Archive: October, 2009
Happy Halloween eve, on so many fronts:
Perhaps the House Democrats have merely been masquerading as paragons of integrity. Nancy Pelosi led them to power in 2006 by painting the GOP as a cesspool of corruption, but an unpleasant smell now seems to be emanating from her own camp. I need not mention Charlie Rangel, who has enriched himself financially in all sorts of creative ways (and who continues to enjoy Pelosi's protection), because I have already detailed his behavior. More urgent, this morning, is a news report about various other House Democrats who are now being targeted in ethics probes. Five of them (including John Murtha of Pennsylvania) are suspected of arranging lavish federal earmarks for military contractors in exchange for lavish campaign contributions. Another is suspected of helping to steer federal bucks to a bank in which her husband owned at least $250,000 in stock. Another is suspected of failing to list certain property and income on congressional disclosure forms, most notably a house that might have received improper benefits. Everybody is naturally claiming innocence, but if the smell of impropriety gets worse, House Democrats could pay a price in the '10 elections. A few of the targeted lawmakers are Republicans, but when corruption becomes an election issue, the incumbent party tends to suffer.
It's one thing to hear a liberal politician or commentator make the case for a reduced American military footprint in Afghanistan; one would expect such a messenger to proffer that message. It's another thing entirely to hear the same arguments from a former Marine Corps captain, somebody who survived combat in Iraq to become a respected Foreign Service officer and a senior U.S. advisor in Afghanistan.
Actually, Mattthew Hoh is no longer on the job. He quit on Sept. 10, telling the State Department in his four-page resignation letter (which surfaced publicly this week) that the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan is a counterproductive mistake, that our continued - and potentially enhanced - military presence is merely fueling the insurgency that we are seeking to extinguish, wasting more American lives and money in the process.
There's something about Joe Lieberman that always prompts me to conjure The Godfather. Perhaps because he is so clearly the Carlo Rizzi of the Democratic party.
But here's the thing: What if Carlo Rizzi had indeed conspired with the Barzini family to turn Sonny Corleone into Swiss cheese at the toolboth, and Sonny's brother Michael had indeed unearthed Carlo's treachery...only to cut Carlo a break and allow him to fly off to Vegas for a new life of sun and fun and further treachery? Wouldn't we have ridiculed Michael as a naive softy if he had spared Carlo the shock of sudden death by strangulation? If he had told Carlo, "there's a car waiting to take you to the airport"...and he had meant it?
The temptation today is to focus on Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's Monday decision to endorse a government-run health insurance option, and to point out that after 60 years of stalemate, we are now much farther along the road toward substantive health care reform than ever before - a vivid reminder that transformative progress in America often seems like an impossible dream, until it happens.
But never mind the latest twist in the health care story; I'd rather riff a bit on this broader theme of progress. It came to mind last night as I listened to New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who was in town to talk up her new book about "the amazing journey of American women" since 1960. (Disclosure: Collins and I worked together in the late '70s.) It's easy to forget how much has changed for women - in the national political realm alone - since the Mad Men era and JFK's New Frontier. It's hard to even conjure how profoundly different those days were, and yet they occurred well within the lifetimes of millions of Americans alive today.
On paper, the 23rd congressional district in upstate New York, way up near the Canadian border, is solid Republican territory - so solid, in fact, that this particular hunting and fishing region hasn't elected a Democratic congressman since the era immediately preceding the invention of the telephone. That would be circa 1869.
So one might reasonably assume that on Nov. 3, in a special election to fill the recently vacated House seat, that the Republican party's official nominee will win handily and life will go on as normal. Dede Scozzafava is a member of the state legislature with roots in the district, a seasoned pol endorsed by Republicans as disparate as moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - therefore, case closed.
Forty one days ago, The New York Times declared that the congressional Democratic push for a government-run health insurance option was “dying,” and the story itself read like an obituary. Yet, as evidenced by the Democrats’ frenetic activity during the past 48 hours, the so-called “public option” is indeed very much alive (as a concept, anyway) and seemingly destined for inclusion in the final reform packages that may soon be grist for floor debate. Perhaps because the failure to do so would devastate the party's liberal base and wreck the party's short-term political prospects.
The only big hitch - not an inconsiderable one - is that the policy specifics of a public option have yet to be determined. Crafting a compromise within the Democrats’ big tent will not be easy; nevertheless, with the 2010 midterm elections looming ever closer, the party’s congressional players have no choice but to strike a policy deal that will not only benefit the largest possible number of uninsured and ill-insured citizens, but also extend political protection to the largest possible number of congressional Democrats.
We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this special bulletin:
The Friday piece will be posted on Saturday morning. Hope to see you here then.
In conversations this week, people have repeatedly asked me two questions:
1. How 'bout dem Phillies, huh?