Friday, May 19, 2006

Defending Karl Rove from the perils of "blog porn"

I don't mean to sound like an old buzzard, a "mainstream media" relic who pines for the bygone days of manual typewriters, glue pots, and rotary phones (all of which I used). But here is my main beef with the blogosphere:

All its attributes aside, it still has the potential to debase journalistic standards that are worth preserving.

A classic case in point:
It has now been a week since an online report declared breathlessly that not only was GOP strategist Karl Rove facing imminent indictment, but that he had already shared that impending news with President Bush and numerous high-level administration officials. This report, according to a website called, was supposedly based on the inside skinny from "a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee."

What happened next was the blogosphere at its worst. Even though the report was really no more than a rumor -- in the sense that no other news organization was able to confirm its veracity, or to determine why eight high-ranking sources would spill the beans to somebody named Jason Leopold and nobody else -- it nevertheless sped through the "new media" like a virulent disease.

Liberal blogs linked to the story, thus spreading the word, not because they had checked it out and found it to be true, but because they wanted it to be true. Last Friday, a few hours after Leopold's report appeared online, Kevin Drum of the respectable Washington Monthly blog provided a link and said, "What the hell. It's Friday evening, and that's a good time for some blog porn."

Also that same night, a blog called the Democratic Daily allowed a reader to link the story. Others soon followed, with headlines such as "Bush's Brain Takes a Hike." One blog linked to Leopold, simply saying, "This is huge news if true." And as I mentioned a few days ago, the "news" moved so swiftly that Rove's supposed indictment was announced at the podium of a Michigan trial lawyers association dinner on Saturday night.

I recently watched the movie All the President's Men, and was struck by the fact that those reporters spent weeks on one story, methodically nailing down each fact -- and then Ben Bradlee tosses it back at them and says, "You haven't got it...Get some harder information next time." What an amazing concept -- OK, I am sounding like an old buzzard -- because today we're in a climate where basically a reporter empties his raw notes into the blogsophere and people who like the premise simply pick it up without a moment of reflection.

Here's what a moment of reflection, and a few minutes on Nexus, would have turned up: Jason Leopold, by his own admission, has "a checkered past," which includes being deficient in the craft of collecting facts. Four years ago, he wrote an article about a Bush administration official for Salon, the online magazine, and there were so many questions about the material that Salon had to retract it. Leopold has also written a book that talks about a 1996 arrest for grand larceny, and a dispute with a former employer, Dow Jones Newswires, which was upset with his coverage of Enron because (in Leopold's words) "seems I got all of the facts wrong."
All this was covered by Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz, just one year ago.

By the way, if Rove is ultimately indicted, I'm sure somebody will argue that Leopold was right all along. Sure. In the same way that a stopped clock is right twice a day.

This whole incident reminds me of what happened to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential primary season, when the right-wing Drudge Report (which in the past had billed itself -- this is an attribute? -- as 80 percent accurate) posted the "world exclusive" that Kerry had dallied sexually with a young unnamed woman. And since the rumor was deemed to be "out there," it was spread by bloggers who wanted it to be true. It took a week for that non-story to die.

I wrote a piece about that incident at the time. It appears in full below (because I can't link it from the paid archives), and it deals with some of the same underlying issues. Call it another cautionary tale. If you're still interested in this topic, keep reading:
February 18, 2004
By Dick Polman

When a gaggle of national political reporters sat down to an Italian dinner in Milwaukee on Thursday night, they were too wired to read the menu. Instead, they peppered one another with questions:

"What do you hear? What do you know?"

It was fruitless. They had all heard the same rumor - that Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry had allegedly dallied with an unnamed woman - but nobody "knew" anything, beyond the fact that the rumor had been floated on a right-wing Web site that bills itself as 80 percent accurate.

But six days later, now that the frenzy has subsided, it's possible to look back and track the rumor as it moved like a virus through the media bloodstream - demonstrating, yet again, the ways in which instantaneous scandal-mongering threatens traditional news values, warps the discourse of campaigns, and imperils political careers.

In this case, despite the best efforts of the anonymous tipsters, the rumor flopped. As posted last Thursday on the Drudge Report Web site, the "world exclusive" stated that some respectable news outlets were looking into whether the rumor had any basis in fact. But apparently there is no such fact, because Kerry's alleged lover now says there is nothing to allege.

