Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Friday frights

Friday frights

 

 

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.

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Senate Republicans have been donning their fright masks and trying to scare Americans with the notion that a government-run health insurance option would usher in socialism or wreck the economy or make people die sooner or whatever. But I bet they're the ones who are scared, for political reasons. The Senate Democratic bill proposes creating a national public option that would also allow recalcitrant states to say no and "opt out" - a scenario that would be a political nightmare for the GOP. It's fine and dandy for Republicans to rail in the abstract against "big government," but it would be fascinating - say, five years from now - to see whether a red-state Republican governor and his Republican legislature would actually dare to "opt out," thereby denying to their citizens the same government-run insurance option that was freely available across the state border. Right-wing rhetoric works fine, until it collides with the real needs of real people. Which is why so many Republicans are grabbing that economic stimulus money for the folks back home.

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So now it turns out that Arlen Specter, the chameleon of Pennsylvania politics, had been masquerading all these years as a stalwart foe of gay marriage. Or so he tells us. Thirteen years ago, as a Republican senator, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of state-approved gay bonds. Five years ago, while running in a Republican primary against conservative challenger Pat Toomey, he cited his DOMA vote and vouched for it anew. Yet earlier this week, Specter ripped off his mask and said that he's really a liberal who opposes DOMA. He declared that DOMA is actually "a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture," and that the feds shouldn't favor straight people by trying to establish "one national standard." So what's this flip flop all about, anyway? With the help of my Specter-detector, here's a translation: "When I needed to guard my right flank, I was for DOMA. But now that I need to guard my left flank in the Democratic primary against Joe Sestak, I am against DOMA. This is all consistent with my core principle of self-preservation."

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Wingnut Nation has been trying to scare Americans with the notion that Barack Obama is foreign-born and therefore ripe for removal from office. "Birthers" have been pursuing his removal in various lawsuits, joined by an odd motley of plaintiffs (soldiers who refuse to be sent overseas, claiming that they don't accept Obama as their commander-in-chief; fringe political candidates, such as Alan Keyes, who claim the '08 election was illegitimate), but they have been stymied. No surprise there. But when a federal judge in California threw out a birther lawsuit on Thursday, he did so with delicious disdain. Federal judges rarely voice such withering contempt in their rulings, so let's take a look. Two samples are worth a smile. On the topic of the soldier-plaintiffs: "This court will not interfere in internal military affairs nor be used as a tool by military officers to avoid deployment. This court has a word for such a refusal to follow the orders of the President of the United States, but it will leave the issue to the military to resolve." And on the topic of the fringe political candidates: "Plaintiffs received only four-hundredth of one percent of the vote. The court may have already met this entire group of voters at the hearings on this matter."

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Virginia Democrats had been trying to scare the state's voters into thinking that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell is a sexist pig who hates working women. And as recently as a month ago, Democrats seemed to be getting some traction - in the wake of reports that McDonnell had once authored a master's thesis that described working women and feminists as "ultimately detrimental to the family." His support among female Virginians plummeted, and I wrote here a month ago that the issue would dog him until election day. But if the latest polls are right, it means that I was wrong. McDonnell has recouped among women - who appear far less concerned about what McDonnell wrote 20 years ago than what he is saying now about jobs and the economy. McDonnell's ads talk only about jobs and the economy. This is a lesson for Democrats, and for Creigh Deeds, the underwhelming Democratic gubernatorial candidate: The culture war stuff doesn't work so well in the teeth of a recession.

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Dick Cheney has been masking himself for a long time as a resolute warrior who abhors Democratic wimpiness; he did it again the other day, when he sought to upbraid Obama about "dithering" over Afghanistan. We already know, of course, that Cheney and President Bush dithered over Afghanistan as recently as last year, when their military commander in the field requested more troops and got nowhere. And now we have another confirming opinion, voiced two nights ago on Fox News: "My sense is that we have an obligation to support our generals in the field, to give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission. That was not done by the prior administration. Let’s be very clear about that." That was Rick Santorum, wise to the Cheney masquerade.

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And finally, let us cite the month's top Halloween fright. It was not intended as such, simply because the folks responsible were too clueless and tone deaf to understand the depths of their achievement. Some prominent South Carolina Republicans were attempting to praise Senator Jim DeMint in a guest newspaper column, and, well, they just didn't know...Anyway, while lauding DeMint for "watching our nation's pennies," they wrote on Oct. 18 that he's just as thrifty as the famously talented Jews: "There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves." After the piece appeared, DeMint said that "the comments were thoughtless and hurtful," and the Republican scribes apologized. Perhaps somebody should remind these southern Republicans in good standing that the Shylock masquerade hasn't been a fixture in popular culture since Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice.

       

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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