Karl Rove proved a very salient point last week in his speech to the Conservative Party of New York. The media’s reflexes still work. After most in the "news" media spent a week steadfastly ignoring Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-Ill.) hideous statement comparing U.S. detainees to the killing fields of Pol Pot, Rove said liberals were weak on terrorism, and zoom! Rove’s remarks rocketed to the front page and with that, the top of the political buzz.
The New York Times set the table by quoting only a few sentences in which Rove explained that conservatives saw Sept. 11 and knew it was time for war, while liberals saw it as an occasion for indictments and therapy and an opportunity to understand our attackers. Liberal politicians like Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton were outraged. And so were the liberal media.
The bottom line is this: Durbin was ignored because the media agree our Guantanamo detainee practices are savage and dictatorial. Rove was highlighted because those same journalists vehemently disagree with the notion that liberals had the wrong response to Sept. 11. The media’s standard of newsworthiness is explicitly a double standard, unmissably ideological and liberal.
Let’s grant the offended liberals the point that the vast majority of us wanted to join the Congress in singing "God Bless America" after the attacks. It’s also true that a vast majority of Democrats voted to authorize war in Afghanistan. Only one Senate Democrat and about 65 House Democrats voted against the terrorism-fighting Patriot Act. But those votes took place within the first six weeks after Sept. 11. Would any liberal political adviser of sound mind advise voting against those at that time? Do those six weeks get to last forever in defining what liberalism has prescribed for a war on terror?
In turn, liberals must grant the point that Rove was singling out liberals, specifically the MoveOn.org folks and Michael Moore and Howard Dean, not Democrats in general. The extent to which Sen. Clinton and the other offended Democrats have endorsed and promoted, or at least refused to criticize MoveOn and Michael Moore and Howard Dean is the extent to which they are not allowed to take offense at Karl Rove’s remarks.
Liberals should also be defined by how they viewed the attacks after the initial shock and national unity wore off. Six days after Sept. 11 on ABC, "comedian" Bill Maher said the terrorists weren’t cowards like we were, "lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away." Ten days after the attacks, an ABC special featured historian Richard Rhodes proclaiming that "These acts didn’t come out of nowhere. People are suffering in the world, seeing their children die of preventable disease and of malnutrition." Within two weeks, ABC had banned its reporters from wearing of flag pins on television and "Nightline" had already turned predictably to sending a reporter into a Berkeley classroom as the majority of the class agreed that violence only breeds more violence.
That doesn’t mean fuzzy liberal talking points shouldn’t have been on the news. It does mean that liberalism was already on public display in its emphasis on avoiding war and defeating our mortal enemies by empathetic negotiation and foreign aid packages.
Karl Rove, therefore, was correct in his assessment. Still, Newsweek’s Washington Bureau Chief, Daniel Klaidman warned that Rove is trying to create "the sort of Republican fantasy of a liberal." But these views of liberalism are not fantasies. They are a reality etched in the historical record. These liberals constitute a large part of the Democratic base and have defined this party. Just as they have defined the liberal media.
Add this question: How precisely did supposedly hawkish President Clinton fight his war on terror, if he waged one? Indicting Osama bin Laden in Manhattan hardly stopped Americans from dying at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists in our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania or aboard the U.S.S. Cole. He lobbed a few cruise missiles, timed precisely to distract attention from his testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case, and then stopped as quickly as he started. This means Mrs. Clinton should think twice before taking offense at indictment quips.
It’s also fascinating to see what the liberal-media summation of the Rove speech left out. Rove cited a pundit who declared liberalism is in great risk of becoming irrelevant, of "getting defined, as conservatism once was, entirely in negative terms." That pundit is Paul Starr, editor of the liberal American Prospect magazine. Try finding any mention of Paul Starr in all the anti-Rove hubbub.
Rove and Starr don’t agree on much, but they agree that the mantle of idealism and optimism and activism is moving to the right, while the mantle of cynicism and pessimism and defensiveness shifts left. Cynical, pessimistic and on the defensive. Come to think of it, that’s also a great description of the liberal media flailing against Republican control of Washington.