Up Front

Beyond Branding

This is not a good time for the republicans. They're behind in the polls, behind in fundraising, and lashed to a president who's about as popular as a disease. And so it has become popular in Republican ranks to call, as Arnold Schwarzenegger did last week, for a "rebranding," as if what the electorate is looking for is that same great Republican taste poured into a flashier bottle.

But a recent poll conducted by Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger showed just the opposite. When they tested Democratic and Republican messages without identifying which party they came from, "the Democratic message consistently won out over the GOP message by 11 to 25 points." This was true even among Republican voters, who preferred the Democratic message on every issue but Iraq. It was only when the messages were identified by party that the Republicans won back their voters. On taxes, for instance, Republicans opted for the Democratic message over the Republican message, 52 percent to 38 percent. When the very same messages were identified by party, however, Republican votes favored the GOP message, 65 percent to 27 percent. The GOP's brand isn't in crisis -- it's the only thing keeping them alive. A brand is easier to change than a philosophy, however, and so, for the moment, Republicans show signs of what author Lucas Conley calls "obsessive branding disorder," a tendency to focus obsessively on the brand and ignore the product. Since the public clearly knows that they're peddling snake oil, however, spiffing up the bottle won't increase sales.

Merrily Brain Dead

And speaking of the Republicans' inability to modify their product, two of California's leading polls -- the Field Poll and the monthly survey of the Public Policy Institute of California -- recently showed Barack Obama leading John McCain by hefty 17-point margins in America's mega-state. When the San Jose Mercury News asked state Republican Party Vice Chairman Thomas Del Beccaro to posit how McCain could come back, he offered this scenario: "Once Republicans make Californians aware of Obama's proposals to boost taxes on capital gains and dividends, the GOP-Democratic gap will close."

If there's a line dividing ideological rectitude from obsessive-compulsive disorder, Del Beccaro's assessment shows a mind-set that has galloped across it with no looking back.

27 Years in Prison, Now This

How to suitably honor Nelson Mandela -- perhaps the most heroic of international figures -- on his upcoming 90th birthday? Organize a concert in Hyde Park, London, and invite Amy Winehouse to perform, of course.

The scandal-plagued, beehive-bedecked singer will headline a June 27 fete celebrating the life of the political prisoner, AIDS activist, and first post-apartheid president of South Africa. It's a good thing that Nobel he got wasn't contingent on musical taste.

Marilyn Monroe crooning to JFK this is not, though the pairing does offer some cringe-worthy comedic potential: Imagine a boozy Winehouse comparing her husband's recent incarceration for "perverting the course of justice" following a barroom brawl to the years Mandela spent on Robben Island.

The best-case scenario would have the notoriously "exhausted" singer just miss the whole thing. It's probably the best birthday present she can give Mandela.

Drowning Their Sorrows

In April, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican vice-presidential hopeful, allowing the bars in Minneapolis–St. Paul to stay open until 4 A.M. during the Republican National Convention in September rather than 2 A.M. as usually required. Though it may not have been intended that way, the bill will surely help Republicans forget about their dreadful standing in the polls and their shrinking congressional delegations. (There is speculation that some of the journalists covering the GOP convention will avail themselves of the later closing time, too.) Whether more Republicans will drink themselves into a coma on the evenings that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney speak or on John McCain's own night remains to be seen.

Fist Bump Alert

When Barack Obama and his wife Michelle bumped their fists together (also know as "dap") before his speech in St. Paul declaring victory in the Democratic primaries, it seemed, to most observers, to be a tender gesture of mutual support. Not, however, to some conservatives. One commenter on the Human Events Web site referred to it as "Hezbollah-style fist-jabbing," a description that was then adopted by Fox News anchor E.D. Hill who called it a "terrorist fist jab." The same sinister gesture was later made by noted jihadists Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Dianne Feinstein during an appearance on CNN.

The Question:

What could Bush possibly do to improve his approval ratings before he leaves office?

"Build time machine, travel to Palm Beach 2000, fix butterfly ballot, concede, make daring citizen's arrest to foil 9-11 plot."

--David Halperin, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton and Howard Dean

"Write a tell-all, ‘insider' account memoir about the failures of his administration."

--Brian Cook, associate editor, In These Times

"Endorse Barack Obama."

--Scott Stossel, managing editor, The Atlantic

Parody, by T.A. Frank:

"Clearly, I had allowed myself to be deceived." --Scott McClellan, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception

More Tell-All Releases for 2008 and 2009

Stuff Happens: How Known Unknowns Led To You-Know-What

Human Events, 499 pp.

In this riveting and searing account, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks of his anguish over conditions in Guantanamo Bay, his reluctance to retaliate militarily against al-Qaeda, and his dismay at the roughness of his colleagues.

EXCERPT: "The evening before, Joyce and I had watched the looting in Baghdad and wept to see the frightened faces of Iraqi children. Then, I found myself telling the press corps that ‘freedom's untidy.' It was untidy all right -- as untidy as the pile of garments I had rent in my anguish only minutes earlier."

I have Searched my Memory

Regnery, 4 pp.

In a fascinating if elliptical work, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales attempts to dispel rumors that he was untruthful rather than merely forgetful. Gonzales notices many people above him and below him doing things, but he's shy and doesn't want to interfere or be in people's way. Then these guys start asking him questions, and he doesn't know the answers. Early in the book, Gonzales recounts a dramatic and unsought nighttime visit he made to the hospital room of his predecessor, John Ashcroft.

EXCERPT: "It was very late at night and I was tired but the president wanted me to go with Andy and said I could have a soda, so I went but it smelled weird and the old guy, I don't recall his name, was sleeping and didn't want to talk and no one else was there but another guy and a woman. And then the guy in the bed said something and Andy said something and the woman said something, and I don't recollect exactly what they said, but at no point do I remember doing anything wrong but I still didn't get my soda and then we went home but then I had ice cream."


Sentinel, 383 pp.

An outspoken debut from former Vice President Dick Cheney offers a portrait of a White House where small-minded men stand in the way of big-time ideas. Thwarted in his quest to abolish congressional legislation enacted subsequent to the year 1892 and to annex the Arabian Peninsula, Cheney instead looks for consolation through invading Iraq and occasionally going fly fishing. While grateful to the man he calls the "Idiot Boy-King" for his employment, Cheney still feels unhappy to have failed to achieve absolute power and blames many, many people. In an unusual aesthetic choice, Cheney redacts large sections of his own book. He also invites his readers to "Go f--- yourselves."


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