Here's an expanded, updated version of my Sunday print column, a curtain raiser for tomorrow's Pennsylvania Democratic referendum on Arlen Specter. I also hosted a live online chat earlier today.
Your basic Pennsylvania couch potato, having gorged by now on a surfeit of campaign commercials, may well believe that the heavy hitters in both parties adore Arlen Specter.
Let's hear today from the readers. (Translation: thoughtful readers.) Way back in February, I lamented at great length about the plague of online incivility - specifically, the seemingly growing tendency among the uncivil, on both the left and right, to exult in the deaths, or the deathly illnesses, of those political figures with whom they disagree. That column has generated far more national response than anything else I've written lately, and it's still trickling in, much of it via snail mail. These excerpts constitute an extremely small sampling - but nevertheless, a representative dozen:
Almost all newspaper blogs are overrun by evil commenters, it seems. My solution would be for more newspapers to follow the policy of The New York Times, which accepts civil comments but rejects comments that are nothing more than "personal attacks" and "shouting." Readers also get the chance to "recommend" then posted comments that they like. Is this policy "censorship?" I don't know, but it keeps things civil and it is unique among newspaper blogs, as far as I know.
A number of U.S. Supreme Court justices - including William Henry Moody, John Clarke, the esteemed Benjamin Cardozo, Clark McReynolds, and Frank Murphy - were all fortunate to have served during the first half of the 20th century. They were spared the embarrassment of moronic public speculation about their personal lives.
None of those guys ever married. They were, in the parlance of the times, bachelors. But if they were alive and well today, and deemed fit by a president to serve on the high court, various bloggers and idealogues on both sides of the divide would undoubtedly be wondering or assuming or rumoring or faux-reporting that of course or maybe they had to be gay.
For the latest on America's anti-incumbent mood, we take you to the hills of West Virginia, where a Democratic congressman named Alan Mollohan has now been ejected from the House seat he has owned for 28 years.
This impulse to oust the insiders has all the makings of a trend. Last Saturday, in Utah, three-term Republican Senator Bob Bennett couldn't even get himself re-nominated to run in November; at a state party convention, he was bounced by the tea-partying delegates who decided that his 84 percent lifetime conservative rating wasn't sufficiently conservative. And last night, clear across the country, Mollohan was trounced in a Democratic primary - winning only 44 percent of the vote in a West Virginia district that has long been a virtual family heirloom - thus becoming the first House incumbent to be bounced from the 2010 re-election competition.
We can probably assume that Arlen Specter spent the weekend hoping that the fates would spare him the embarrassment of having to twist like a pretzel on the topic of Elena Kagan.
No such luck. President Obama went right ahead and tapped Kagan to fill the latest vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court - thereby creating a new political predicament for Pennsylvania's chameleonic senior senator, who already appears to be on the precipice of losing next Tuesday's Democratic primary to liberal congressman Joe Sestak.
Regrettably, I have no time today to delve into the Elena Kagan high court nomination - short version: she'll easily parry the expected attacks from the left and right, and survive the Kabuki confirmation process that she once called a "vapid and hollow charade" - but I do have time to post an expanded an updated version of my Sunday print column:
When word first spread that a bomb-laden SUV had been discovered in Times Square, I decided to track how long it would take for the usual conservative caterwaulers to blame the Obama team.
Anything happen this week? Not much, really. Just a spreading oil disaster in the Gulf, killer floods in Nashville, new evidence of a broader terrorist coalition, a sudden and precipitous Dow meltdown...What's next? A plague of locusts? A sky raining frogs, as in the film Magnolia?
I'll stick to the more prosaic stuff that's still in my notebook:
The most effective TV attack ad is the kind that essentially shows the targeted candidate using his own words to attack himself.
It is anyone's guess whether underdog Democrat Joe Sestak can wrest the Pennsylvania Senate nomination away from incumbent/survivor/chameleon Arlen Specter in the primary election 12 days from now. But if Sestak does manage to stage a major upset, we're likely to look back and say that his new TV ambush on Specter was the move that changed the game - precisely because ex-Republican Specter is right there on camera, talking about how he switched parties a year ago in order to preserve his political career.