I’ve always been fond of the game of chess. It’s fascinated me since I was seven or so, when I was a gifted amateur. Unfortunately, I haven’t progressed much beyond that stage, but I still enjoy it on occasion.
In chess, one successful tactic is to sacrifice a lesser piece in order to capture an opponent’s of higher value. Pawns are traded for knights, knights for rooks, rooks for queens, and the like. In each case, the end result is the same: while both sides are weakened, one player comes out clearly the better.
In politics, this is true, too. Occasionally, one side will willingly offer up one of its own people if, in the process, they can bring down a higher-ranking member of the opposition. And last week, we witnessed a masterful demonstration of this tactic.
Senator Dick Durbin’s remarks on the floor of the Senate comparing the US running of Guantanamo to Nazi death camps, Soviet Gulags, and the Cambodian killing fields had pretty much run their course. Durbin had taken considerable heat, but it looked like it would blow over with a minimum of permanent damage.
Then, enter Karl Rove. He goes to a Conservative Party convention in New York state, and gives a real stem-winder of a speech lauding them and speaking of the glories of conservatism. And in the middle of the speech, he tosses in some red meat. He singles out Howard Dean and Michael Moore as examplars of the worst of modern liberalism, and then goes into depth on the offenses of Moveon.org and brings back up Senator Durbin’s remarks.
As expected — nay, as planned — this sends the Left into a horrible frenzy. Rove is denounced, railed against, there are calls for his resignation or firing. There are probably even a few whackos over at DU (but I repeat myself) who call for his head on a pike.
But then, an odd (but entirely predictable) thing happens. People go and look at just what Rove said, and start thinking: it might have been a smidgen over the top, but was it fundamentally inaccurate? Did he honestly recount what Durbin said, and some of the entirely-predictable consequences that have already come to pass?
All of a sudden Durbin, who thought he was over the worst of it with his pathetic non-apology (“if you were offended, I’m sorry.”), finds himself in the center of a renewed firestorm over his remarks. And not because Karl Rove mentioned it, but because so many of Durbin’s allies have fallen for the bait and are constantly repeating it.
And here’s a major difference: Karl Rove, while he may be a political genius and the architect of many of Bush’s successes, is only officially the Deputy Chief Of Staff — an appointed position. He’s a political operative at his core, not a leader. Durbin, however, is the #2 Democrat in the Senate. Rove may not exactly be a pawn and Durbin a Queen in the grand scope of things, but Durbin holds a far greater position of public trust — and can withstand a lot less heat than Rove.
There is one major difference between chess and politics, however. The game of chess is, literally as well as figuratively, black and white. A piece is either captured or not. In politics, however, people are seldom removed from the board entirely and permanently, save by death. Many times after a severe blow, a political figure will stagger on, gravely wounded and crippled, but remaining on the stage. That appears to be the case here.
Another example of this, lesser but telling, is when my Fearless Leader discussed, in depth, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd’s history in the Ku Klux Klan. David Anderson, normally one of the more reasonable and readable members of the Left, responded thusly:
And just what was Ronald Reagan’s membership in the John Birch Society?
I hadn’t heard about that, so I went to the links one of his supporters cited. And was I ever educated.
According to a single unnamed source, an FBI informant described as “reliable” said Reagan was a member of the John Birch society in 1960. Not a single shred of corroborating evidence is presented to back this up. Numerous accounts of Reagan courting Birchers to support him are cited, and his dance of flirting with them while carefully keeping just enough distance for propriety’s sake, are cited, but no one has managed to uncover a single piece of evidence to back up that single un-named informant’s claim.
And let’s, for a moment, presume that Reagan had indeed been a Bircher at one point: so what?
I’ve kept an eye on the Birchers off and on for some years. And my conclusion is this:
The Birchers are batshit crazy. They’re conspiracy nuts of the highest magnitude. They’re wild-eyed fanatics, seeing Communist plots under every leaf and convinced that every single happening is just another tiny piece of the Grand Evil Plot To Destroy All That Is Decent And Good, As Emblemized By America. They’re paranoid and delusional and utterly without redeeming value, beyond their worth as entertainment.
But what they are not is dangerous. They’ve never been implicated in anything resembling violence. They’ve never killed anyone, that I know of, and don’t hold massive demonstrations to threaten their “enemies” with mob violence.
Let that stand in sharp contrast with the Ku Klux Klan, America’s original home-grown terrorists. To compare the two groups is obscene. While the Birchers could consider it an insult, I really don’t give a faded fart about their hurt feelings — they’ve got plenty of more important things to get outraged than that. What is far more significant about the comparison is that it (pardon the pun) whitewashes the Klan, gives them a veneer of respectability and helps mask their despicable, contemptible, vile past.
But to bring it back to individuals, let’s look at Reagan and Byrd again. Reagan, who has been out of office and the public eye for sixteen years, and dead for one. And his membership is a simple, unsubstantiated allegation.
Byrd, on the other hand, is still a sitting Senator and Democratic leader. He was a key force behind the “compromise” (cough, spit) on Bush’s judicial nominees of late.
And he wasn’t just a brief member of the Ku Klux Klan. He was the founder, organizer, chief recruiter, and leader of a chapter. And he’s never detailed any great “Saul on the road to Damascus” conversion, when he suddenly realized just how wrong and immoral and evil the Klan was. Instead, it was a mere “youthful indiscretion.”
So, if the left wants to hang the “John Birch member” label on Reagan, so be it. But they better be willing to accept Byrd’s despicable history — and utter failure to repudiate the organization of which he once was a leading figure.