Karl Rove Playbook Still in Effect.

In response to all the crazy things people believe about President Barack Obama -- including that he's a secret cactus -- Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that the president really is an open book; literally, two of them. Ezra Klein goes further: "I can't think of a current politician we know better than Obama, save maybe [Hillary Clinton]." And they're both right, but let's take a moment and return to 2007 and an interview Fox News' Chris Wallace did with then-resigning White House official Karl Rove:

WALLACE: Finally, let's do a lightning round of Rove insights — quick questions, quick answers. You're famous in campaigns for turning your opponent's strengths into weaknesses. How do you do that?

ROVE: You look at what they claim to be strong on and see if they really are strong on it. And many times, what people tend to offer up as their strength turns out to be actually a weakness when you examine it further. For example, the claim by Senator Kerry in 2004 that simply because he'd served in military service, which is laudable and patriotic and worthy of personal recommendation, somehow made him capable of being a strong war leader, when his views and values and approach would have been wrong in a time of...

WALLACE: But some would say go after their weaknesses. Why is it so effective to go after strengths?

ROVE: Because again, sometimes people's strengths turn out to be really big weaknesses. We tend to — you know, people tend to sometimes in campaigns accentuate things that they think are big and important, and they exaggerate them. And more than anything else, people want authenticity and reality. People are pretty smart. They look at somebody running for office and they don't see them as all good and all bad. They see them as, you know, human beings trying to do their best.So if you exaggerate your strong points, it generally gives an opening for people to say, "Well, you know what? Maybe that person really isn't somebody that deserves..."

Obama's presidential campaign was heavily freighted with his biography, and for good reason -- it's an incredible, and deeply American, story. It was inevitable that conservatives would target that biography, creating false smears that undermine his narrative, just as they did with Kerry. While Obama's race overdetermined the personal attacks, its clear that the Rove method of discrediting political candidates is very much still in effect. That we know Obama so well is exactly why his identity is a political battleground.

-- Tim Fernholz

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