Regrets, They've Had a Few

As good American consumers, we've all likely experienced buyer's remorse. But in 2007, seller's remorse -- not to mention smearer's remorse -- seems a special attribute of Republican campaign operatives and funders.

In mid-February, The New York Times reported that the architects of the Destroy-the-Clintons-by-All-Means-Possible operation of the 1990s had thought it over and concluded, well, that they'd been wrong. Richard Mellon Scaife, the gazillionaire who spent over $2 million publicizing the Clintons' involvement, however fictitious, in drug running, murder, and scandalous land deals, apparently now wants to take it all back. "Both of us have had a rethinking," Christopher Ruddy, Scaife's ace investigator, told the Times. "[Bill] Clinton wasn't such a bad president. In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today."

Not to be outdone, Matthew Dowd, a campaign strategist for George W. Bush in 2000 and the chief strategist in 2004, told the Times in April that Bush's entire approach to governing was wrong, and that in hindsight, John Kerry had been right in calling for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. Citing Bush's failure to fire Donald Rumsfeld when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, his refusal to meet with Cindy Sheehan, and his recess appointment of John Bolton as UN ambassador, Dowd complained that the president wasn't really interested in seeking consensus with the Democrats.

Now he tells us!

-- Harold Meyerson

Atwater's Syndrome

It's all a bit reminiscent of what was quite literally the deathbed conversion of Karl Rove's mentor and W.'s great friend Lee Atwater, the legendary South Carolina GOP operative and smearmeister who ran Poppy Bush's successful 1988 campaign, where his piéce de résistance was the Willie Horton ad. It was just one in a series of notorious Atwater hits, dating back to a Carolina congressional campaign where he attacked the Democratic candidate for suffering bouts of depression while a teen. In 1990, however, Atwater was diagnosed with a brain tumor (he died a year later), converted to Catholicism, apologized to Michael Dukakis and that Democratic House candidate, and wrote in Life magazine that "what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood."

Of course, Republicans could dispense with this repent-apalooza if they simply ran straight-up campaigns based on the merits of their candidates. Then again, when you look at their '08 presidential field &

Silly Season

Let's ponder the rise of Fred Thompson, former GOP senator from Tennessee and current DA on Law & Order. Thompson entered the presidential field as a possible contender with 12 percent support (third place) in a March poll that showed Rudy Giuliani's support dropping by a similar amount -- suggesting that Republicans are looking for a New York prosecutor who's a little more stable than Rudy. Thompson also has demonstrable crossover potential: With a southern accent and conservative politics, he still managed to win election in deep-blue Manhattan -- on television, anyway.

Those not convinced could look to Tommy Thompson, who announced his candidacy during the Fred Thompson surge, obviously hoping to win the Thompson-confusion vote. Then there's Mitt Romney, who, according to his first-quarter fund-raising totals, apparently can claim a larger number of campaign contributors than people who actually want to vote for him.

Perhaps the party could use a bit of the old Lee Atwater after all.

Disconnection

On April 5, the Pentagon declassified an inspector general's report reconfirming the absence of direct ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and took thenUndersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith to task for having hyped dubious intelligence saying otherwise.

This is, of course, old news. The belief in robust operational links between Iraq and al-Qaeda has long since been relegated to the furthest fringes of right-wing kookery & where the vice president of the United States still dwells. Indeed, on the same day the Defense Department report was released, Dick Cheney did a phone interview with Rush Limbaugh, during which he reiterated his firm belief in such links. Referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, he said, "This is al-Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq." But al-Zarqawi didn't affiliate with al-Qaeda -- or rise to influence and bloody infamy -- until after the invasion.

Can we get an inspector general's report on Cheney's psyche?

Taste of Defeat

Other conservatives, lacking the vice president's capacity for self-delusion regarding Iraq, are instead seeking refuge in humor and fine dining. One April night, R. Emmett Tyrrell, founder of The American Spectator and author of the new book The Clinton Crack-Up, tried to crack up the crowd attending his Washington book party at Morton's Steakhouse.

"If there's one good thing that can be said about Vietnam," he said, "at least we got some good restaurants."

The audience at the D.C. eatery -- an institution so popular with Washington conservatives that hard-line Iran hawk Michael Ledeen has his own nameplated wine locker in the entryway -- feasted on colossal shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, steak sandwiches, and a cake with Bill Clinton's face on its frosting.

"I'm not looking forward to Iraqi cuisine," quipped Tyrrell.

Zen hammer

Speaking of books, Tom DeLay has a new memoir-cum-political manifesto out called No Retreat, No Surrender. (Two decades after Ronald Reagan name-checked "Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce Springsteen still can't seem to catch a break from these guys.) The felled Hammer tosses out the requisite provocative lines -- to wit: "I have learned something about liberals. They are much like communists." And: "The dramatic expansion of the federal government in recent generations has come close to making slaves of the American people." And: "By charging this big lie about money laundering, liberals have finally joined the ranks of scoundrels like Hitler." You get the idea.

More intriguing are the book's moments of cryptic semi-philosophical musing. Early on, DeLay proclaims, "If politics is the art of truth in pursuit of power, then I am the man who builds the conduit from the truth to the power."

Heady stuff -- the word "conduit" has more typically appeared near terms like "PAC" or "laundering" in DeLay-related discussions.

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Quiz:

Spot the fake right-wing book title

A. WAR CRIMES: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror

B. DISROBED: The New Battle Plan to Break the Left's Stranglehold on the Courts

C. THE TRUTH ABOUT MUHAMMAD: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion

D. TARGET: In the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton

E. COURAGE UNDER FIRE: How George W. Bush Ignored the Polls, Bucked the Press, and Withstood the Left's Assaults to Do What's Right

F. THE SHADOW PARTY: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party

G. INDOCTRINATION U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom

[ANSWER: E. (Authors of the real books are, respectively A. Robert "Buzz" Patterson; B. Mark W. Smith; C. Robert Spencer; D. Kathleen Willey; F. David Horowitz and Richard Poe; G. David Horowitz)]

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The Question:

What should regretful Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd do for penance?

"Advise the president that abuse of presidential power is a carcinogen. If ignored, proceed to a Senate hearing, then a House impeachment inquiry."

-- John Dean

"Spending the next decade in professional purgatory will be penance far greater than the crime of poor judgment."

-- Donna Brazile

"Submit his confessions. Recall his infamous memo to Karl Rove prescribing polarizing politics. Why should he receive forgiveness if he won't tell us what he did to tear our country apart?"

-- Sydney Blumenthal

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