Washington is a city of exotic and particular professions. If you live in AU Park or Chevy Chase-D.C. or any of the other better neighborhoods in what is sometimes impolitely called Upper Caucasia, you will very likely find that your neighbors include: an engineer at the Bureau of Land Management, an education Ph.D. at -- no, not the Education Department -- the Department of Agriculture, and a cartographer at FEMA, who, unlike his old boss, probably is indeed doing a heckuva job.
A rung or two above them is another class of toilers, with work equally exotic: the people who spend their entire lives analyzing elections, demography, census data, and the ramifications of the fact that the 4000 block of a certain DuPage County boulevard has changed congressional districts. They labor in obscurity most of the time, but biennially, they achieve celebrity. And right about now, the demand for people like handicappers Stuart Rothenberg, Chuck Todd, and Charlie Cook is at its zenith.
Their existence serves to remind that, while the rest of us are just now pondering whether Jim Pederson can take out John Kyl in Arizona (if we're even pondering it at all), there exists a small army in Washington that's been quietly tracking the question for years, by every conceivable measure, and even several that are inconceivable to the rest of us. It's not clear that they make Washington a fascinating place to live, but they constitute a highly useful division of that vast army based here that serves the vital function of paying attention to certain things so the rest of us don't have to.
A Tale of Several Slogans
After the 2004 elections, the Democrats decided to eschew policy wonks and political strategists and take their cues from some professionals with real populist acumen: Berkeley linguists. With George Lakoff's emphasis on framing firmly in mind, Democrats put an unusual amount of thought into their slogans. But to little avail. “Together, America Can Do Better” was their typically banal consensus choice. But then, a new tagline started appearing in the e-mails of Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, Paul Hackett, Wesley Clark, and several others: “Enough is enough.” Whether it referred to Republican rule or cognitive linguism, the guerrilla tagline caught fire … at least until the party pivoted once more and settled on yet a third catchphrase: “A New Direction.” Here's hoping it at least leads away from Lakoff.
Race to the Bottom
Nothing like election season for some tasty GOP racial gaffes. First, Senator George Allen of Virginia used the slur “macaca” in reference to an Indian American staffer of his opponent. Then the front-runner to take Katherine Harris' congressional seat in Florida was caught on tape opining that “blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim.” And then, the Los Angeles Times obtained a recording of a spring meeting between California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and members of his inner circle, in which the Governator debates whether or not a particular assemblywoman is Cuban or Puerto Rican before deciding it's irrelevant: “I mean, they are all very hot. They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.” Arnold's spokesperson claims the quote was “taken totally out of context,” which, really, only invites a whole host of new questions.
Where's the Dystopia?
The alternative history is a venerable genre, populated by literary figures from Philip K. Dick to Philip Roth. The Republican National Committee is doing them one better this cycle, with the September launching of the mock Web site, America Weakly. It's a newspaper reporting from a future in which Democrats have captured both houses of Congress. Alas, it's a surprisingly banal vision.
Not a single Democrat joins al-Qaeda or sneaks Saddam Hussein out of prison. The sharpest digs they can muster are an op-ed titled “We're Back! A Trial Lawyer Speaks Out” and the revelation that California Congressman Pete Stark is “rumored to be working on a bill” for universal health care. Heavens no!
Dancing with Delay
Retired machine boss Tom DeLay has shifted focus from political spoilage to reality TV, recently sending a mass e-mail to supporters urging them to vote for “a good friend of mine, country music singer and GOP supporter Sara Evans,” in the new season of ABC's “Dancing With the Stars.” (Contestants are voted out weekly by the television audience.) Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle has remained relatively quiet, stating only that his office is “looking into” allegations of a money-laundering scheme involving Indian casino revenue and Evans' political action committee.
September 5 was primary day in Florida. The Florida GOP sent congratulatory e-mails to Republican winners across the state. But GOP Senate primary victor Katherine Harris, whose campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson had long ago devolved into a comic-opera fiasco, never received one -- and not because it had slipped into her spam filter. State party spokesman Jeff Sadosky dismissed suspicions that the party was deliberately snubbing Harris, explaining that e-mails had been sent only to those who were running for state rather than federal office. When asked by the Orlando Sentinel what the party planned to do for Harris now that she had won the nomination, he was decidedly reluctant to offer details: “That's yet to be determined.”
A new biography of Karl Rove by Wayne Slater and James Moore claims that when he moved into his West Wing office, he brought in three high-ranking Catholic priests to rid the room of evil spirits. Deal Hudson, a participant in the exorcism, explains that “[i]t was an actual liturgical ceremony. We sat at the table, we prayed.” No word yet if Rove suffered any burns from the holy water.
The Wild Kingdom G.W.O.T.
In an infamous recent speech at the American Legion National Convention, Donald Rumsfeld channeled Churchill in likening appeasement to “feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.” Shortly after that, famed crocodile hunter Steve Irwin died -- in a tragic, fluke run-in with a stingray. In National Review, neoconservative writer Cliff May wasted no time switching gears from a discussion of Irwin's death to elucidating a proper stingray-as-Islamofascism metaphor. “I do wonder if Irwin … may not have gradually become over-confident in the face of danger. Nations, as much as individuals, are susceptible to such thinking.” Indeed, as May put it, “Every stingray is a very real and present danger.” Positively Churchillian.
On September 10, President Bush laid two wreaths in the footprints of the former towers at ground zero. The Washington Post noted the occasion's solemnity and observed that it “left aside the partisan rancor” that Bush & Co. have made their specialty since 9-11 (that's probably not how the Post would've finished that sentence). Well, it's perfectly true that there was no partisan rancor. But there was partisanship -- New York's Democratic senators weren't invited. A photograph in the September 11 New York Post showed George and Laura Bush flanked by George Pataki, Mike Bloomberg, and Rudy Giuliani. Four Republicans (or five if you count Laura), and no Chuck Schumer or Hillary Clinton. They were invited, naturally, to the ceremony where there were no cameras, in St. Paul's Church.
In August, U.S. forces in Baghdad launched a security crackdown called Operation Forward Together to curb rampant sectarian violence in the capital city. The operation appeared to yield results, with commanders touting a remarkable 52 percent drop in Baghdad's murder rate from July to August. Then the Iraqi Health Ministry released figures showing that the number of violent deaths in the Baghdad area in August -- 1,536 -- was actually quite close to July's figure. Turns out the military had left out deaths by mortars, rockets, bombs, and suicide attacks. Um, how do they count soldiers' deaths?
Spot the fake 2006 right-wing book title
A. The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9-11
B. Can She Be Stopped?: Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless …
C. The Nancy Party: Weakness, Appeasement, and the Pelosi Democrats
D. Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party
E. Godless: The Church of Liberalism
Answer: C. The Nancy Party
The Question: Assuming Democrats take over, what should Speaker Pelosi do first?
“Put John Murtha and Henry Waxman in charge of Iraq policy and accountability. It will be hard to do anything big until we deal with Iraq.”
--Tom Matzzie, Washington director, MoveOn.org
“Restore faith in American democracy through full public financing of our elections and fixing our broken election systems.”
--Chellie Pingree, president, Common Cause
“Dissolve committees and divide the House into various investigative panels. It would guarantee us the entertainment to which we are entitled.”
--Larry J. Sabato, director for politics, University of Virginia