Nov 18 (Reuters) - Fighting a decline in public support for the Iraq war and his own leadership, U.S. President George W. Bush and Republican allies have chosen to court his political base with a campaign-style offensive against Democrats.
The Republican National Committee on Friday unveiled a new television advertisement accusing Senate Democrats of dishonesty for turning against a war they originally supported, although polls show the broad U.S. public following a similar track from support to disillusionment.
It was the latest volley in an offensive Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney launched last week to attack war critics as unpatriotic and hypocritical.
The following is merely a small, niggling detail, but it struck me as one of those minor moments that could presage something bigger. Or maybe it is simply a minor scene in a minor play... I honestly don't know. But I had to watch it three times, just to make sure I was not misinterpreting, because it was just so... odd. I'm certainly a close follower of what people have to say, but in politics, how they say it is often the more striking clue to what will come next.
On Countdown tonight, Newsweek's Howard Fineman was tapped with commenting on the Republican attack on Murtha, which has now devolved into Republicans asserting they will launch an ethics probe of Murtha in explicit retaliation for his stance on the Iraq War. Fineman is a frequent guest on the program, an expert commentator, a solid reporter, and usually meets the challenge with the same plays of detached though good-natured bemusement that most reporters choose for such occasions. Punditry has to be light, it seems, to make up for the subject matter.
But this time around, on the heels of a report on the Iraq War debate in the House, Fineman was somewhere between somber and simmering, from the first moment of the interview to the last. Professional, yes, but the raw darkness of the mood was striking.
In short, he made it perfectly, bitterly clear that the White House itself sees Murtha as a tremendous threat, considers itself at war with Murtha, and that Rove -- again, by name -- intends to hit him with everything at the administration's disposal.
And without betraying any secrets of the Washington press corps, I'd have to say that Fineman, for one, met the airways today genuinely either angry or disgusted with the effort.
I encourage you to seek out a transcript, tomorrow, when it becomes available, but the transcript won't quite do the mood of the moment justice. It will be interesting to see if anyone else in comments or around the blogs had the same reaction.
There is something different in the air, the past few weeks. Murtha has managed to tap a tuning fork that the whole war sounds off of -- one I'm not sure he ever intended to find. The Libby indictments were the opening strain, but rather than fading out, the Fitzgerald investigation has continued to dog the administration, and threatens at any moment to break into entirely new revelations. Against that background, the White House is both furious, defensive and distracted; the House is, as we saw tonight, nearly dysfunctional in a new tainted-DeLay environment, and the press itself is, well... hmm.
The press isn't having fun anymore.
The battles are too acrimonious even for good television. The stakes, when even vaunted idols like Bob Woodward are finding themselves dashed upon the rocks, are getting too personal, and too close to home. And in cases like Fineman's, I have to wonder if what I am positive I saw, tonight, I actually saw: a man calling the White House out, rather directly. A man who was no more impressed with the attacks upon Murtha than anyone else watching, to the point where it shifted the tone of the debate, because a lighter tone, in this particular case, simply could not be conscripted.
Whether or not Karl Rove survives the excesses of being Karl Rove, I have to wonder if the same crass, one-note song will play, or if the audience has changed. When the only weapon the White House is capable of using is to impugn the very patriotism and Americanness of their opponents, what happens if the reactions to that attack change?
What happens if the press decides that dissent is, after all, patriotic? And is it happening, just the twinges, because of the utter collapse of the poll numbers, because of the Plame indictment(s?), because of the continuing quagmire of the war, because of the 2,000 deaths mark, because of the other Republican investigations and indictments, seemingly raining down like hailstones anywhere Abramoff has brushed up against the woodwork of power, and/or simply because of the continuing Republican political schtick that works so well for dismissing a minority, but considerably less well when you are calling sixty percent of the country traitors for not dancing to the tune?
I'll be honest with you. Some days, I don't like blogging. A quick look around the blogs will show idiot upon idiot upon blowhard upon liar upon racist upon CLAP LOUDER upon fool, stacked like cordwood at every IP address in use. Republican divinations of the Fitzgerald investigation -- which roundly expected Fitzgerald to indict Wilson, in a fever dream of antilogic -- were long ago enough to convince me that the value of internet punditry is worth far less than the collective electrons that contain it.
So I don't know if I really see, tonight, what I think I see, or if it is only a vapor. But I know there's... something... there. Tonight was, all told, a very good night for the Democrats, if for no other reason than the same Republican skirmish led, this time, to a very different result -- perhaps solely due to the shocking, belligerent, over-the-top crassness of the language directed towards Murtha by the newest House self-proclaimed expert on patriotism and sacrifice, perhaps not. I am disheartened that we are no closer, after these years, to either achieving basic accountability for the war, or even being able to ask the questions without a sea of Republicans chewing the flag in partisan protest. I am disheartened, further, that we seem to be intent on replaying the political fights of Vietnam down to the last pictures and notes.
But accountability is now a majority position in America. Accusing the American people of treason for demanding it is not simply cowardly -- it is also being met with decidedly more organized hostility than in previous Republican "campaigns" against the American citizenry. That may be something.