Friday, November 17, 2006

From faux hugs to faith-based meteorology

A quick survey of the landscape, since my work energies are required elsewhere today:

Check out this priceless photo. Such a happy family tableau. I am impressed that Steny Hoyer can manage to hug Nancy Pelosi, even while her stiletto is still lodged in his back. And I admire Pelosi’s acting skills, which, at this moment yesterday, required that she affix a facsimile of a smile to her face, in order to cloak her embarrassment and mask the fact that she had failed to twist the blade with sufficient lethal force.

Pelosi’s botched bid to dump Hoyer as her deputy is arguably the worst opening act for a Democratic leader since Bill Clinton decided in 1993 to launch his presidency by prioritizing gays in the military. Fortunately for Pelosi, this incident will probably have a brief shelf life outside the Beltway; and, as House Speaker, if she can make good on her “first 100 hours” pledge (by passing a minimum wage hike bill and a bill implementing the 9/11 Commission’s security tips), she will probably ease Democratic concerns inside Washington.

But, for the moment anyway, that heartwarming photo cries out for a cartoon dialogue balloon – a shared balloon that would depict these longtime rivals thinking the exact same thing, by channeling Michael Corleone: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”


The latest Iraq news concerns the price tag.

Remember how the Bush White House summarily fired economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey in 2002 because he publicly stated that the Iraq war (which, at the time, was in its early marketing phase) would probably cost as much as $200 billion? Because he dared contradict the official cost-effective cakewalk forecast?

Well, Lindsey was wrong after all…because now it turns out that he lowballed the likely tab by about $400 billion.

Bill Hoagland, a senior budget advisor to the Senate Republicans, said yesterday that “we’re easily headed toward $600 billion” in Iraq – a figure that, in today’s dollars, will surpass the American expenditures in Vietnam.

And this figure comes at a time when it appears we will receive even less assistance from the Coalition of the Dwindling. As the Washington Times reports today, we’re down to 23 nations (from a high of 42), and more than half of those nations are barely participating. Japan and Italy (the latter is one of the larger troop contributors) have already announced they are going home soon.

All these factors will further ratchet up the pressure on Bush and the Democratic Congress to sort out a new solution early next year, presumably with political cover from James Baker’s study group. But given the fact that General John Abizad, the top commander in the Middle East, said the other day that we can’t risk leaving, yet we can't pour in a lot more troops either, the likelihood of a major bipartisan breakthrough is virtually nil.


All the ingredients for political melodrama are there: A female presidential candidate who lives with her political partner, and whose first name is a household word…party allies who don’t think she’s sufficiently liberal, because she keeps trying to move to the center…a nation that has never elected a woman, but yearns for a new direction after two terms of a conservative president…

But this is not about Hillary.

This is about Segolene Royal, who yesterday became a major party candidate – and the potential frontrunner – in the French presidential race. “Sego” is the Hillary of France (except with a lot more charisma), and it will be interesting to see how she fares in the national election slated for next spring.

She’ll carry the banner for the Socialist party, which held power for 14 years before it was bounced in 1995. I covered that ’95 election as a foreign correspondent, and French voters were saying the same things about the Socialists that American voters were saying until last week about the Democrats – that they were out of touch, out of ideas, and in dire need of new blood. (I asked Jerome Blaine, a 24-year-old Parisian, about whether he viewed the left-wing party as credible. He replied: "It all depends on the nature of the lie. You might like one lie, but not another. So you cling hopelessly to a favorite promise.")

Now they have new blood, courtesy of Sego, but the Socialists still aren’t sure about her. Is she electable? Can she move to the middle (as she has been trying to do), and still hold her left flank? Will her political and personal partner, Francois Hollande, help or hurt her candidacy? Will she prompt a backlash among sexist voters who think France isn’t ready for a woman in power? Any of this sound like a familiar plot line for an impending American saga?

Of course, France being France, there are some unique elements in the Sego story. First, she parades on French beaches in a bikini that shows off a body seemingly two decades younger than her 53 years. (A French magazine broke the news last summer.) And second, she and Hollande have had four children out of wedlock...although that doesn’t appear to bother the French too much, which I suppose is one of the distasteful cultural traits that Donald Rumsfeld would dismiss as “Old Europe.”

Nevertheless, I do plan to watch this race with interest. France, after all, didn’t give women the right to vote until 1944. What might it say about us if France, just 60 years removed from official chauvinism, elects a woman president first?


I mentioned yesterday that the doings in DC this week might well underscore the belief, shared by many Americans, that voting doesn’t matter. But here’s a stark illustration to the contrary, proving that, in fact, elections do have consequences:

Because the Republicans lost the Senate, a key Senate environmental committee will no longer be chaired by a guy who thinks that global warming is a left-wing myth. Because the Democrats won the Senate, this panel will now be chaired by a woman who believes there really is evidence that global warming can be attributed to human activity.

Barbara Boxer of California will replace Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Over the past few years, Inhofe – notwithstanding the consensus opinion of international scientific groups too numerous to mention – used his chairmanship to debunk global warming as “the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people.”

This switch doesn't mean, of course, that the Democrats will automatically push for tough emission standards; nor do environmentalists expect any miracles. But the Democratic victory does mean that Inhofe's faith-based views on global warming will have less official sway.

He can, however, still promote his perspective on friendly media outlets. This morning, for example, he told Fox News that, no matter what the scientists say, he knows for a fact who is most responsible for the warmer temperatures:

“Now look. God’s still up there.”