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Karl Rove's Scheherazade Strategy

Faced with policy failure, Republicans will try to tell compelling stories about themselves and the war in order to win elections.

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 3:00 AM EDT

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt.

Here's how a Washington Post piece soon after the Supreme Court's smack-down of the Bush administration's Guantanamo policies began:

"Republicans yesterday looked to wrest a political victory from a legal defeat in the Supreme Court, serving notice to Democrats that they must back President Bush on how to try suspects at Guantanamo Bay or risk being branded as weak on terrorism… As the White House and lawmakers weighed next steps, House GOP leaders signaled they are ready to use this week's turn of events as a political weapon."

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So what's new? The single greatest skill of the Bush administration -- and especially of its presiding political strategist Karl Rove -- has been turning potential disasters (of which there have been so many) into successful attacks on the Democrats, while, against all odds, briefly elevating the President's approval ratings. This talent for fashioning tall tales and going for the political jugular has, as in the presidential race of 2004 (aided and abetted by the Democrats), proven just enough to get the Republicans past the voters in reasonable shape. The ever-devolving catastrophe in Iraq has been but the latest candidate for such treatment -- as, in the wake of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the President announced that "the tide" was again turning in that country, congressional Republicans launched fierce attacks on Democratic cut-and-runners, and the already astronomical numbers of dead bodies flooding into Baghdad's central morgue rose, post-Zarqawi, by 16%.

As religion professor Ira Chernus suggests below, Rove regularly manages to do his work in part by calling on that oldest of American stories, the one about fighting the savages on a distant frontier in order to make the world safe for settlers. Chernus, a professor of religion, canny guy, and regular Tomdispatch contributor, explains just how this process works (over and over and over again).

Of course, sooner or later, all good (and bad) things must end. We know that. The question is: Will November 2006 be the start of that moment or simply more of the same old, same old?

Karl Rove's Scheherazade Strategy
By Ira Chernus

Karl Rove has a simple rule, they say: When you are falling behind, attack your opponents at their strongest point. In the upcoming election, the Democrats' strongest point should obviously be Iraq. With the spotlight eternally focused on the disastrous war there, Rove has to figure out how to turn its dazzling beam to his party's advantage.

So he's borrowing a page from an ancient Iranian storybook and imitating Scheherazade, the maiden whose husband's policy was "wed 'em, bed 'em, and kill 'em at dawn." Rove is telling Republican candidates to follow Scheherazade's rule: When policy dooms you, start telling stories -- stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy.

The GOP stories are the same ones white people have been telling each other ever since they first set foot on North American shores: If you want to be safe, go to the frontier and wipe out the Indians. As former State Department official John Brown has noted, our Indian wars are not over yet.

Now Rove and his President are trying to sell the Iraq war as a frontier conflict, too. They want us to see U.S. troops as the cavalry putting down the "Injuns." Or better yet, as pioneers creating small enclaves of civilization (in Iraq they're called Green Zones) in the midst of a vast wilderness full of savages. What strength, what courage it takes to survive. But they have a job to do: They must teach the savages how to be free. And above all, like their pioneering forebears, they must have the guts to stick it out until the job is done.

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