Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just asking: a three-act drama

Just asking:

1. If the Democrats botch their ’06 opportunity to recapture the Congress in November, will they demand Howard Dean’s head on a pike? Because if money is any kind of measurement, it would appear that the national party chairman is currently demonstrating why he flamed out as a presidential candidate while losing 17 of 18 primaries.

Take a look at the latest party figures, as reported to federal elections officials: On the eve of an autumn campaign that will hinge on the importance of grassroots turnout and state-by-state advertising, the Democratic National Committee had $10.9 million in the kitty…while the Republican National Committee had nearly four times that amount, $39.3 million.

Worse yet for the Democrats, there are reports that the RNC, bolstered with new fund-raising revenue this fall, plans to outspend Dean’s DNC by a margin of five to one. The Republicans’ $60 million will go to turnout and advertising efforts in the states and districts deemed crucial to their prospects for keeping the Senate and House; the DNC, by contrast, is reportedly planning to spend $12 million on turnout, and nothing on advertising.

It should be noted that other Democratic outposts are keeping pace with the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises and spends money for House raises, is holding its own against the GOP House campaign group; and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is actually doing better than its Republican Senate campaign counterpart. But Dean’s performance – and some of his spending priorities – are clearly rankling the Democratic players on Capitol Hill. When Democratic Senate campaign leader Chuck Schumer – who is rarely at a loss for words about anything – was asked about Dean yesterday, he declined comment.

The problem all along is that Dean has refused to focus headquarters money on the states and districts that are most crucial to the ’06 outcome; rather, he has spread it nationwide in an effort to build the party even in deeply red states. Naturally, the state Democratic chairmen in these neglected states love him for that. The flip side, however, is that valuable resources are going to places where Democratic House and Senate candidates face virtually impossible odds.

Democrats already fear – perhaps with good reason – the vaunted GOP turnout machine. So if the Republicans successfully pull out their voters, with the help of more efficiently expended resources, the Democratic long knives will be unsheathed beginning Nov. 8. And in Washington, Howard Dean may need to watch his back.


2. How long will the Democrats sit back and allow the GOP to twist Nancy Pelosi’s words out of context?

This morning, for perhaps the umpteenth time, I received a Republican email that seeks to hang the House Democratic leader for something she said in May of 2002. The parsed phrase goes like this: “I don’t really consider ourselves at war.” Clearly, the GOP wants to use this as the ’06 campaign equivalent of John Kerry’s infamous ’04 utterance about having voted for an Iraq aid bill before voting against it; in other words, whole Kerry’s remark exposed him as a waffler, Pelosi’s remark is supposed to demonstrate that she’s a wuss.

Well, I just took the trouble to track down her remark, which appeared at the bottom of a Newhouse wire service story on May 6, 2002. It may come as no surprise that Pelosi actually said a lot of things, during that breakfast with reporters, and that the phrase at issue is best read in context. Here’s Pelosi in the Newhouse story: "I don't really consider ourselves at war. We're in a struggle against terrorism throughout the world, and we stand with the president in that fight," but that does not bestow "some kind of mantle on the president that he can't be subject to criticism."

Pelosi herself might well wish she had phrased the first sentence better. But, interestingly, I don’t see the GOP quoting the rest of that paragraph.

And at that same breakfast meeting, Pelosi also discussed the mounting Bush administration push for a war in Iraq. Voicing concern about granting the president a blank check, she said:
"Let's hope we don't have to resort to the use of force, because one thing is guaranteed: American military personnel will be killed, collateral damage will occur, and we don't know if we will achieve mission success."

Strange, I don’t see the Republicans quoting any of that.


3. How has ’08 presidential hopeful George Allen turned his slam-dunk ’06 Senate campaign into a carnival sideshow?

First, the Virginia Republican senator poked fun at a young Indian-American, who was standing in the middle of an all-white audience, by calling him macaca (a racial slur), then spent the better part of two weeks offering a slew of explanations about whether he knew or didn’t know what the term meant or didn’t mean. And now he’s caught in an avoidable contretemps about when he knew or didn’t know that he was part-Jewish, and why he got defensive about it when asked.

At a debate Monday night, the moderator asked Allen about a report in a Jewish newspaper that had found some Jewish lineage on his mother’s side. Allen freaked out on camera, then huffed, "My mother's French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her. And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian." In reality, Allen reportedly learned from his mother last month that she had been raised as a Jew in Tunisia before emigrating to America.

Why not just acknowledge the Jewish newspaper report, and move on? Instead, oy vey, what a mess: Allen’s defensive denial promptly gave his opponent, Jim Webb, and a number of Jewish leaders, the opening to raise questions about whether Allen was embarrassed about his heritage. Some liberal bloggers even asked whether Allen had something against the Jews.

Still playing defense, Allen had to put out a statement declaring that he is indeed proud of the heritage that he denied during the debate (“I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line's Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed”). And shortly afterward, to show that he really embraced the heritage he had denied, he charged that his critics were behaving like anti-Semites. At this rate, he’ll be showing up in shul this weekend for Rosh Hashanah.

But it should be noted that politicians can be weird about issues of ethnicity and religion. My favorite case in point: John Kerry.

For years he intimated, to his heavily Irish-American Massachusetts electorate, that he was Irish. Consider these Kerry remarks, which appeared in the Congressional Record on March 18, 1986: "For those of us who are fortunate to share an Irish ancestory, we take great pride in the contributions that Irish-Americans, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present, have made to building a strong and vibrant nation.”

Well, the fact is that Kerry isn’t Irish at all. (He does have Jewish ancestors.) When he was busted for those Congressional Record remarks, his office performed the usual damage control ritual, by blaming the whole incident on a staffer.

So which is worse: a politician (Allen) who denies who he is, or a politician (Kerry) who paints himself as someone he isn’t?

Just asking.