Within the mainstream media community, the apprehension persisted all weekend, in part because memories of 1998 were still raw. Drudge had been right that year: There really was a complicit intern, and she really did have a soiled dress. Drudge had gone where the mainstream media had feared to tread, and everyone followed. Suddenly, it seemed old-fashioned to believe that a rumor should be vetted as true prior to dissemination.

And the speed of dissemination has quickened during the last decade. When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, his first accusers were the supermarket tabloids (especially the Star, which paid Gennifer Flowers for her allegation). Today, there is no respite from infotainment; Web-driven rumors can flash on your Blackberry within seconds.

In the words of ex-reporter Tom Rosenstiel, who runs the nonpartisan Project for Excellence in Journalism: "There are more outlets to shovel this stuff out fast. People who want to manipulate the press and public have more leverage than ever. It's a seller's market."

And there are no rules of evidence in cyberspace, no editors to ask irritating questions about accuracy. Matt Drudge posted his tease Thursday morning (he offered no proof of a liaison), and by noon, Rush Limbaugh was in full cry on his radio show ("This is sort of like the Lewinsky situation. . . . If Kerry denies this, that's not going to be good enough."). To underscore the point, Limbaugh's Web site ran a doctored photo of former intern Monica Lewinsky hugging Kerry.

Two Web sites, run by the National Review and the Wall Street Journal, also recycled the rumor, even though the Journal site noted that Drudge was sometimes wrong. Indeed. In 1997, Drudge "exposed" a Clinton White House aide as a wife-beater. The aide sued, and Drudge had to run a retraction.

Then last Friday, the British, with their looser standards, weighed in. The Sun, a tabloid owned by conservative magnate Rupert Murdoch, ran the rumor and outed the woman, Alexandra Polier. (It also quoted Polier's parents speaking harshly about Kerry; Terry Polier now says that he was misquoted and that his wife never spoke to the Sun.) Later Friday, Wonkette, a U.S. Web log, supplied a link to the Sun, and that put Polier's name in play stateside.

Also that day, Kerry dismissed the rumor on the Don Imus radio show. That, in turn, prompted the New York Post and New York Daily News tabloids to decide that Kerry's denial of an unsubstantiated rumor merited cover-page treatment Saturday.

Another London newspaper, the conservative Telegraph, ran its own weekend story, hinting that a blockbuster scandal was on the way. This is the same paper that, during the '90s, ran a long string of articles accusing Clinton of drug-smuggling, money-laundering, murder, and "incipient fascism." But its Kerry story was displayed on C-Span on Sunday morning, when a caller from Ohio complained that the U.S. press was covering up.

Meanwhile, Drudge wasn't delivering promised goods. Thursday, the site had hinted that Kerry's purported affair was being outed by a disgruntled former aide named Chris Lehane. It had attributed this rumor to Craig Crawford, a respected analyst employed by MSNBC. But it turned out that this was merely Crawford's unproven theory, which Crawford had shared in private e-mail with MSNBC producers - only to discover later that someone had forwarded it to Drudge. Crawford complained to Drudge, and the Lehane item was removed.

Lehane, who had moved from Kerry to candidate Wesley Clark, also denied that he was Drudge's tipster. Not everyone buys that, particularly since Clark reportedly mentioned the rumor during some off-the-record banter with reporters prior to the first Drudge posting. But Clark went mum on the matter when he endorsed Kerry on Friday; the campaigns of Howard Dean and John Edwards stayed silent, treating the rumor as radioactive.'

Actually, most of the mainstream media did the same. The Inquirer didn't acknowledge the rumor until yesterday, when it reported Polier's Monday denial. This approach was not atypical; as Larry Sabato, author of Feeding Frenzy, a book on scandal coverage, said yesterday: "The mainstream media has generally weathered this one responsibly. TV, too. I was on some shows over the weekend, and I was repeatedly warned by producers, 'Don't bring it up.' "

The caution paid off, because this rumor failed the Lewinsky test. There is no independent documentation of guilt (Lewinsky's friend Linda Tripp had worn a wire), for starters. But Rosenstiel said that more sordid Web rumors would probably plague the '04 campaign, because "there are more outlets with low standards. If a rumor is 'out there,' that's enough justification to cover it."

