Conservatives are justifiably tired of the "Bush is dumb" meme, but they have a stale and self-serving meme of their own that they really ought to put to bed. It goes something like this: "Bush is unbelievably clever and all his missteps are really just part of a cunning plan to trap Democrats into self immolation.Calpundit is right, but I'll go farther. Actually, there is a grand strategy here, but it's actually pretty stupid not brilliant, and Kristol is a part of it.
Isn't it funny? Every time the Democrats actually attack vigorously and seem to be doing some real damage, why, they're completely missing the point! They really ought to be attacking something else! The usual candidates — by some odd coincidence — are things even more hawkish and conservative than George Bush himself is willing to advocate (nuking Mecca, calling for the dismemberment of the UN, increasing the military budget 50%, etc.).
Sad, isn't it, that Democrats are attacking the president for the peccadillo of starting a war against a country that turned out to pose little or no threat to anyone? And sadder still that Democrats can't be an "intelligent, loyal opposition" like the Republicans always were when they were in the minority, isn't it? Sad indeed....
(Let's remember, please, that Kristol is not an independent actor here. He is part of the president's rolling re-election squad, and everything he says should be evaluated with that kept in perspective. Grain of salt? We need whole silos. I'll make this clear: Democrats who take their advice from Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard are going to lose.)
At this point, I'm proposing a rule of thumb ("Demosthenes' Law", maybe, or maybe "Ellis' Law" for the guy that dubbed the term "rolling re-election squad"), a correllary to the Stanfield effect: The more we hear "it's only 16 words" from someone, the more likely it is that they're part of the rolling re-election squad, and the less likely it is that we should believe the speaker.
The strategy here is "if something goes bad, change the subject". It's been around since 2000, and since it worked fairly well then, they've been using it all the time whenever something comes up. After the election, they used it to silence criticism of that. After 9/11, the biggest argument you heard from the Republicans was "the world has changed and we need to stand together" whenever someone actually criticized Bush. When the Iraq war was being argued for, Bush and his sycophants and strategists flailed around trying to find whatever reason they could to convince the U.N. and the American people, and when the Iraq war had started, we endlessly heard "the war has started, we need to support the troops". After the occupation started, it was "war's over, move on". (Which was, of course, the real point of the "mission accomplished" stunt.)
Now that one of the flailings is being examined, what are we seeing? "It's not a real scandal. Move on" from everybody. Tellingly, though, one should look at who it's coming from, which are people, like Kristol, who have a ton to lose if this administration should lose power. Any "helpful advice" they're giving to the Democrats should be dismissed out of hand.
The reason why it's stupid, though, is because of what I've described as the "Stanfield effect". Every time someone like Kristol says "this isn't an issue" about something that so transparently threatens them and their political bosses, people are not going to buy into it; they will only remember "this thing seems to be freaking those guys out". The media will certainly respond, if only because the denial is news, and it will provide the opportunity to repeat the original charge, over and over and over again. That's why this strategy is abundantly stupid... people are going to remember the charge, not the defense, especially if the defense is "this doesn't matter". People (and the media) will decide for themselves whether this matters- the Bush administration and its flunkies can't tell them whether it will or not. With Clinton, they decided that it didn't matter, and with Bush, the media was far too cowed to do anything but report the spin. Times have changed.
So yeah, there's a strategy here, and it's worked (barely) before. Thanks to the occupation going nowhere, however, Bush isn't being seen charitably anymore, and the media ain't going to move on on Kristol's tendentious say so. To continue it is a clearly lame strategy, transparently so. Unfortunately, they may not have anything else. The rolling re-election squad is running out of ammo.