Big Bird, meet Karl Rove

Last week, many people who used to call themselves liberals, back when that was allowed, were burning up the blogs, near-giddy with excitement. Why? They figured that Karl Rove, the legendary architect of Bush's election victories and much-feared evil genius, had finally screwed up — big time.

That's because of what he said at a fundraiser in Manhattan. "The most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security," said the man known in some circles as Bush's brain.

"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."

Those comments are, naturally, outrageous and in bad taste. Immediately, everyone from talk-show hosts to Democratic senators began demanding apologies and disavowals from Rove and President Bush.

Others suggested the president's senior political adviser should resign. Naturally, none of that happened. As someone remarked, Democrats apologize; Republicans don't. Last week, for example, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois felt forced to apologize for something he didn't need to be sorry for.

Durbin was talking on the floor of the U.S. Senate about an e-mail from an FBI agent writing about the way we've abused prisoners at Guantanamo.

"If I read this to you, and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime ... that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said.

Nothing wrong with that — and not surprising, really, after what we know and the pictures we've seen of the True Adventures of Lynndie England and Friends. And remember, he was talking about what an FBI agent wrote. Yet there was a firestorm, and in the end Durbin caved in and apologized for being honest.

Karl Rove, naturally, does have something to apologize for (well, many things). But don't hold your breath. He has no intention of saying he's sorry, and he isn't. His nasty remarks were intentional and carefully calculated.

But what I fear is that his nasty words won't hurt Bush or his cause nearly as much as they may help them. Rest assured they'll be played over and over and quoted admiringly at many a right-wing fundraiser.

They'll stir up the animals, who will then reach for their checkbooks. But what's even scarier is the thought that these words will help cement a perception in many minds. You can just see a comedy skit in which a hand-wringing liberal watches the Twin Towers collapse — and then calls his shrink to see if he can fit Osama in for an emergency session.

If that happens, it's another victory for Rove, the man who many years ago took an empty vessel called George W. Bush and molded him into a politician, built him up, and then masterminded the destruction of opponent after opponent, from Ann Richards to Al Gore; from John McCain to John Kerry.

When the United States was dragged into World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that we would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender. Some of the Nazis gleefully thought it was a mistake that would be seen worldwide as arrogant.

What it did instead was begin to get people thinking that the Nazis eventually would have to surrender. If Rove's comments succeed in reinforcing the image of those who oppose him as weak-kneed sissies who have no stomach for a fight against evil, what he did was no political mistake.


Speaking of which: It's time to consider the war over funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity that helps public television and radio stay afloat. Last Thursday, the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly to restore $100 million that had been cut from the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget.

Everyone rallied around their usual banners. Liberals and moderates tried to spread the fear that Sesame Street would be canceled. Conservatives argued that public broadcasting was hopelessly biased toward liberals, and that the government shouldn't be in the public broadcasting business at all. (Forgotten was that the airwaves, by act of Congress, were all long ago declared to be public property, just like our national parks.)

Naturally, normal people felt that a great victory had been won when the House voted to restore the funding. Nearly ignored was the fact that a lot of other cuts had been approved — and that the House still plans to cut CPB's funding by a staggering 25 percent, which includes eliminating money designed to upgrade the satellite system and help stations convert to digital broadcasting.

And almost nobody realized what this was really about.

Forget the posturing: This administration really doesn't want to put the Corporation for Public Broadcasting out of business. That would turn moderates against them. Worse, it might hugely increase the appeal of Air America, the truly liberal network, which broadcasts locally on low-powered 1310 AM.

What the Bushies really want is to create a chilling effect on public news programming. The patterns are set: The right wing hollers that anything not Fox News is full of "liberal bias." The terrified networks holler "No! No, we're not!" and then, sometimes subconsciously, adjust their programming.

That's what they want to happen with public broadcasting in this country. That's why Kenneth Tomlinson, the ideologue who's now chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, paid someone $14,170 to "monitor" one of the best programs on public television, Bill Moyers' Now.

The man they got to do this was such a nut job that, according to Frank Rich of The New York Times, he rated U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, as a liberal. Incidentally, Moyers has left Now since then.

And Tomlinson has just appointed Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, as president of CPB. If you're paying attention, that makes you want to laugh, or cry, or emigrate.

Incidentally, if you thought public radio and TV got most or all of their funding from the government, you're in for a surprise. These days, it's only around 15 percent. The rest comes from underwriters, which is the public broadcasting term for sponsors, and as they say, viewers and listeners like you.

Yet that's still an important enough chunk of change to make a serious difference, especially in the case of television. Of course, if all else fails, you could always get your news from Will & Grace, or maybe Survivor.


Wicked speculation: One reason for Dubya's political success is that, in a sense, he actually has been propped up by three wives. The official one, Laura, got him off the bottle. The second, Condoleezza Rice, has referred to the president as her "husband" on at least one famous occasion.

And then there's Karl Rove, without whom Dubya would never have been elected to nothin', no-how. Like Condi, the 54-year-old Rove, who was married for a minute back in the 1970s, has no known personal relationship with anything more warm-blooded than an exit poll. Yet in the currentVanity Fair, the gay marriage-bashing Rove swoons on about the first time he laid eyes on Dubya:

"I can literally remember what he was wearing: An Air National Guard flight jacket, cowboy boots, blue jeans ... he was exuding more charisma than any one individual should be allowed to have ... you know, wow." Ahem.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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