Karl Rove ripped into liberal bloggers at a web politics conference this week, assailing the "angry kooks" on the "nutty fringe of political life" who have seized "inexpensive and easily accessible" platforms to upend public debate. Ever the strategist, Rove also emphasized that he is a "fan of many blogs." So how does he know which ones are good? Apparently blogs affiliated with the liberal netroots are the problem:
My point is not that liberals swear publicly more often than conservatives. That may be true, but that’s not my point […] It is that the netroots often argue from anger rather than reason, and too often, their object is personal release, not political persuasion.
Several people have pointed out the blatant hypocrisy here. Rove is famous for a political career built on the most vitriolic, angry and immoral approach to public affairs. He is an equal opportunity slander operative, smearing John Kerry and Ann Richards with the same intensity as he sabotaged conservative "allies" like John McCain and John DiIulio. But dealing with Rove, there’s a political lesson here too.
Karl Rove poses with bloggers at Yahoo’s "The Rise of Citizen 2.0" conference on Thursday. Photo credit: Clay Johnson.
Rove’s attack fits with the Republicans’ long-term strategy to discredit the netroots, marginalize bloggers and pressure Democratic politicians to avoid their own web activists. The idea is to blunt the obvious fundraising, organizing and energizing benefits of liberal web activism by isolating it from Democratic leadership and the progressive establishment in general. That is why Republicans aim to morph liberal Internet activism into a "scandal" whenever possible, from random blog comments to the MoveOn Petraus ad to the feigned outrage over John Edwards’ campaign bloggers. In fact, the Edwards dust-up in February traces Rove’s new attack quite closely. A Republican operative famous for unethical hardball (Bill Donahue) hypocritically attacks the "vitriol" of bloggers, focusing exclusively on liberals in order to pressure naive Democrats — not improve public discourse. Then important people grow very "concerned" about an outbreak of "dirty politics" on the left. In February, the bloggers resigned from the campaign; this week, Rove is pushing a broader narrative for the media, not trying to actually get a specific person fired. (For more details, see the Nation comment I wrote about the incident at the time.)
But the real question is whether any Democrats (or reporters) will naively take another self-interested Republican attack at face value. Rove is simply attacking liberal bloggers because they are effective. Deep down, he might even admire their aggressive approach to politics. Ironically, that would be another thing he does not have in common with many Democratic leaders.
UPDATE: Washingtonian reports that during the conference Rove also IM’d with MoveOn.org Washington Director Tom Matzzie, whom he criticized during his remarks: "This is rove and I did take your name in vain […] Have enjoyed listening to your calls!" It’s not clear if Rove was joking about domestic surveillance, referring to MoveOn’s political autocalls, or something else.