THE MINUTE the ads of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had begun to draw blood, the Democrats attacked them as a giant, malevolent plot. The same plot, drawn up by a diabolical genius of unsurpassed malice and cunning, that has been causing Democrats trouble for so many years now, always unwarranted, always malicious, and always unfair. In today's Democratic imagination, there are no political accidents, no spontaneous movements, no genuine issues, and never a genuine weakness in a candidate. There are only diversions, cooked up and cleverly sold to a gullible public, "dirty tricks" supervised by conniving Republican masterminds, and schemes to undermine democracy.
The first instinct of Democrats during the recall election that claimed the political life of California governor Gray Davis last year was to call it the latest phase in a Republican plot to subvert the government--the previous ones being a redistricting effort by Texas Republicans, the recount in Florida after the 2000 election, and the impeachment of Clinton two years before that. But it was the Democrats who pioneered and perfected the art of destroying a foe through sexual harassment claims.
The problem with all of these charges is that they (1) involve things that are perfectly legal (provisions for impeachment and recall are in the federal and state constitutions), (2) involve tactics earlier used or invented by Democrats, or (3) concern events that might easily have ended up helping Democrats. This is a plot?
Most of the charges against the Republicans fall under the heading "dirty tricks." A "dirty trick" is any tactic used against Democrats in an election they later lose. Dirty tricks are invariably orchestrated by a dark genius (think Karl Rove or Lee Atwater), who has the power to exert mind control over vast populations. Usually, the trick consists of hanging a lantern on a glaring flaw in a Democrat that anyone not a Democrat could already spot miles away.
Between 1988 and the rise of the Swifties, the dirtiest trick of all may have been the entire 2002 midterm election, with Bush's top operative Karl Rove pulling the strings. First, Rove created the war on terror, to distract attention from the Democrats' favorite issues. Then he somehow induced Saddam Hussein to act as if he had megadeath weapons, to force a confrontation that had been brewing for years. Then he hoodwinked prominent Democrats into saying they believed Saddam did have those weapons. Then he put a gun to the head of Tom Daschle and forced him to add a clause to the Democrats' version of the homeland defense bill to placate the Democrats' friends in the public-employee unions. (It would have made it harder for the president to redeploy personnel in the event of an emergency.) Still under Rove's influence, Daschle induced several Democratic senators, including Jean Carnahan and Max Cleland, to defend this provision, which a great many voters would find incomprehensible. They lost, and it was all Rove's fault.
What this suggests--that Democrats are sometimes rejected for very good reasons; that the party has some serious internal problems; that Republicans have some ideas that are appealing to people--is something many liberals simply can't swallow. To them, all Republican victories are on their face illegitimate, won by appeals to bias or ignorance. But mainly by sinister plots.