And the winners are...



It was another offbeat week in politics, so let's do a few shout-outs.

Toy of the Week: The RomneyDoll. Wind him up and watch him writhe. He's still trying to defend his Massachusetts universal health care law (which mandates that people must buy insurance), while somehow insisting that it's very different from Barack Obama's universal health care law (which mandates that people must buy insurance).

On Monday, Mitt twisted to and fro during an interview with Newsweek. The interviewer pointed out, "Back in February 2007, you said you hoped the Massachusetts plan would 'become a model for the nation.' Would you agree that it has?"

Romney replied, "I don't...You're going to have to get that quote. That's not exactly accurate, I don't believe."

Newsweek followed up, "I can tell you exactly what it says. 'I'm proud of what we've done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.'"

Romney replied, "It is a model for the states to be able to learn from. During the campaign, I was asked if I was proposing that what I did in Massachusetts I would do for the nation. And the answer was absolutely not. Our plan is a state plan. It is a model for other states — if you will, the nation — it is a model for them to look at what we've accomplished and to better it or to create their own plans."

Oh. So let's see if I've got this right. Since all 50 states constitute "the nation," apparently it would be OK with Romney if all 50 states enacted 50 different laws requiring all their citizens to purchase health insurance - whereas it's not OK with Romney if a federal mandate does the same thing, albeit in a more streamlined fashion.

But has he always been opposed to a federal mandate? During a 2008 debate, ABC News' Charles Gibson told him, "You seem to have backed away from mandates on a national basis." Romney replied, "No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work." He sounded like he was fine with the idea of a federal "national basis" mandate. But now he tells Newsweek, "I do not favor the federal mandates."

Glad that's all straightened out. The problem, however, is that conservative GOP primary voters dislike the mandate concept, whether it be state or federal. Soon enough, the RomneyDoll will writhe again.


Smear of the Week: Snarlin' Arlen Specter's TV hit job. Specter, the incumbent Pennsylvania senator, has a double-digit poll lead over Joe Sestak in the runup to the May 18 Democratic primary, but nevertheless the old bird has felt compelled to sink his claws into his rival's neck with a Swift Boatian flourish.

I hold no particular brief for either candidate, but there's something a tad disturbing about a TV ad that slimes Sestak's 30-year military career in a mere six seconds. The narrator intones, "Joe Sestak - relieved of duty in the Navy, for creating a poor command climate." Which makes it sound like Sestak was some kind of Captain Queeg, forcibly shoved into the brig during a sea battle with America's enemies.

Somehow, Specter left out the part about how Sestak was a three-star Navy admiral and winner of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Legion of Merit awards, two Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, three Navy Commendation Medals, and the Navy Achievement Medal; and about how he was basically removed from a key Pentagon post because he was a hardass who (in the words of his mentor, Admiral Vernon Clark) "challenged people who did not want to be challenged. The guy is courageous, a patriot's patriot."

Politics ain't beanbag, as the saying goes. And 30-second attack ads have long been infamous for their, um, factual selectivity. And survivors like Specter will always do what it takes to win - in this case, preemptively whacking his rival's character. If the large pool of undecided voters wind up with the phrase "relieved of duty" implanted in their subconscious, Specter will have achieved his objective. But that doesn't mean we have to admire his outsized cajones.


John McCain Pander of the Week: Granted, it's hard to track the former "maverick" in all his craven recalibrations, but his new take on illegal immigrants wins the award this time around.

Aiming to placate the right-wingers in Arizona, and thus hoping to survive the upcoming Republican primary, McCain is currently hot for the pending state legislation that would give local cops the power to question anyone who might appear to be illegal (the wrong shoes, shifty eyes, whatever). On Fox News the other night, when Bill O'Reilly asked McCain whether this policy would prompt a lot of racial profiling, the senator said, "I would be very sorry if some of that happens. And I regret it," but he's more concerned about "the drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway."

Be very afraid, people! Check your AAA advisories! "Cars with illegals in it" are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway! (Evidence, please?) The new McCain says that illegals are potential perpetrators of vehicular homicide. The old McCain, the one that existed only a few years ago, said that illegals were courageous people who should be treated with affection. From a Senate floor statement, in March 2006: "These people will risk their lives to cross our borders - no matter how formidable the barriers - and most will be successful. Our reforms need to reflect that reality." From a debate in November 2007: "They need some protection under the law; they need some of our love and compassion."

Presumably, McCain will cease his slide on the rightward slippery slope long enough to oppose the Arizona "birther" bill requiring all presidential candidates to produce birth certificates. But we're still a long way from the August primary, time enough for McCain to mortgage off the rest of his soul.


Pauper of the Week: John Ensign, the Nevada "family values" senator best known for having boffed his top aide's wife, then buying off the aggrieved family with the help of $100,000 obtained from his casino mogul daddy. Ensign is having a lot of problems raising campaign money of his own, however. During the first quarter of 2010, according to the Federal Election Commission, Senator Ensign raised a grand total of...

Fifty dollars. Seriously.

The entire Nevada Republican establishment stayed away, apparently mindful that the Justice Department is investigating whether Ensign broke any laws or rules when he tried to kick start the cuckolded husband's lobbying career. It would appear that the donors back home are trying to send Ensign a message. Only one person - a vegas retiree named Robert Doland - opted to pony up for Ensign. He wrote two checks, 25 bucks apiece. He reportedly said this week that he had no problems with Ensign, because "all men are dogs."

What an insult to dogs. If you hung a tin cup around a dog's neck, and leashed him to a light pole at a street corner, he'd probably top John Ensign's $50 haul inside of an hour.


Whine of the Week: Skip Coryell's lament about curbs on his freedom.

You may not know about Skip. He was a protester who stood up for the Second Amendment earlier this week in Washington. He wound up on Hardball, and when host Chris Matthews asked him to detail his complaints about the socialist governmental tyrants, he replied:

"They've gotten in the way right now as I speak. I'm standing in Washington D.C., next to the National Monument, Washington Monument, and I am unarmed. Normally, I'd carry a pistol for self-defense. Right now, I am defenseless...I am being infringed upon, right now, as we speak, sir...I want a pistol...I don't feel the need for a bazooka right now, but I would like to have a 40-caliber Smith and Wesson. Maybe a 9 millimeter."

Skip, you're a wimp. If you don't feel the need to tote a bazooka, clearly you hate freedom.


Policy Wonk of the Week: Sue Lowden, a Senate candidate in Nevada. She has an interesting health reform idea, one that we had yet to hear from any of her fellow Republicans. She's encouraging voters to "barter" - just like in "the olden days" when patients "would bring a chicken to the doctor." And a Lowden spokesman later assured everybody that the candidate was not joking: "We must explore all options available to drive costs down. Bartering with your doctor is not a new concept." (True enough. The medical practice of leeching is not a new concept, either.)

A chicken for every doc....I had never thought of that one. That could be a new GOP slogan, replacing Herbert Hoover's "a chicken in every pot." I do fear, however, that chicken pricing might be difficult. I'm open to suggestions, but I'm thinking that a few giblets (neck, liver, gizzard) are sufficient payment for an annual check-up. But you know how these doctors are, they might insist on an organic, free-range bird from Whole Foods. I'd try to bargain them down to a dark-meat drumstick, but maybe the best compromise would be a breast from Perdue.

Although if I'm stuck in that waiting room for an hour, they're only getting the Swanson TV dinner.