For some conservatives, the Kerry rumor is still "out there." In the chat room on, they don't buy Polier's denial. As "Doctor Raoul" writes: "Was she threatened? Were parents pressured? . . . It's time for John to release all his records with regard to 'Le Affair Kerry.' "

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why the GOP wins elections, Chapter 267,000

Judging from what John Conyers is saying today, it's clear the Democrats are still trying to figure out how they can best deal with the Republican charge that they are just a gang of Bush-bashers thirsting for revenge.

As I mentioned in print last weekend, the beleaguered GOP will argue this year that the election in November of a Democratic House would usher in two years of hearings, probes, subpoenas and government gridlock. The Democrats, as always fearful that any charge made against them will stick like Velcro to their hindquarters, are now working hard to reassure voters that a handover of power would not result in another impeachment psychodrama.

Which brings us to Conyers, the Michigan congressman who would take over the House Judiciary Committee if the Democrats capture the chamber. He writes in today's Washington Post that, regarding the notion that he would immediately bring impeachment proceedings, "I will not do that." He goes on to say that he merely wants to get some answers about the Bush administrations' conduct "in a responsible and bipartisan manner."

More Conyers: "So, rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader."

But did he really think this relatively benign message would get the Republicans to back off? That's not how the GOP plays the game. Democrats always calibrate; Republicans cede nothing. Within hours of Conyers' remarks today, GOP headquarters emailed a press release entitled REAL DEM AGENDA: IMPEACHMENT...which pointed out that Conyers was evading the fact that he introduced a bill last December to "make recommendations" on possible grounds for impeachment. Therefore, said the Republican email in boldface, CONYERS ATTEMPTED TO CUT AND RUN FROM HIS IMPEACHMENT PUSH.

So let's review: Before his Post piece, Conyers was being painted by the GOP as a Bush-bashing avenger.
Then he writes his piece, and now the GOP has him as (a) a Bush-bashing avenger (b) a truth-trimmer, and (c) a coward trying to "cut and run" (which is also the all-purpose GOP term for Democrats weak on Iraq).

Nice work, Dems. Here's a new article that makes the case for campaigning without apology on a platform of bringing accountability to Washington.

Ted Kennedy, fiscal conservative

I couldn't help noticing that Edward Kennedy rose to his feet on the Senate floor yesterday and denounced the proposal to build a 370-mile fence on the southern border. He complained that it would cost too much; for instance, he said, a fence built not long ago in San Diego wound up being 200 percent over budget.

All this, from the same guy who championed the Boston "Big Dig" highway boondoggle, which was financed largely with your money and mine...and would up more than 300 percent over budget.

I covered that saga, and the mounting costs, back in January 2003. There wasn't a word of complaint from Ted about that $15 billion.

Another Keystone milestone

I was remiss yesterday in not mentioning another key election that transpired Tuesday night here in the Keystone state, further evidence that an anti-incumbent/anti-Republican voter revolt could be in the works for November.

Voters in Chester County, a rock-ribbed Republican enclave of suburban Philadelphia, were invited to choose a new state senator. They went with the Democratic candidate, Andrew Dinniman -- and he'll be the first Democrat state senator to represent that county since the horse and buggy era. Republicans outnumber Democrats in that district by a 2-1 margin, yet Dinniman took 55 percent of the vote. Dinniman also won 22 of 26 muncipalities.

He and his Republican opponent, Carol Aichele, are both county commissioners. There were no scandals to skew the results. So what happened? Well, Skip Brion, the county Republican chairman, gave the local paper an instant analysis: "What happened here was obviously our voter base decided to send a message to us." And another Republican told the paper that voter dissatisfaction with the Republican leadership contributed to Aichele's defeat, even though she was not to blame.

Coupled with evidence that a significant number of Republican voters crossed over to vote for Dinniman, this election could have implications in November for Jim Gerlach, the Republican congressman whose district includes a large slice of Chester County, and who has only won narrowly in the past.

Gerlach has already been listed by non-partisan handicappers as one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents nationwide, and now, as Pennsylvania analyst Terry Madonna noted the other day, the Dinniman election "should cause Republicans at the state level to be concerned about the ability of the Democrats to extend their reach in the suburbs....This is not good news for Gerlach. He will have a state official in his backyard who can help plan his political demise."

