Rove speech exposes fundamental split

Michael Barone

6/27/2005 12:00:00 AM - Michael Barone

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9-11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban. In the wake of 9-11, the liberals believed it was time to submit a petition." So spoke White House presidential advisor Karl Rove to New York's Conservative Party last week.

 Not surprisingly, some politicians generally classed as liberals took umbrage. New York's Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that they and most other Democratic elected officials reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks with outrage and voted for the resolution authorizing military action in Afghanistan. Only one member of Congress, Berkeley left-winger Barbara Lee, voted against it.

 In the liberal narrative, the Democratic Party selflessly supported George W. Bush until he unwisely decided to make war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And indeed many of them supported that: Schumer and Clinton voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002.

 Reading the initial press accounts of Rove's speech, I wished that he had been more specific about which liberals he was denouncing -- except that, as those press accounts failed to mention, he was. "I'm not joking," he went on immediately after the words quoted above. "Submitting a petition was precisely what Moveon.org, then known as 9-11peace.org did. You may have seen it in The New York Times or The Washington Post, the San Francisco Examiner or the L.A. Times. (Funny, I didn't see it in the Amarillo Globe News.) It was a petition that 'implored the powers that be' to 'use moderation and restraint in responding to the terrorist attacks against the United States.'"

 One reason that the Democrats are squawking so much about Rove's attack on "liberals" is that he has put the focus on a fundamental split in the Democratic Party -- a split among its politicians and its voters.

 On the one hand, there are those who believe that this is a fundamentally good country and want to see success in Iraq. On the other hand, there are those who believe this is a fundamentally bad country and want more than anything else to see George W. Bush fail.

 Those who do not think this split is real should consult the responses to pollster Scott Rasmussen's question last year. About two-thirds of Americans agreed that the United States is a fair and decent country. Virtually all Bush voters agreed. Kerry voters were split down the middle.

 This is a fundamental split. University and media elites, as Thomas Sowell writes in his forthcoming "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," promote a version of history in which all evils are perpetrated by the United States and the West and in which Third World tyrants are assumed to be the voice of virtuous victims. These elites fail to notice that slavery was a universal institution until opposed only by altruists in the West, in late 18th century Britain and 19th century America.

 It comes naturally to those liberal politicians whose worldview is set by these elites to suppose that Saddam's Iraq was the land of happy kite-flyers portrayed in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and that, as Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said in a carefully prepared speech, American actions in Guantanamo are comparable to acts of the Nazis, Soviets and Khmer Rouge.

 It comes naturally to Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean to proclaim that Saddam Hussein should be presumed innocent pending trial but that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay should be consigned to jail for offenses with which he has not even been charged.

  Half the Senate Democrats attended the Washington premiere of Moore's movie and laughed and cheered its ridicule of Bush and denunciation of American policy -- at a time when Moore proclaimed on his website that "Americans are the stupidest people in the world."

 Now, Democrats want to make Guantanamo an issue when, according to Rasmussen, only 20 percent of Americans believe prisoners there are treated unfairly and only 14 percent believe that treatment is similar to Nazi tactics.

 Durbin has now apologized, sort of. And Democrats are watching with glee as Bush's job approval stays stuck below 50 percent. But a party that happily allies itself with the likes of moveon.org and many of whose leading members have lost the ability to distinguish between opposition to an incumbent administration and rooting for our nation's enemies has got serious problems. Especially when it is called on again, as it will be sooner or later, to govern.