AM