One can always argue -- as some diehard GOP defenders are doing -- that these are merely local results, with no ill portent for Republicans nationwide, but not even the party's top activists are buying that. They say that this is no time to be in denial.

Pat Toomey, president of the conservative Club for Growth said yesterday that what has happened in Pennsylvania "shows a very worrisome, elevated level of anger and frustration on the part of Republicans. In a primary, they can vent that by voting for challengers. The problem is, in a general election they stay home. It's a very worrisome sign for Republicans in Washington."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Keystone uprising...and Al Gore rising?

So now we finally have solid empirical evidence that actual voters are in open revolt against the Republicans, also known as the incumbent governing party. I need look no further than the primary results last night in my own state.

Granted, the 12 fallen Republican incumbents were only state legislators, so maybe it's wrong to interpret these results as symptomatic of the national political mood. But Robert Jubelirer, the defeated state Senate President Pro Tempore, wasn't born yesterday, and he's the one who says "It is a historic year, my friends."

Jubelirer was ousted after 32 years in office, and Senate Majority leader David Brightbill, a 20-year veteran, suffered the same fate. Brightbill lost to a tire salesman whose ex-lover was suing him. This is the first time that top state legislative leaders have been ejected from their jobs since the year that the Philadelphia Phillies blew the pennant with 10 straight losses (that would be 1964).

Jubelirer had to spend $1.3 million on his primary campaign, but was beaten by a guy who spent around $200,000. Both leaders were punished for giving themselves a pay raise in a bill that passed at two in the morning, for enacting a series of state income tax hikes, and for expanding the size of state government at twice the rate of inflation. Grassroots Republican voters, using the Internet, spread word that the incumbents were arrogant and out of touch.

All told, this is shaping up to be the largest primary season turnover of Pennsylvania legislative seats in 30 years. One can argue that this is just a local squall. On the other hand, the grievances that animated conservative Pennsylvania voters last night (free-spending incumbents, betraying the GOP philosophy) are roughly similar to the current conservative base complaints against the GOP Congress in Washington.

It's also useful to remember that Pennsylvania in the past has foreshadowed the national mood; witness the special U.S. Senate election in 1991, when underdog Democrat Harris Wofford trounced ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh by 10 percentage points, riding a wave of voter discontent over Republican inaction on health care and the economy. Bill Clinton won the presidency a year later.

By the way, there was one noteworthy GOP congressional primary race last night, in northeastern Pennsylvania. Three-term Republican congressman Don Sherwood got slapped around pretty badly. In both 2002 and 2004, this guy was untouchable; he didn't have to run in any primaries, because he never drew any challengers from within the GOP ranks. But this year was different, thanks to a little contretemps that sullied his conservative family-man image:

It turns out that Sherwood had a mistress 35 years his junior; this became widely known after the woman, Cynthia Ore, filed a $5.5-million lawsuit against Sherwood, claiming that he had tried to choke her while giving her a back rub at his Capitol Hill apartment. (Ore had called 911 at the time.) The suit was settled last November, but the uproar prompted an underdog Republican to challenge him in the primary. Sherwood wound up spending $300,000; the challenger, a political novice, spent around $5000.

Sherwood survived last night, but with with only 56 percent of the vote. Now he has to face Democrat Chris Carney, a former Pentagon intelligence officer, in November. He may well survive that faceoff - he represents a heavily Republican district - but this race is now listed by the nonpartisan National Journal as one of the 50 most competitive House races in 2006.

In a normal incumbent-friendly year, there's no way that Sherwood would crack the top 50. Kinky back rub, notwithstanding.

On another topic entirely, I recall some weeks ago saying that it would be wise, regarding the 2008 Democratic presidential race, to keep an eye on Al Gore. The Wall Street Journal said the same thing nine days ago.

I'll say it again today. Leaving aside the fact that in recent months he has landed on the cover of three magazines and helmed the opening sketch on Saturday Night Live, he has now dropped a hint that his political ambitions might yet be freed from his lockbox. On Monday in Atlanta, he said: "I’m a recovering politician. But you always have to worry about a relapse.”

One sign that he's being taken seriously as a public figure: A business group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is bankrolled in part by Exxon, intends to head off Gore's new global warming documentary by inveighing against "global warming alarmism."

