Nick Machiavelli, Senior Partner, Machiavelli, O'Blarney, Iago,
Alcibiades, and Morris, Political Consultants.
To: Karl Rove, White House Chief of Staff, Post Office Box
2004, Washington DC.
Nice to hear
from you — and so promptly. Usually they wait until their client's
polling numbers are several miles below sea level before consulting
Old Nick. I found your "Eyes Only" memo — Repositioning
the President — very entertaining reading. So, of course, did the
readers of the Sun-Times, the Washington Post, the
New York Times, the L.A. Times, etc., etc., etc.,
all the way down to the Oshkosh Bald Eagle.
Karl, a word
in your ear: Never tell a girl how you are going to seduce her.
Likewise never tell the voters exactly how you are going to fool
them. The Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton, said it best when he
wrote "the man who preaches egoism is practicing altruism."
Publicly announcing a strategy on reshaping a presidential image,
even the right strategy, has two ill effects. It warns the punters
to be on their guard against your advertised manipulation, and it
suggests that the president may be a potted plant moved around the
political spectrum at the whim of others. And as the English legal
maxim has it: 'the greater the truth, the greater the libel.'
Now to the
strategy itself. You propose returning to the "compassionate
conservative" strategy that Junior ran in last year's election.
There's a problem with that — namely, Junior lost the popular vote
in 2000. Maybe the strategy had something to do with it.
not quibble. Instead, examine what a compassionate conservatism
strategy means in practice. The memo urges the prez to stress issues
like education, "values," and immigration. Let's look
at them individually.
A Bush education
bill is today wending its way through Congress, shedding conservative
reforms like vouchers and attracting high-spending liberal provisions
as it goes. In a few months Junior will get to sign a popular bi-partisan
education bill in the Rose Garden with Teddy Kennedy beaming paternally
over his left shoulder. In three years time just before the 2004
election, when the only thing in education that has improved is
teachers' salaries, what will Teddy be doing? Easy: He will be blaming
the continued sorry state of education on Junior's failure to hike
spending even more than he had done. And Junior will carry the can
for another failed liberal program. It almost makes me feel compassionate.
Karl, this sounds nice, cuddly, wholesome — until you specify what
values. For values are either platitudinous ("All you need
is love") or divisive ("an eye for an eye") or both
at once ("choose life.") Take the values topic in your
memo-"the stem-cell debate." Expect no easy applause on
that. Either the president prohibits experiments on stem cells taken
from embryos — in which case he pits himself against people suffering
from Parkinson's Disease; or he allows them — in which case he pits
himself against the Pope at a time when he is seriously wooing the
Catholic vote. And almost every "value" comes equipped
with a similar clash.
America down the middle at the last election. If Junior proposes
to woo moderates, Independents, and women as the Times wrote
on Sunday, then he will put at risk his base among conservatives,
women, and libertarians.
me to "immigration." If I read you right, Karl, you are
pondering a Republican version of Clinton's "triangulation"
strategy — i.e. Junior will position himself as the moderate between
the left-wing Democrats and his own uncompassionate congressional
GOP. There are innumerable problems with this idea — let me point
out the most obvious one.
looked for an issue on which to triangulate, he stole the popular
issue of welfare reform from the GOP. Karl, you have apparently
decided to steal the unpopular issue of an amnesty to legalize three
million illegal Mexican immigrants from the Dems. Polls for the
last 30 years have shown that most Americans think legal
immigration is too high. Why would rewarding illegal immigration
be a vote winner?
What you risk
here is depressing your already low vote among both white and minority
workers hit by immigrant competition while being outbid among Hispanic
voters by Democrats who are already promising a more generous amnesty
to more immigrants. That sounds a little too compassionate to play
But let's go
back to Question One: Why are you repositioning the president anyway?
The leaks say that you are worried that he is viewed as too conservative
and fixated on such traditional Republican policies as cutting taxes
and increasing energy production. But are women, moderates, and
Independents really opposed to those things? Sure, I know the New
York Times thinks so. But look around you. Junior is riding
high in the polls and he has just won two victories in Congress
that all the smart money said was impossible. Maybe Cheney has hit
on a better political strategy than compassioneering? Maybe low
taxes and low gas prices are popular. Hey, don't reject the idea
out of hand.
My fee of $15,000
should be paid directly into my favorite faith-based charitable
foundation — "Christians, Jews and Moslems for the Middle East
Peace That Passeth Understanding." Make the payment either
in cash or checks — no single check to be higher than $100 (for
the purposes of IRS bookkeeping.) And please note that the foundation's
account has moved from Switzerland to the Bank of International
Settlements (Unincorporated), anchored just three and a half miles
off the coast of Key West.
appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.