Up Front

Melted Steele

Republicans had the highest of hopes for the candidate they recruited to seek retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes' seat: Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. But since entering the race in October 2005, Steele has trailed the leading Democratic candidate, Representative Ben Cardin, in almost every public opinion poll, often by double digits.

And it's clear why: Steele has alienated audiences at nearly every turn. Speaking before a group of Jewish community leaders in February, Steele compared stem-cell research to Holocaust experiments on Jews. (“You of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.”) Then, as he tried to contain the political fallout, he told a conservative talk-radio show that, lo and behold, he supports embryonic stem-cell research after all.

Beyond this gaffe-athon, personnel disputes inside his camp are metastasizing. His campaign manager and communications director resigned in February, reportedly as another casualty of a growing dispute between the campaign's professional consultants and Steele's friends in Annapolis.

Steele, currently the highest-ranking elected black Republican in the country, was once thought to be the GOP's answer to Barack Obama. The trajectory of his campaign suggests he has more in common with Obama's ‘04 opponent -- who also, as it happens, once ran for the same seat that Steele now seeks: Alan Keyes.

-- Alec Oveis --

Goo-Goo Jack

Amid all the juicy quotes about his contacts with top Republicans, it's easy to miss this rather remarkable line from Jack Abramoff's interview in Vanity Fair: “The exposure of my lobbying practice, the absurd amount of media coverage, and the focus -- for the first time -- on this sausage-making factory that we call Washington will ultimately help reform the system, or at least so I hope.” Later he announced accepting a staff position at Common Cause, pending his release from prison.
Yes, that's a joke.

The Golden Years

Used to be that the media typically portrayed the elderly as kindly, wizened, worldly advice-givers. Turn on the TV nowadays, though, and you'll hear conservative pundits describing the soon-to-retire boomers as a horde of cranky, demanding barbarians sporting Depends and preparing to raid the country's entitlement programs. Our only possible defense: Deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

So it was nice to see the Census Bureau's new study, “65+ in the United States, 2005,” offering a rosier picture: In contrast to past generations, today's and tomorrow's elderly suffer from far fewer disabilities, are far healthier, and boast more wealth and education. In short, they're cheaper to treat and more self-sufficient than they used to be, and their budgetary impact won't be as devastating as once feared. The old days may have been good, but where the elderly are concerned, the coming ones will be better.

And We're Metternich

An AP-Ipsos poll from mid-March showed that 70 percent of Republicans -- and nearly four out of five Americans -- believe Iraq to be on the brink of civil war. They obviously missed Donald Rumsfeld's stirring Senate testimony, delivered just days before the poll was released. Peppered with questions from Senator Robert Byrd about civil war, Rumsfeld issued the following definitive statement: “The plan is to prevent a civil war, and, to the extent that one were to occur, to have the Iraq security forces deal with it, to the extent they are able to.” That clears that up. He also reassured the solons, as Fred Kaplan reported in Slate, that the administration's foreign policy is just like Harry Truman's and that it is building today's equivalents of the Marshall Plan, the World Bank, and NATO. We're not sure how we missed this (must've been the liberal media failing to report it), but we feel better.

Still Revamping …

Surely we can also feel better about plans to reform the training system for Iraqi police: The March 9 Los Angeles Times reported that “U.S. officials have revamped and expanded training programs for Iraqi police units.” Of course, a January 17 Associated Press story reported that “the United States is embarking on a revamped training program for Iraq's 80,000 police force.” And way back on April 18, 2004, The Boston Globe reported that “U.S. officials have always cautioned that … over time they hope to augment the three-week course in human rights given to new and re-hired police recruits.”

The Awful Truth

Each year, the State Department publishes an exhaustive report on human rights conditions in every country on the globe -- except the United States. And each year for the last seven, the People's Republic of China has helpfully, and loudly, stepped in to fill that gap. Like clockwork, Beijing took to the offensive when the State Department released its new report on March 8. China's accusations of hypocrisy in response to the American charge that its “[p]rocedural and substantive measures to prevent torture were inadequate” were a bit more stinging than in past years. “To obtain intelligence from the captives, the CIA employed various kinds of torture …” reads China's retaliatory report, “Human Rights Record of the United States in 2005.” “The torture also included binding a prisoner to a board with plastic or paper wrapped over his face and water poured over him.” If only we weren't giving them such good material.

Oversight Oversights

Suddenly, and amusingly, “oversight” is the new watchword among Republicans facing a dire midterm election climate after years of determined lapdoggery on behalf
of the Bush administration. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt commented in March: “If there was ever a good time for Congress to figure out oversight, it would be in the sixth year of a presidency.'' First year, sixth year -- who's counting, really? Meanwhile, a White House spokeswoman nicely encapsulated the administration's outlook on congressional oversight and executive power in her March 8 statement endorsing Senate Republicans' “compromise” plan for monitoring the NSA spying program: “[W]e're committed to working with Congress on legislation to further codify into law the president's authority to intercept conversations between suspected al-Qaeda members who are calling into or out of the U.S.” How generous of them!

Bill Bennett Forecasts the New Baseball Season

Bill (Sportin' Life) Bennett here. You know, here at the Book of Virtues Race ‘n Sports Book, we don't usually give advice on any game of chance that does not involve a handle. But it's time for a new baseball season, and since baseball's mired in a drug scandal, and I once solved the nation's drug problem, I have some insight here.

American League

East: A staggering array of decadent East Coast enclaves. I see New York hired a centerfielder away from Boston. That's like Trotsky hiring a speechwriter away from Lenin. The pick here is Tampa Bay -- good, solid, and, everywhere you look, a church the size of Machu Picchu.

Central: A travelogue of the corrupting effect of machine politics and organized labor. Cleveland. Chicago. Detroit. God help us. We're going with Minnesota because of that kid pitcher Johan Santana. I used to love Santana, back when I was not doing any drugs in the 1960s.

West: Can there be any doubt that the pick here is Texas? I expect a preemptive strike on those latte-sipping salmon-mongers in Seattle by Memorial Day.

National League

East: Holy Mother of God, what a mess. All that anti-human rap music in Atlanta is bad enough, but Philadelphia's here, and New York again! And, to top it all off, Washington itself! Quick -- I need air! (Editor's Note: Bennett scrawled Florida on the sidewalk as he succumbed.)

Central: Most everyone is picking St. Louis, but I promised Ratzinger he was the last Cardinal I'd vote for. I'm thinking Milwaukee. I like the voucher program. It'll improve the math skills of poor kids to the point they can take advantage of my picks. Beats a welfare check.

West: San Francisco's out for any number of reasons. Los Angeles is only a little better, and what in hell are those hemp-puffing hippies in Colorado doing with a baseball team? San Diego.

I see Tampa Bay and Florida emerging to play a fine, Sun Belt World Series, with the Marlins edging their neighbors out in six very competitive games. It's a lock. Vinny at the Sands told me so.

By Charles Pierce

The Question: Nixon's Approval Rating Hit 24 Percent. How Low Can W's Go?

“Keep praying, but it's unlikely. Bush's ratings among Republicans would not only have to dip below 70 percent -- where they've never been -- but below 60 percent.”

--Ruy Teixeira, writer/blogger

“Bush's situation is more like Truman's during the ‘Communism, Corruption, and Korea' days. I say he stays in the 30s through '06.”

--Pat Buchanan, American Conservative magazine

“Theoretically, he can go down to zero. But that would assume that he lost his family. Frankly, I think he may have already lost Neil.”

--Al Franken, Air America host