Well, as attacks go, that's not so bad. At least Big Oil isn't painting him as a liar who claimed to have invented the Internet. (Which, for the record, he never claimed to have done.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The National Guard flipflop

What is it with President Bush and the National Guard, anyway? As a candidate, he got ambushed by all the reports about how he'd never finished his youthful tour of duty; and now, as president, his conservative base is skinning him alive for his largely symbolic decision to send a few thousand guardsmen to the border for backup duty.

Well, not to add to his woes on the Guard decision, but just take a look at these remarks, uttered last December on Fox News. The question, from Bill O'Reilly, was: Why not send National Guardsmen to the border to back up the border patrol?
Answer: "Well, the National Guard is really, first of all, not trained for that mission. I mean, the fact of the matter is the border is a special place. There are special challenges that are faced there...I think it would be a horribly over-expensive and very difficult way to manage the problem."

Care to guess who made those remarks?
The much-maligned Homeland Security director, Michael Chertoff.

So, on the issue of dispatching the Guard, I guess the administration was against it before they were for it.

The conservative activists don't mind the flipflop, per se. But they apparently detest the idea of sending only 6000 Guardsmen, which strikes them as wimpy and (the worst insult of all) "Clintonian." Some of today's highlights:

Mark Levin, a conservative legal activist, says today on his blog: "I didn't spend 35 years in the conservative movement for this. . . . This is pure idiocy, and (Bush's guest worker idea) has the potential of being far more damaging to this nation than any big-government power-grab perpetrated by any previous president and Congress."

Minneapolis lawyer and conservative blogger John Hinderaker: "He had his chance, and he blew it...President Bush doesn't have many chances left to salvage his second term. After (last night), he might not have any."

For a more complete roundup of today's right-wing Bush-bashing, check here and here.

The downside of having convictions

In today's Inquirer, I assessed the political side of President Bush's prime-time immigration speech, but there is more that needs to be said. In a sense, consider these supplemental remarks to be a tribute to Bush's stubborn convictions.

Yes, he felt compelled to lean rightward on border enforcement (at least symbolically) because the anti-immigrant right-wingers have been putting the squeeze on him. But he didn't go belly up and pander, either. He still managed to slap them around pretty well, with this passage:

"We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say."

That's presidential politesse, of course, but what it means in plain English is this: "People in my own base are acting like racists and demagogues, and they oughta knock it off."

Also, I don't sense that Bush favors a slow-assimilation guest-worker program just because he thinks it would be politically advantageous to bring Hispanic voters into the GOP. That's only one factor. Conservative thinker James Pinkerton, who worked in the senior George Bush's White House, provided useful context in his own column this morning:

"...Bush has held a pro-immigration opinion for a long time. His business background convinced him that low-wage immigration was good for the economy, Karl Rove convinced him that Hispanic immigrants could become future Republicans, and his father -- who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement back in 1992 -- convinced him that the Bush destiny was to preside over improved U.S.-Mexico relations. As governor of Texas, he was proud to show off his Spanish; as president, he has been no foe of bilingualism."

So I sensed last night that Bush was truly sincere when said this: "We must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans...from cleaning offices to running offices ... from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams...they renew our spirit...and they add to the unity of America."

Passages like that won't help him heal the growing breach with many on the right -- particularly those House Republicans who have already passed a bill to build a border fence and send the illegals back home. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who sides with the enforcement-only faction, framed the political stakes this morning on his blog:

"With last night's speech, President Bush severely worsened the schism in the party over immigration. The people he has put in gravest danger are those who most strenuously disagree with him: the House Republicans. Depressed turnout among Republican core voters threatens House members most - with one ironic possible result being an even more liberal immigration bill next year that will gain support from the president, Senate Republicans and a new Democratic House majority."

It's ironic that Bush, the reputed conservative, is suffering some of his worst damage on an issue on which he is actually a genuine moderate. That's politics for ya.


Speaking of the prospects for sluggish Republican turnout, I wrote a weekend newspaper column about the GOP's counter-strategy: to invoke the specter of "House Speaker Pelosi" as well as other purportedly scary Democrats, as a turnout motivation tool. Anybody still interested in this topic can find a new report, here.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Karl is still Rove-ing the land

Mark Twain once had a line about how reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. We can say the same about Karl Rove.

