When Al Franken is sworn in as the new junior senator from Minnesota next week, there will be endless talk about the long interregnum between Election Day and his oath-taking. People will chatter about his unlikely journey from Saturday Night Live funnyman to the U.S. Senate. And there will be even more talk about how his victory gives Democrats the 60 votes they need to end GOP filibusters and tighten their grip on the Senate. But nothing is quite what it seems.
Mark Sanford's press conference on Wednesday -- the most recent in what seems like a weekly series of GOP infidelity apologies -- made for riveting television; the more you listened to the South Carolina governor, the less interesting the story's political implications became compared to the raw human drama of a man getting crushed by the consequences of falling in love. Sanford's sudden implosion seems that the political fates have decided that to save the GOP they must destroy it, or, in their own parlance, the party must be born again. Sanford was that rare figure who fought at the barricades of the GOP revolution in 1994 and who survived its collapse with enough credibility intact to think about a future.
Were I a betting man, I would take even odds that Sen. John Ensign of Nevada survives this week's admission that he had an affair with a woman on his staff, who is married to a man on his staff. Sordid, yes -- but not as politically damaging as it once was. There has been so much recent history of this kind of behavior that voters seem to be already factoring in the potential for personal indiscretion in how they assess politicians. The list of rehabilitated philanderers is long, with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich right at the top. Because he got busted by reporters, because he may be denying his own kid, because he still comes across as a little too slick, it may take a while longer, but I suspect that John Edwards is probably on his way to rehabilitation, too.
Virginia Democrats chose their nominee for governor this week, and the unexpected choice has set off a huge debate about what the results mean for the party going into the 2010 midterm elections.
The answer may be "not as much as we think." But it's hard to convince political junkies that the results of one election do not reveal deep and important truths about the next. Working from that premise, the Virginia results may suggest that Democrats have reason to worry. In fact, the stronger evidence is that the party is making choices as sophisticated as it did in 2008.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
We are now almost completely used to the idea of the Big Obama Speech, a dramatic political event with game-changing implications. The history on the topic is short but convincing: There was the Des Moines speech after his Iowa primary victory, the Philadelphia speech on race, the Denver speech at the Democratic National Convention, and a long list of anticipated, if now-forgotten, economic speeches delivered in the heat of the financial meltdown.
After each of these, there was a sense Obama had taken us somewhere we hadn't been before -- that he had explained the unexplainable and that he had given voice to some essential truth. Yesterday was no different. The general sense is that Obama has rewritten the rules of engaging with the Muslim world.