TCS Daily


Send Rove on Over

By Craig Winneker - November 29, 2004 12:00 AM

After he finishes celebrating the re-election victory he masterminded for US President George W. Bush, political adviser Karl Rove might consider taking on a new, far more difficult challenge: winning the various referendums European countries will hold on an EU Constitution.

Soon, up-or-down votes on the controversial 855-page (including annexes, protocols and declarations) document will be held in many of the EU's 25 member states -- among them the UK, Ireland, Denmark and other "countries like France". EU leaders and political spin-meisters have proven exceedingly inept at communicating the constitution's benefits, and polls show support for it slipping almost everywhere.

The stakes are high. If even one country votes no, the constitution is dead. Who better than the widely acknowledged Smartest Man in Politics to sell an almost entirely un-sellable and incomprehensible document to an increasingly dubious electorate?

Just as he did for President Bush, Rove could formulate a targeted campaign effort in each problem country. Here's how it might look:

The UK: This will be the toughest nut to crack, but it is of crucial importance. Most Britons do not even think of themselves as European, much less support the idea of giving up more of their "sovereignty" to Brussels via a constitutional treaty. Classic Rovian strategy here would comprise a two-pronged effort.

Prong number one involves countering the influence of Rupert Murdoch. Yes, he was on Rove's - sorry, Bush's - side in the US election, but his coverage of the referendum debate will not be so fair and balanced. Fortunately, there are other tabloids in Britain that rival Murdoch's Sun and Times of London. They also have Page Three girls and run made-up stories about the royal family. Leak them a forged memo and wait for the bloggers to figure out that the Duke of Windsor could not possibly have owned an iMac.

Prong two requires discrediting the man who has become the telegenic face of the anti-constitution effort: former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk. After being booted from his BBC chat program for making some controversial remarks about Muslims, Kilroy-Silk took up the banner of the fiercely anti-Europe UK Independence Party and wound up winning a seat in the European Parliament.

But there are several skeletons that could be let out of his closet - by privately funded groups acting independently of the pro-constitution campaign, of course. For example, in a publicity stunt reminiscent of John Kerry's tossing of Vietnam war medals over a US Capitol fence, Kilroy-Silk was the star attraction at a demonstration during which a copy of the EU constitution was brandished ominously near Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London.

Traitor's Gate - sometimes the 60-second spot just writes itself.

Denmark: This small Scandinavian country has proven to be an inveterate flip-flopper when it comes to EU referendums - a reputation that should be exploited to maximum effect. Case in point: Denmark actually voted against the Maastricht Treaty before it voted for it.

Ireland: Forget trying to win the whole country, it's not going to happen. But Rove will have done his homework, and certainly knows that old Irish political maxim: "As votes the Dingle Peninsula, so votes County Kerry."

Besides, Ireland has gone from being one of Europe's poorest states to one of its richest, all thanks to lavish infusions of money taken by Brussels from taxpayers in other, wealthier European nations. So it's really not too different from Florida.

France: First order of business is a massive get-out-the-vote operation, consisting mainly of explaining to the French electorate just exactly what is a referendum and how it works. Then, have Jacques Chirac give a nationally televised speech in which he argues that a 'Non' vote on the constitution will hand over effective control of EU foreign policy to "countries like the US".

If all else fails, organize a train strike.

A version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe.


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