Last Friday, a report on a website -- which I will not link here, because I didn't believe it -- insisted that not only has President Bush's political swami been secretly indicted, but that he already has informed a number of White House officials in advance. The rumor was so hot by Saturday that an announcement of Rove's indictment was made from the podium at a Michigan trial lawyers association dinner, prompting a standing ovation.

But there he was earlier today, still innocent of any charges that may or may not be brought, speaking in Washington to one of his favorite conservative groups, the American Enterprise Institute. It's worth noting his most interesting remarks, which I excerpt below:

Referring to the mood of the nation, he said, "I think the war looms over everything. No doubt about it....Look, we're in a sour time. I readily admit it. To be in the middle of a war where people turn on their television set and see people dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat.
"I heard the same kind of language about the 2004 election. We're going to be just fine on the fall elections. We stand for... a strong national defense, (winning) the war on terrorism, which involves victory in Iraq, strong national defense, economic policies that are pro-growth involving tax cuts and free trade, fiscal restraint in the budget process. Our opponents at this point stand for little more than...obstructionism....
"The American people are a center-right country presented with center-right candidates will vote center-right candidates....
"I know our own polls. I love reading your polls. I love this (media) mania that substitutes polls for substance. There's going to be a special Betty Ford addiction for those who are addicted to regular poll numbers. The polls I believe (are those) that get run through the (Republican National Committee). I look at them all the time. Americans like this person. (His) personal approval ratings are in the 60s. Job approval is lower. What that says to me is that people like him, they respect him, he's someone they feel a connection with, but they're just sour on the war. And that's the way it's going to be. We'll just fight our way through."

(Whoa, time out for a second: Rove thinks that more than 60 percent of Americans still like and respect Bush? I suppose there's always the chance that the RNC is right and every single other polling operation is wrong, and that would certainly gibe with the administration's general confidence in its own rightness. But, for the record, let us note that the late-April Gallup poll reported that only 39 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Bush personally; that a separate late-April Gallup poll, cosponsored by USA Today and CNN, found that only 40 percent of Americans viewed Bush as honest and trustworthy; and that the new CBS-New York Times poll reports that only 29 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Bush personally. That's down from 64 percent, as reported by CBS-NYT during the summer of 2002.)

Anyway, those Rove remarks were all in response to audience questions. What's most striking was that his formal address was almost entirely a numbing rendition of economic statistics, designed to demonstrate that Bush deserves political credit for a healthy economy. In other words, his chosen theme totally ignored Iraq. I'm sure that those polls he professes to ignore had no influence whatsoever on his choice of topic.

By the way, the issue of Rove's possible indictment did surface -- but only once, and in an oblique fashion, during the question phase. David Corn of The Nation decided to raise a sensitive topic:

Two years ago, Rove had informed Bush press flak Scott McClellan that he, Rove, had played no role in the outing of CIA employe Valerie Plame, wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson. Later, it turned out that Rove had indeed played a role, by discussing Plame with a Time magazine reporter. (This is one reason why Rove could be indicted.)

So, Corn asked Rove today: "Scott McClellan told the White House press corps--many are here today--that he had spoken to you and you were not involved in the CIA leak. Can you explain why the American public...two and a half years later hasn't been given an explanation? Don't you think it deserves one, for it does seem that you were to some degree--though it may be disputed--involved in that leak?"

Rove said only that his lawyer had issued a statement on April 26, end of response. It turns out that the April 26 comment only addressed Rove's legal status, and didn't deal with the issue Corn was raising. Here is Corn's recounting of what happened today.

Farewell, parallel universe

West Wing, that venerable liberal wet dream, took its final bow on NBC last night, ushering in the Matt Santos administration with so much schmaltzy earnestness that, by 8:45 pm, even the most dewy-eyed Democratic viewer was probably hungering for the street-smart cynicism of The Sopranos at 9.

And yet, there was an odd and intriguing little detail, amidst all the blowing of trumpets, and the solemn musical chairs among wistful and highly verbose policy wonks. At one point, the moving guys stormed into Jeb Bartlet's Oval Office and began to strip the place clean. They went to the bookshelves...whereupon the camera lingered on a volume, Society Must be Defended, by the French political philosopher Michel Foucault.

