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Rove's Third Term

Paul Krugman in the NY Times (reg. req'd) Al Gore never claimed that he invented the Internet. Howard Dean didn't scream. Hillary Clinton didn't say

Paul Krugman in the NY Times (reg. req'd)

Al Gore never claimed that he invented the Internet. Howard Dean didn't scream. Hillary Clinton didn't say she was staying in the race because Barack Obama might be assassinated. And Wesley Clark didn't impugn John McCain's military service.

Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, titled his tell-all memoir "What Happened." But a true account of modern American politics should be titled "What Didn't Happen." Again and again we've had media firestorms over supposedly revealing incidents that never actually took place.

The latest fake scandal fit the usual pattern as an awkwardly phrased remark, lifted out of context and willfully misinterpreted, exploded across the airwaves.

What General Clark actually said was that Mr. McCain's war service, though heroic, didn't necessarily constitute a qualification for the presidency. It was a blunt but truthful remark, and not at all outrageous - especially given the fact that General Clark is himself a bona fide war hero.

Yet the Clark affair did reveal something important - not about General Clark, but about Mr. McCain. Now we know what a McCain administration would represent: namely, a third term for Karl Rove.

It was predictable that the McCain campaign would go wild over the Clark remarks. Mr. McCain's run for the White House has always been based on persona rather than policy: he doesn't have ideas that voters agree with, but he does have an inspiring life story - which, contrary to the myth of the modest maverick, he talks about all the time. The suggestion that this life story isn't relevant to his quest for office was bound to provoke a violent reaction.

But the McCain campaign went beyond condemning General Clark's remarks; it went out of its way to distort them.[..]

The willingness of the McCain campaign to engage in these tactics, employing such tainted spokesmen, tells us that the campaign has decided to go negative - specifically, to apply the strategy Karl Rove used so effectively in 2002 and 2004 (but not so effectively in 2006), that of portraying Democrats as unpatriotic.

And sure enough, Adam Nagourney of The New York Times reports signs of the "increasing influence of veterans of Mr. Rove's shop in the McCain operation."

Will Rovian tactics work this year?

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