Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dissing the "nuts," dumping a race, turning a profit

Christian conservatives are quite sensitive about being disrespected. Over the years, whenever they have hosted me, in their kitchens and their churches, in states like Iowa and Texas and South Carolina, they have always made it quite clear (in their earnestly friendly way) that they don’t like being summarily dismissed by less devout Americans as wild-eyed loons.

So I would not imagine that they will take kindly to the news today that certain prominent people view them as “nuts” and “ridiculous” and “goofy” and “out of control.”

Especially when those prominent people work for…the Bush administration. The same administration that for years has been assiduously courting their votes.

Just as the White House and the GOP has embarked on its latest strategy to retain control of the House and Senate in the ’06 elections – by trying to pin the blame for the North Korean nuke test on Bill Clinton – here comes another development that might further sour the GOP’s religious conservative base. A new book, slated for release next Monday, says that the Bush team has been basically playing Christian conservatives for suckers, caring only about pumping them up at election time with slogans and flattery – then shelving the religious right’s issues once the elections were won.

As the author of Tempting Faith contends, the Bush White House has been “mocking the millions of faithful Christians who put their trust and hope in the president and his administration.” He writes: “National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person, and then were dismissed behind their backs as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘out of control,’ and ‘just plain goofy.” He says that, in Karl Rove’s office, evangelical leaders were known as “the nuts.” All told, the author writes that, aside from its interest in mining the religious right’s votes, the Bush team “simply didn’t care.”

And who is this author - a “liberal” from the “reality-based community?” Quite the contrary. David Kuo served as deputy director of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He used to work for “values” maven Bill Bennett, and for ex-attorney general John Ashcroft. And he’s a Christian conservative.

He’s also pretty ticked off (“Making politically active Christians personally happy meant having to worry far less about the Christian political agenda”). He says that, for example, the Bush team was never really interested in giving the faith-based office enough money to fulfill its mission; instead, he charges that, in 2004, GOP chairman Ken Mehlman used the office - a government entity financed by the taxpayers - for political purposes, by staging ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were actually designed to mobilize religious conservative voters in 20 key races. Kuo says: “Ken loved the idea and gave us our marching orders.” (Mehlman’s office has not yet responded to this charge.)

Thanks to the Mark Foley scandal, and longstanding grievances about a lack of GOP attention to their issues, Christian conservatives already seemed insufficiently enthused about the ’06 elections. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported that only 57 percent of white evangelicals were inclined to vote GOP on Nov. 8 – a drop of 21 points from the final election tally in 2004.

And this morning, Gallup is reporting even more startling numbers, in its survey of “white frequent churchgoers” (a group that is probably broader than evangelicals, but nevertheless has been strongly pro-GOP in recent elections). Gallup says that, over the past month, Democrats have registered a 22-point gain among these voters. The result: 47 percent of white frequent churchgoers now favor a Democratic candidate, and 47 percent favor a Republican. Until now, a tie would have been unthinkable.

Which is why David Kuo’s book is probably the last thing that Republicans need right now.


On another front, there was a major development today in the ’08 Democratic presidential race. Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor, who appeared to be carving out a niche as a centrist red-state candidate with business-oriented managerial credentials, announced he won’t take the plunge. He said he wants to spend more time with his family. No doubt there were other reasons - such as probable doubts about his political viability, doubts about whether he could win key primaries in states dominated by liberal voters, and doubts whether he could raise the kind of money required to face down Hillary Clinton – but let’s take him at his word for now, and move to the big question:

Who gains the most from his departure?

I nominate two prime beneficiaries. First, John Edwards – the other potentially first-tier candidate who hails from the red-state South. He and Warner were seen as major contestants for the “somebody besides Hillary” slot that will be up for grabs in Iowa New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina (the first four battlegrounds).

And the other is Evan Bayh, the centrist senator from red-state Indiana. He would have been vying with Warner for the “let’s lower our voices, roll up our sleeves, and work with the opposition” message. Bayh issued the first press release about Warner today: “Governor Warner is an exceptional public servant, a great leader, and an influential voice in the Democratic Party. I know how tough a decision that this must have been. Mark Warner has much to contribute to the national debate and I look forward to working with him to make our future everything it can be.”

Here’s my translation: “I am thrilled and relieved that Governor Warner is quitting. He was in my way, as I was in his. We have too much in common, including our serious charisma deficits. I look forward to getting on the phone today and raiding all his donors and workers, in order to make my future everything it can be.”


Speaking of the Democrats, it's lucky for them that the Foley scandal has pumped some life into their "culture of corruption" campaign message...especially since Harry Reid seems so determined to deflate it.

An exhaustive report today fingers the Senate Democratic leader for turning a juicy profit on some land he doesn't own - while apparently flouting Senate ethics rules in the bargain. Reid racked up a $1.1-million windfall on a Las Vegas parcel that he had personally sold off three years earlier to a pal with a shady past. None of the complex machinations were reported to the Senate, which requires its lawmakers to list all such transactions.

The initial statement from Reid's office suggested that this was some kind of partisan attack on the eve of an election (the same kind of defense that Democrats typically ridicule when invoked by the White House), but the facts say otherwise: The report was authored by the Associated Press, and the key arbiter in the story is Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official who spent two decades monitoring candidate disclosure reports - and he says that Reid broke Senate rules:

"This is very, very clear. Whether you make a profit or a loss you've got to put that transaction down so the public, voters, can see exactly what kind of money is moving to or from a member of Congress. It is especially disconcerting when you have a member of the leadership, of either party, not putting in the effort to make sure this is a complete and accurate report. That says something to other members. It says something to the Ethics Committee." "

It also suggests that Democrats aren't immune from the charge of Washington arrogance. Especially since Reid's response, while under questioning, was to hang up on the AP reporter.