"How many of you know the story of Bridget?" Karl Rove asks the crowd at the Politico/Yahoo breakfast this morning. A number of people raise their hands, and he nods approvingly, praising the educated Politico audience. Then he goes on to tell the heartwarming story of how Cindy McCain visited Bangladesh with Mother Teresa and encountered two sick little girls, one with a cleft palate and one with a heart problem. She made the snap decision to take them both home — one to be adopted by their close friends, and one to be the newest addition to the McCain family — John McCain's Bangladeshi adopted daughter, Bridget McCain.
It's a heartwarming story, no question — but hearing it from Karl Rove is just plain creepy. Wasn't he the guy who told a somewhat different version in South Carolina in 2000? Sorry, allegedly — even the McCain people are cautious about how much of the "stuff [that] happened in South Carolina that none of us liked" was attributable to the Bush campaign, i.e. Rove. The "stuff" was, inter alia, smears accusing McCain of fathering Bridget out of wedlock with a black woman who may or may not have been a prostitute (rumors varied).
Was it Rove? Other outlets are less cautious:
Salon: "The slurs aimed at McCain during the South Carolina and New York primaries were appalling -- even in an era of scoundrel politics -- and nobody doubted that they should be attributed, at least indirectly, to Rove."
The Nation: "Owing largely to the Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign, Bush prevailed in South Carolina and secured the Republican nomination."
Even McCain alluded to the South Carolina "stuff" earlier this year when he started taking advice from his onetime political nemesis. "We never had any ill will after the initial South Carolina thing."
Here's the thing: Burying the political hatchet is one thing, whatever, it's done every day. What isn't done every day is the naked hypocrisy of piously telling a crowd of people the true story — semi-lecturing them from on high as you relay this example of McCain's moral fibre — after you've participated in spreading the patently false, smearing version — and everyone knows it.
It is yet another denial of the reality-based community, and that was the theme of today's Politico breakfast across the board.
Here's who was on the panel: Rove, moderator Mike Allen, the Washington Times' Tara Wall, Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Florida GOP chairman Al Cardenas and political commentator (but not journalist!) Armstrong Williams (okay so let's get this straight: being a commentator and taking money to push a particular point of view is okay, but being a journalist who doesn't do that means you're bad and evil and the enemy. Got it),
If that sounds topsy-turvy to you, then welcome to that hour of my life, listening to some of what the panel had to say about this election and last night's speech from VP nominee Sarah Palin.
It amounted to the story-solidification tour: Palin was just what McCain needed on the ticket, is reflective of his maverick spirit, and now they've got Obama-Biden on the ropes. Armstrong Williams just isn't sure who will win anymore.
What he is sure about, apparently, is that women have a tough choice now. It's true! How oh how will they be able to get over the fact that Sarah Palin also has ovaries? I myself thought that the argument that like-must-support-like was rather clearly obviated by the fact that it was coming from Williams — a black man clearly not supporting Barack Obama — but that didn't come up (nor were polling numbers or any other evidence offered in support of that statement).
Yeah, so, you caught me in a total inconsistency. It only matters if I care, and I don't. "
"She's bright, she's tough and she's a personality that is a force on any stage on which she stands. The fact is, she was John McCain's choice." I can't remember who said that, but the gist was that McCain was strong enough to choose her — and to withstand her many charms. Because apparently her delivery of a single pre-written, carefully-choreographed speech to the friendliest possible crowd after a warm-up by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee
was totally enough to overshadow the famous maverick war hero who, the narrative goes, we've all come to know during his many years in Washington faithfully putting his country first. This was the spin, and they were all on board.
They were also on board with the "community organizer" diss. "Community organizer - great, wonderful. 'Preciate it," said Rove dismissively. Funny how that diss comes in the same breath as praise for Palin as a Washington outsider, the kind who actually gets things done rather than back-slap with the fat cats. It's funny because that's what a community organizer does — what Obama did — worked for grassroots change from the outside to force change on the fat-cats on the inside.
There's an inconsistency here, but what does consistency matter to the those outside the reality-based community? After one speech, there was agreement with Williams that "She is the female Bill Clinton when it comes to oratory." (I'm not sure even Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton after one speech.) Also, there was Wall, asserting that "The appointment of Obiden has signaled a turn to the left...[it's the same old] Washington politics." Wha? Neither of those things make particular sense (Joe Biden voted to authorize the war, after all, and what party, exactly, has been in power for the last eight years?). But no one was pointing that out.
Wall also said that Palin was a return to the core values of the party. Right, the GOP, famous for welcoming Beltway outsiders and hockey moms! I mentally bonked my head against the wall a few more times.
The kicker came from Rove, of course, because why wouldn't it? The media was being suitably wrist-slapped for daring to ask questions about maybe asking some questions, and Rove let it be known that he was over it already. I'm paraphrasing, but basically, it went something like this: "And now you have that those questions like, 'When will she be on a Sunday show? When will she sit for a live interview? When will she give a Town Hall? When will she talk foreign policy?'" This litany was delivered almost with an eye-roll, like, "SIGH. You wondered about the speech and she knocked it out of the park, didn't she? Why must you idiot media people keep insisting on her jumping through these hoops when we both know they're just a formality?"
It is about at this point that I Twittered, "The reality-based community has no place in this breakfast hall right now. Seriously."
It was also about at that point that I got scared. Because there was Palin, and then there was how easily things managed to get twisted around by people like Rove — effortlessly, with no compunction, and even less shame. None of it dovetailed much with what I knew and had seen — even with conceding that Palin gave one helluva a speech, and put on one helluva show. It just felt suddenly overwhelming, like it would be impossible to carefully note and argue and refute every erroneous or misleading statement, because by then fifty more would have been carelessly uttered. Like the Lernean Hydra, except who knew where that one immortal head was?
I'm not sure, but he may have been sitting in front of me today. I would have asked him about it, but unlike every other panel I've seen across two conventions, there were no questions after. Just one quick photo op, and then Rove disappeared. It's what he left behind that I'm worried about.