The envelope, please



It was a nutty week like any other, perhaps moreso...

Democratic sleaze pit of the week. Put your hands together for Illinois. The ex-governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, was just re-indicted on 24 counts. The new Democratic senatorial nominee (chosen in Tuesday's primary) used to be the veep of a bank that loaned millions to shady characters, including a convicted bookmaker who ran hookers. The new Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial nominee was pinched by the cops a few years back for holding a knife to his girlfriend's neck; this happened shortly after his wife filed for divorce and asked the court for a protection order. Illinois Democrats did manage this week to re-nominate incumbent governor Pat Quinn - despite his chief rival's TV ad, which featured 1987 footage of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington complaining about how Quinn was "a totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks this government is nothing but a large easel on which to do his PR work." There's no way to know whether Washington still feels this way, because he's dead. No word yet on whether Washington voted in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Republican smear artist of the week. That would be Mitch McConnell, Senate leader of the No brigade. Even though FBI director Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill the other day that the failed underpants bomber has cooperated with the FBI's counterterrorism agents - "It is a continuum in which over a period of time, we have been successful in obtaining intelligence, not just on day one, but on day two, three, day four, and day five, down the road" - McConnell has twice denigrated the FBI agents by comparing them to a certain softball pitcher with suspenders. McConnell on Fox News: "Probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that." McConnell on CNN: "I mean, Larry King would have a more thorough interrogation of one of his witnesses than the Christmas bomber had by the Justice Department." (McConnell also says it's outrageous that the failed bomber is being processed through the civilian court system - forgetting, naturally, that the Bush administration successfully processed roughly 150 terrorists through the courts, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and al Qaeda plotter Zacarias Moussaoui.) Anyway, with respect to McConnell's Larry King analogy: Isn't there something a tad odious about a Republican seeking to score partisan points by denigrating the FBI?

Polling statistic of the week. Every so often, in this space, I find it useful to highlight the baseline obliviousness of our fellow Americans. The latest Pew Research Center poll features a News IQ Quiz, and it's a doozy. How many Senate votes are required to break a filibuster and move legislation to passage? Only 26 percent of the public knows the correct answer (60). And how many Senate Republicans voted late last year to pass the health care reform bill? Only 32 percent of the public knows the correct answer (zero, zip, nada). The shares are even worse among young people (ages 18-29, Barack Obama's strongest '08 cohort); only 14 percent know how many voters break a filibuster, and only 16 percent know that the Senate GOP was a total No on health reform. No wonder the Republicans aren't paying any political price for their obstructions (the latest classic: Alabama Senator Richard Shelby puts a "hold" on 70 Obama nominees because he thinks his state isn't getting enough federal pork). Most Americans simply tune out what's going on.

Grumpy old man of the week. John McCain, of course. Back in 2006, America's "maverick" said that if our top military officials were to agree that gays can serve openly in the military , "then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it, because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to." But after our toppermost military official - Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs - endorsed open service on Tuesday, McCain told a right-wing radio host, "I'm not changing my position." Meanwhile, seven months ago, McCain said this: "The reason why I supported the (gays in the closet) policy to start with (in 1993) is because General Colin Powell, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the one that strongly recommended we adopt this policy in the Clinton administration. I have not heard General Powell or any of the other military leaders reverse their position." Well, guess what: General Powell has now reversed his position, declaring the other day that "attitudes and circumstances have changed." McCain's response? Nah, that doesn't count, either. It appears that McCain's desire to guard his right flank in the upcoming Arizona GOP senatorial primary (from two right-wing challengers) is compelling him to strip away the last vestiges of his integrity.

Democratic storm warning of the week. The polls have been reporting for months that Republican voters are far more energized than Democratic voters; if true, this "enthusiasm gap" could hurt the Democratic party, big time, in the November '10 congressional elections. And now, thanks to the turnout figures from the Illinois senatorial primaries, we have some tangible voting evidence that the gap indeed may be real. On Tuesday (at last count) 901,618 people voted in the Democratic contest, while 740,133 voted in the GOP contest. That's a very narrow difference, considering the fact that Illinois is a deep-blue Democratic state. Compare those figures with the senatorial primaries in 2004; the Democratic margin was roughly 2-1, with 1.24 million people voting in the Democratic contest and only 662,000 on the GOP side. If the Democrats in Washington want to ensure that their base remains demoralized in the fall, all they need to do is not pass any health reform.

And in closing, just two words: Go Saints.