Why him, of all people? Are we to believe that Bartlet, the earnest idealist from New Hampshire, actually had a secret cynical side? Here's Michel Foucault, who died a few decades ago, summarizing his views: "The role of history will, then, be to show that laws deceive, that kings wear masks, that power creates illusions, and that historians tell lies."

No matter. The best of angels of our nature triumphed in the end: There was Bartlet riding to the Inauguration with Santos, a seamless handover of power from one high-minded Democrat to another. And that got me thinking: When was the last time that an exiting Democratic president bequeathed his job to a Democratic successor? I ran to my almanac.
It was 1856.
Franklin Pierce to James Buchanan.

And this is why West Wing was the ultimate liberal wet dream.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday sermons from Mary and John

Mary Cheney is a tad puzzling. The vice president's openly lesbian daughter was on Fox News this morning, still exuding outrage that John Kerry referred to her as openly lesbian during a 2004 presidential debate. As she told Chris Wallace, "I think it was a pretty sleazy thing to do."

I was there that night, in Arizona, and when Kerry brought up Mary Cheney ("she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as"), we scribes nodded knowingly at each other, because we could see what Kerry was doing. Of course it was a hardball political act on his part. He was going for a two-fer:

1. By mentioning to viewers that Mary was gay, Kerry was hoping to shock those religious conservatives who might be hearing that fact for the first time, and thereby dampen their enthusiasm for the Bush-Cheney ticket.
2. And, more importantly, Kerry was charging Bush-Cheney with hypocrisy, for tolerating and supporting an open lesbian family member who was living with another woman, while, orchestrating a state-by-state referendum campaign to ban gay marriage.

Which brings us back to Mary Cheney today. In addition to calling Kerry's move "sleazy" on Fox News, she charges in her new book: ''What was offensive was that he was trying to use me and my sexual orientation for his own political gain.'' She also called Kerry an SOB.

By now, you might be hip to Mary's blind spot.

Here was the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, in the midst of its nationwide effort to use gay people for their own political gain -- by getting anti-gay marriage referenda on ballots in key states, in order to gin up conservative turnout -- and Mary today is still most outraged about the Democratic challenger. Moreover, Kerry had brought up her name in response to some comments that Bush had just made -- about his opposition to gay marriage.

It was Mary's party that was trying to intrude on her personal life, by passing laws curbing her personal choices. It was Mary's party that had put the gay issue on the table in that election. It was Mary's party that had made the issue fodder for discussion during that debate. It was Mary's party that got the issue on the ballot in Ohio, thereby attracting anti-gay voters and helping Bush win that pivotal state by a thin margin.

And yet she's still outraged at the Democrats...for saying something that was true. And, having vented again on that subject today, she then tried to have it both ways -- by criticizing the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage ("I would also hope that no one would think about trying to amend the constitution as a political strategy, that people wouldn't try and use amending the constitution to further their own political goals").

Well, guess what: her own party, in the Senate, is planning to bring up that idea for a vote next month, as a conservative base motivating tool. I haven't heard President Bush seeking to dissuade the Senate Republicans from doing so. In fact, the Republicans are trying again this year to get those referenda on state ballots, in time for the November congressional elections. But in Mary's view, Bush is "a very good man. On these issues, he hasn't caught up."

Yet it's Kerry who is the SOB.


Well, the Straight Talk Express stopped at Jerry Falwell's college this weekend for some long-scheduled sweet talk with the Falwell student body. I caught the commencement speech earlier this evening on C-Span. Two observations:

1. McCain, who once called Falwell an "agent of intolerance," has absolved Falwell of that harsh sobriquet (because now he needs Falwell, as an ambassador to religious conservatives). Now he has found a new agent of intolerance:

"When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people....I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me....All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them.
"It’s a pity that there wasn’t a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium."

There it is, an anti-media punch line for the 21st century. I guess all those blogger barbs about his rightward positioning have stung a bit.

2. He stood foresquare behind the war in Iraq: "My patriotism and my conscience required me to support it and to engage in the debate over whether and how to fight it.... I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country’s interests and values required it...Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred."

He is at least as hawkish on Iraq as the president whom he supports. Which again prompts a key question: If he becomes the '08 GOP nominee, would he really be able to sustain his past popularity among swing-voting independents and moderate Democrats -- when most of those voters have already soured on the war?