A few pithy thoughts, then it's holiday time:
It's a tad unnerving to watch Hillary Clinton schmooze with David Letterman; she always seems to be working hard to party hearty, as if she had just mastered a spontaneity manual. But it's still a comfy environment for her, because, much the way that Sean Hannity kisses the rings of visiting Republicans, Letterman can be relied upon to ask questions that are little more than show biz kisses.
Last night, for instance, after welcoming Hillary to his stage for the seventh time, the Late Show host nailed her with a tough opening question: "When you were a little girl, did you go to camp?" A bit later, he did ask her to critique her weaknesses as a campaigner, but when she declined to do so, he dropped that line of inquiry and moved on.
And then, whether he knew it or not, he brought up a hot topic. Noting that Hillary has raised $60 million for her campaign, he asked, "Should it be that expensive?" Actually, if his research staffers had been on the ball (as John Stewart's staffers surely would have been), they might have fed him the same question in a more newsworthy form:
"What's up with this Norman Hsu character, anyway? He raised all this money for you, but now that it turns out he is a fugitive in a fraud case, you're suddenly giving all that money to charity - and, by the way, I see that you didn't decide to divest yourself until after other Democrats had acted first to dump their Hsu donations. So here's the problem: Because you and the other candidates are always so desperate to dash for cash, doesn't that mean you will keep relying on sleazeballs to vacuum the money for you? And that you risk being embarrassed by sleazeballs yet to be unmasked?"
OK, maybe that sounds more like a Chris Matthews filibuster, but you get my point. The incessant pressure to raise money - indeed, the pressure to finish first in the money sweepstakes in order to demonstrate viability - all but ensures that the candidates will be embarrassed on occasion by the shady operators who raise money in their name.
The Republicans have learned that lesson already, with Jack Abramoff (now in jail), and Ohio businessman Thomas Noe (now in hail). Barack Obama has already been compelled to dump all the money raised by an old Illinois associate, Antoin Rezko, who was indicted last year on a fraud rap. It's probably impossible for candidates to fully vet every single person who offers to raise money, but, fortunately for Hillary last night, she never had to tackle that issue at all. (Given the fact that Hsu, in his federal fund-raising filings, had listed a lot of phony addresses, what does that say about Hillary's vetting process?)
In response to Letterman's general question about money, she simply replied that ideally campaigns should be be publicly financed, as a way to bring down the costs of politicking. That answer was good enough for Letterman who promptly shifted gears again, bringing up her husband ("does he ever forget sometimes that he's not running?"), which prompted her to observe that Bill probably would be running if he wasn't barred by the two-term limit, and that comment provoked another round of yuks...although I don't doubt for a moment that she was serious.
Speaking of sleaze, let's pause to observe the two-year anniversary of Katrina by replaying this gem from the overstuffed Bush administration archives:
"We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy."
That "extremely pleased" official was Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary. Today, he is said to be on Bush's short list for a promotion - to the vacant job of attorney general.
Plus ca change...
Republicans took another political hit this afternoon, when Virginia Senator John Warner announced that he will not run for re-election in 2008. His retirement will clear the way for a highly competitive Senate race in a once-solid Republican state that has been slowly trending blue.
Republicans were already dreading the task of trying to recapture the Senate at a time when they will be burdened by Iraq and the wreckage of the Bush presidency. Even if the venerable Warner had opted to run again in Virginia, the GOP would have been playing defense. Twenty-two of the 34 seats up for re-election in 2008 are currently held by Republicans, and at least five of those 22 - in Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Maine, and Oregon - have long been considered ripe for a potential Democratic takeover. (Only one Democratic seat, held by Mary Landrieu on Louisiana, is considered vulnerable.)
But with Warner gone, the GOP can definitely add Virginia's seat to its angst list.
(Indeed, even Warner would have faced a tough election, given the evidence that Virginians have grown increasingly weary of the war, and hostile toward national Republicans. Warner was an Iraq war enabler at the outset, and only lately has he taken measured steps to distance himself.)
Looking ahead, it would appear that Democrat Mark Warner (no relation), the popular ex-governor who recently flirted with a presidential bid, has the inside track - whereas the Republicans might well be forced to endure a bloody primary, potentially pitting a moderate (congressman Tom Davis) against a conservative (Jim Gilmore, whose '07 presidential bid lasted about 17 minutes).
In other words, the Republicans may have to raise and spend serious money just to hang onto a seat once thought to be inviolate. And a political party rarely scores big on the national map when it is forced to play defense.