The Strange Journey of Jim Messina.

Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina is the Obama White House's fixer, handling any number of bedeviling problems and portfolios. As Marc Ambinder points out, he's been the administration's point person on changing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and deserves considerable credit for managing the process through last night's votes.

That's a fascinating turn, since in an earlier stage in his career, Messina was a Montana political operative who managed the 2002 re-election campaign of Sen. Max Baucus. The effort has become something of a legend in political circles because of the above advertisement, ostensibly a spot on student loans but in effect a case of gay-baiting.

The ad knocked Baucus' opponent, Republican Mike Taylor, who was already trailing in the polls, right out of the race. A flier associated with the effort read, "At Mike Taylor's hair care schools, someone besides the customers got clipped." Yipes. When Taylor, whose name could not be removed from the ballot, got back in the race, Messina wrote a letter to the GOP candidate, subsequently leaked to the press, challenging Taylor to sign a clean campaign pledge: "We take you at your word that you want to turn over a new leaf and run a positive campaign."

Just eight years after this rather offensive stunt, Messina is the White House point man on one of the biggest steps forward in LGBTQ equality of our time, a symbolic integration -- symbolic because there are already gays in the military -- that has, in our history, often marked the full acceptance of a minority group into American culture. What a world.

-- Tim Fernholz

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