Losing the Plame Game

Now, the current controversy is not something you can gloss over by changing the subject. But it’s symptomatic of a larger political problem: the Administration and the GOP haven’t done one single thing since Bush’s aircraft carrier speech in May to seize the newsmaking agenda or advance conservative policies. Every single thing that’s happened since the beginning of May has been either (1) managing ongoing initiatives, (2) doing stuff behind the scenes, or (3) damage control. When that happens, you get to be a big, slow target for potshots; any idiot can say “the implementation of the policy isn’t working,” usually on the basis of an isolated anecdote, and the burden shifts to you to explain things in context, which is boring and difficult and not a story the media wants to tell. And when you lose the initiative and go to full-time siege-mentality mode, that’s when people make mistakes and start worrying more about shooting messengers than about how to steal a march, grab a headline and move the chains.
It’s all about managing the initiative. It’s key in politics, it’s key in sports (think of shortening your stroke with an 0-2 count), it’s key in litigation. Right now, we’ve got the White House, narrow majorities in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, but we don’t have the initiative (the one exception to this is what is usually the GOP’s weakest link, California electoral politics). The Plame controversy may well blow over if a culprit is swiftly identified, in stark contrast to Clinton-era controversies where administration stonewalling dragged everything out far beyond its natural lifespan. But even if that happens, unless the Bush Administration does something to start rolling out new ideas of its own, the Right will be forced back on the defensive again very quickly.