Karl Rove, media critic, political scientist, and staunch democrat (small “d”):
Some decry the professional role of politics. They would like to see it disappear. Some argue political professionals are ruining American politics–trapping candidates in daily competition for the news cycle instead of long-term strategic thinking in the best interest of the country.
It’s odd to me that most of these critics are journalists and columnists. Perhaps they don’t like sharing the field of play. Perhaps they want to draw attention away from the corrosive role their coverage has played focusing attention on process and not substance.
It’s not necessary to parse the substance of Rove’s fatuous comments. We all know how preposterous any of this is coming from Rove. And it’s certainly not the first time the GOP has attacked the media as a way of working the refs, which is exactly the purpose of those particular remarks.
But I am struck by Rove’s remarks as another example, among many in recent months, that most of the reliable campaign themes the Republicans have employed in the last two decades are no longer viable. National security policy is in a shambles, the federal budget is a wreck, and the GOP’s reputation for bringing mature and competent managers to government may take a generation to rebuild. Thematically, only social issues still resonate. That leaves the GOP with two main tactical weapons: demonizing opponents personally and shooting the messenger.
Over the next four months, we will see blistering negative attacks on Democrats of a ferocity and corrosiveness that will make Swift Boats look like the Love Boat. And we will see a continuation of what started in the spring, an unprecedented attack on journalists and journalism, using not only the rhetorical flourishes favored by Rove, but the powers of the state via investigations, subpoenas, and the invocation of state secrets.
The Republicans have amassed great power, arguably more power than any party since the Democrats under Roosevelt. But unlike the Roosevelt years, power today is much more centralized, in politics, in business, and in journalism. It is a concentration of power that is, and I hate to risk going overboard here, dangerous to democracy.
The vigor with which the GOP has attacked journalism in recent months is a reliable indicator of what conservatives see as the greatest threat to their power (and if journalism is the greatest threat, that’s a sure sign that other democratic institutions have withered). The Administration has attacked then investigated journalists for disclosing illegal government activities, some authorized by the President. It has suggested that journalists play into the hands of terrorists by reporting on the strife in Iraq. And 24 hours a day, conservatives’ Fox News makes a mockery of journalism.
You can disagree about what reality should be. That is the essence of democracy. But when the instruments of state power, including the President’s bully pulpit, are used to attack the effort–within government, but especially without–to identify, describe, and analyze what reality is, then we have run right up against the limits of what democracy can withstand. It is the abandonment of the Enlightenment in favor of a dark and uncertain future.