*Carville then, Limbaugh now

CARVILLE THEN, LIMBAUGH NOW…. Fox News’ Bill Sammon has an interesting piece today that some on the right are excited about. I don’t think they’ve thought this one through. (thanks to reader D.D. for the tip)

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just minutes before learning of the terrorist attacks on America, Democratic strategist James Carville was hoping for President Bush to fail, telling a group of Washington reporters: “I certainly hope he doesn’t succeed.”

Carville was joined by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who seemed encouraged by a survey he had just completed that revealed public misgivings about the newly minted president.

“We rush into these focus groups with these doubts that people have about him, and I’m wanting them to turn against him,” Greenberg admitted.

The pollster added with a chuckle of disbelief: “They don’t want him to fail. I mean, they think it matters if the president of the United States fails.”

Minutes later, as news of the terrorist attacks reached the hotel conference room where the Democrats were having breakfast with the reporters, Carville announced: “Disregard everything we just said! This changes everything!”

Some conservatives are already pointing to a possible double-standard. I get the argument: a prominent Democrat wanted Bush to fail; a prominent Republican wants Obama to fail. Limbaugh is getting pilloried for his comments, so Carville deserves equal scorn.

There are two problems with this. First, we don’t have the full quote or context with Carville. “I certainly hope he doesn’t succeed” could refer more generally to the president’s success in passing his agenda. Likewise, hoping a focus group dislikes what the president is saying seems pretty routine. “I want the stimulus package to fail,” meanwhile, lacks ambiguity. I think there’s a problem with false equivalence here.

Second, and more important, is the fact that the anecdote from Fox News’ Sammon does more to reinforce the progressive argument than undermine it. Note that Carville was bashing Bush, right up until he learned of a major crisis, at which point the Democratic consultant said, “This changes everything!”

And that’s largely the point. In 2001, in a time of crisis, even the most die-hard Democrats changed direction and said they hoped a conservative Republican president succeeded. And in 2009, in the midst of another crisis, die-hard Republicans are still putting party and ideology above patriotism.

Some on the right perceive this Fox News revelation as evidence of a double-standard. I’m afraid they have it backwards.