Monday, July 18, 2005

Rove Watch, day five

The outlines of the White House strategy for riding out PlameGate are beginning to emerge more clearly, and it's an unusual strategy from an administration best known for just plunging ahead past fact and reality and counting on them never to catch up with it. The retreat seems to be proceeding in good order, but it clearly is a retreat. The West Wing is worried, people.

Observed elements of the strategy:

1. Maintain official silence

Two years of vociferous denials were probably "necessary" from the standpoint of delaying reckoning as long as possible, but we're way past the shelf life of credible denial now ... and the White House knows that with the increasing velocity of disclosures, anything Scott McClellan says on the matter is bound to come back and bite them in the ass sooner rather than later. Mum's the word.

2. Continue to hold the old line through proxies

The White House isn't talking, but it's begging others -- especially the Bushevik Blogger Brigade -- to talk in its stead. The Big Lie has worked so often for these people that they can't imagine it failing them now -- so out come the talking points. "None of us did it" and "everyone already knew" are staples, of course. They've been superseded by "one of us did it, but only to correct the record," and "everyone knew, but what they knew wasn't quite accurate -- we were just helping out." Now that sufficient details have been made public to flesh out the legal situation a bit, the latest addition is a firmer line on how the law probably wasn't technically violated.

3. Spread the blame, contain the damage

Until Rove's flank got exposed, the Bushevik line was "nobody here did it." Now that we know that at least one of them did do it, the line is evolving into "well, actually, a bunch of us did it." The bunch involved, of course, will include mostly people previously accused, as indicated by the promotion of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to the head of the line. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, if heads are going to roll, they might as well be heads that are already under the guillotine. Secondly, sacrificing a few pawns early in the game may be key to saving a bishop -- Rove -- or even the queen -- Cheney -- later.

The new White House approach to PlameGate is assuming the characteristics of a more traditional method of dealing with scandal: Put up firebreaks and hope they hold until the White House can retreat into the clear or until the thing has burned itself out. That's a page from the Clinton playbook -- the plaintive cries of "move on -- please!" are already circulating -- and definitely a departure for an administration which usually attempts, at any cost, to retain the initiative for itself.

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