Friday, February 5, 2016

Riffs and tiffs

This and that, at week's end

Riffs and tiffs




More Friday factoids:

The new jobs report puts the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, thus spreading cheer among Republicans who are already wielding the stat this morning as a political weapon against President Obama. But somehow they keep omitting the fact that the jobless rate has not been this high since 1983...when the guy in charge was their icon, Ronald Reagan. He was saddled with a jobless rate in the range of 11 percent, and that wound up costing his party 26 House seats in the '82 midterm election. Obama, similarly saddled with high unemployment, may well lose that many seats in 2010 - but as the Republicans crow triumphantly, the rest of us should refrain from behaving as if such losses have never happened before. In fact, history teaches us that - with only three exceptions (1934, 1998, and 2002) - the president's party has lost seats in every midterm election over the last 100 years.


It's too early to pinpoint the favored contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination, but there's plenty of preliminary action. I heard the other day from a smart source that Gen. David Petraeus is quietly taking soundings of his own. (A heretofore apolitical military man? Hey, it worked for Eisenhower.) I also think it's worth keeping an eye on South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who, aside from literally being tall, dark, and handsome, is working hard to build up some foreign policy credentials - as evidenced by reports that he has authored a new GOP memo on how to refute Obama on the issue of impending arms talks with Russia. I also saw this week that Minnesota Gov. Tim ("T-Paw") Pawlenty has already assembled a huge roster of big-time Republican consultants - plus one curious choice, ex-Bush White House political director Sara Taylor. That name ring a bell? Back in July 2007, Taylor told Congress that she couldn’t talk about how the Bush team had wrecked the integrity of the Justice Department because, in her words, "I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously." She was then gently informed that, as a federal employee, she had actually taken an oath to the U.S. Constitution. Presumably, while preparing to serve T-Paw, she has now brushed up on how government actually works.


In the best of all possible worlds (to borrow a phrase from Voltaire), both political parties would dial back a bit on their apocalyptic insinuations. Earlier in the decade, when the GOP was pounding the Democrats for supposedly being weak on terrorism, the message was essentially, "Vote for us or die." More recently, the GOP's implicit message about health care reform was that Democrats want your granny to die. And now there's Democratic Florida congressman Alan Grayson, who says that Republicans, by opposing health care reform, are basically signaling that they don't care whether thousands of uninsured Americans prematurely die. Rather than engage in the pointless debate over which side has the better claim to death hyperbole, maybe everyone can just agree to knock it off. But, of course, that's as likely as Kanye West announcing that he intends to learn some manners.


How is it possible that the creation of a government-run health insurance program to compete with the predatory private insurance companies - a "public option" concept that clearly has the support of a majority of Americans - can be torpedoed in the Senate Finance Committee by just two Democrats (Max Baucus and Kent Conrad) who hail from rural backwaters where few Americans actually live? Blame it on the Founding Fathers, who gave each state two senators, regardless of whether the state is diverse and populous, or whether the state seems to have more prairie dogs than people. Baucus' main argument this week for opposing the public option was basically that so many other senators were opposing the public option. But most of those opponents are Republicans, who might actually be out of step with their own voters anyway; according to the latest CBS-New York Times survey, 47 percent of self-identified Republicans voiced support for a public option that would be modeled on "something like Medicare," while only 42 percent opposed it. Naturally, conservatives attacked the wording of the survey question, but whatever. The public option concept is still alive, despite Baucus and Conrad - in part because, hey, this is the Senate we're talking about. In the Senate, nothing ever really dies.


And finally, this week in sleaze: It turns out that John Ensign, the well-coiffed "family values" conservative Republican senator, may have broken federal ethics laws when he worked last year to drum up lobbying business for his former top aide, Doug Hampton, as a way of making amends for the fact that he had been boffing Hampton's wife. Ensign even swung some backroom deals for Hampton's new blue-chip clients, a Nevada airline and a Nevada utility firm. Too bad the average Nevada citizen couldn't reap any inside benefits from Ensign's redemption tour. Anyway, my favorite factoid is about the '06 signed photo of Ensign and Hampton on the Capitol steps, a gift from the senator to his aide. The salutation from Ensign? "In Christ." My, how steep the plummet can be for the sanctimonious.

And speaking of the high and mighty, the latest buzz about Elizabeth Edwards might well take her down a few notches. A lengthy report the other day suggests that Elizabeth played a role in helping to conceal her husband's paternity of the Rielle Hunter love child. Andrew Young, the aide who had agreed to fall on his sword by claiming paternity while John was still running for president, apparently expected that John would claim paternity after dropping out. But John didn't, and Elizabeth reportedly sought to pressure Young into sticking to the cover-up story. But when Young wobbled, Elizabeth began to slime him, by claiming for instance that Young had stolen her late son Wade's baseball card get the idea. And Young hasn't even sold his tell-all book yet. I doubt that Dave Matthews will have any interest in fulfilling John's dream of playing at a John-Rielle wedding. At this rate, John will be lucky to book a DJ.


Inquirer National Political Columnist
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Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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