Up Front

Card Shuffling

It's a season of “staff shake-ups” and “new directions” at the beleaguered Bush White House. In late March, Bush announced the replacement of Andy Card with Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten as White House chief of staff. This has prompted speculation of further retirements to come, centered particularly on Treasury Secretary John Snow and the White House's hapless press secretary, Scott McClellan.

There's a quality of unreality to recent press obsession with these changes -- they not only amount to a faux shake-up, but are perversely unrelated to the actual problems underlying the president's cratering approval numbers. Bush replaced the dogged loyalist Card not with a high-powered and respected outsider but with … another dogged loyalist. Meanwhile, the deficiencies that Bushies have long attributed to Snow have nothing to do with substance. Instead, he's blamed for failing as a cheerleader, as if a more skilled spokesman could convince Americans that they've actually enjoyed the country's stagnant-wage recovery more than they realized. Similar thinking underlies the McClellan speculation -- that it still might be possible for new supercharged flaks to spin the administration out of the hole the president has dug for it.

But surely until the president himself engages the substantive problems that underlie his own unpopularity (anyone holding their breath?), shuffling some personnel around merely amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Dropped Hammer

Tom DeLay's announced retirement from public office couldn't have happened in a manner more perfectly reflective of the man. First came the amusing reports that part of the rationale for the announcement's timing was DeLay's ability to convert the money he raised for his re-election campaign directly to funds for his ever-burgeoning legal expenses. Meanwhile, in the Time interview announcing his retirement, DeLay indicated plans to step more firmly into the embrace of the Christian right allies who stood by him the longest, making special reference to his “good friend” Rick Scarborough, a Texas-based pastor and activist who recently organized a conference called “The War on Christianity,” at which DeLay spoke. With his new free time, DeLay might consider helping to promote Scarborough's new book, entitled (no joke) Liberalism Kills Kids: How the Lying Left and the Silent Pulpits of America Have Unwittingly Conspired Together to Consign and Condemn an Entire Generation of Kids to Untold Misery and Tragedy.

Delay's Good Deeds

Conservative encomiums for the fallen Hammer came soon after DeLay's announcement. Bob Novak kicked things off with a paean to the “shrewd congressional leader” who was felled by the perfidy of underlings. Michael Barone then weighed in with a forthright defense of the K Street Project -- DeLay's sustained campaign to muscle Democrats out of Washington lobbying shops and replace them with GOP foot soldiers. Finally, former DeLay aide John Feehery brought both themes together in a lengthy Washington Post op-ed portraying DeLay as an honorable man rendered vulnerable by the misdeeds of rogue staffers like Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon. Unmentioned in the op-ed was that Feehery himself is a direct beneficiary of DeLay's K Street Project. When, in 2004, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) hired a Democrat as its new president, furious congressional Republicans retaliated by excising tax credits to movie studios from an international tax bill. The MPAA got the message and promised to hire several Republicans for top positions. One of those hires: John Feehery, now the MPAA's executive vice president.

Tale of Two Posts

An April 9 Washington Post editorial on the revelation that “Scooter” Libby leaked portions of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to Judith Miller referred to administration critics as using the news to launch “hyperbolic charges.” The editorialists claimed “the public benefits” from disclosures such as the ones made by Libby. Most importantly, they harrumphed, “none of this is particularly relevant to the question of whether the grounds for war in Iraq were sound or bogus.” Meanwhile, on the Post's news pages, reporters noted that “one striking feature of the decision” to declassify “is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.” In other words, Libby was peddling a story that he knew
to be false and doing so on orders from the highest officials in the land. If the Post's editorialists can't see the relevance of this, they may need a class in reading comprehension.

Who Is, Uh…

It's been a rough, rough month for Bill Frist. His efforts to steer an immigration reform bill through the Senate that could satisfy the two GOP factions on the issue -- as
well as the needs of his own hoped-for presidential campaign in 2008 -- crumbled to pieces in a pathetic display of parliamentary ineptitude. The prospect of a Frist presidential candidacy was already achieving punch-line status -- then came a crowning insult from, of all places, Jeopardy! The April 5 show featured a “Senior U.S. Senators” category in which contestants were given the state and asked to name the senator. Out of five states, the only one that stumped all contestants was … Tennessee. One asked, “Who is Lamar Alexander?” The other two refrained from answering. Alex Trebek had to inform the contestants of the correct answer, adding helpfully, “He's the majority leader.”

Friends Like These

Jack Abramoff might have been sentenced to six years in the stern, but prison walls likely won't contain new revelations of his past shady dealings. According to the Los Angeles Times, Abramoff invited the Ambassador of Sudan to a Washington Redskins game in late 2001, where in a private skybox the lobbyist offered to lend his services to the Sudanese government. Abramoff's chums in the religious right also happened to be some of Sudan's most vocal, and politically powerful, critics. So, for a mere
$16 million to $18 million, Abramoff offered to help relieve this pressure through his connections with the Christian Coalition (and Ralph Reed) and start a “grass-roots” campaign to improve Sudan's image among evangelicals. The deal never went through, reportedly because Abramoff couldn't guarantee results. Considering his success with Reed coordinating conservative Christian support for policies benefiting his Indian gaming clients, one wonders why Abramoff was so modest.

What Would Judas Do?

In other Christianity- and PR-related news, according to a Gospel recently discovered in the Egyptian desert, Judas may not have been the cad he was cracked up to be. This Gospel, a Gnostic document from around the year 300, has Jesus assuring Judas that facilitating his crucifixion will make him the most favored of the apostles because he will have freed Christ from his corporeal prison. Considering how the last 2,000 years have gone for Judas publicity-wise, he might have, a la Cheney, seen to it that this document was leaked. And hired Jack Abramoff.

And Finally

If you want to be even more embarrassed by your president than you already are, go to your computer and Google around for an April 10 video clip of Dubya tackling a question from a young woman about the conduct of private contractors in Iraq. Hint: His answer began, “Help!”

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The Question: It's May! If Dick Cheney were a flower, what flower would he be?

“A prickly pear.”

--David, Flower Gallery, Washington, D.C.

“It's tough; his character is so unlike a flower. I think of something bulky and ungraceful, like a protea.”

--Vladimir, Dupont Flowers, Washington, D.C.

“A carnivorous plant of some kind … Ideally, one that blooms at night, has an asymmetrical flower, and is partial to swamps.”

--Michael Pollan, author, The Botany of Desire

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Quiz: Spot the fake 2006 right-wing book title

A. The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life

B. Women Who Make the World Worse: And How Their
Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports

C. The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the U.N. Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights

D. Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini
to Hillary Clinton

E. Fifth Columnists: Why Elite Op-Ed Writers Undermine America -- and How They Get Away With It

F. Public Education Against America: The Hidden Agenda

Answer: E. is not a real book. Authors of the other (real) titles are, respectively: A. Ramesh Ponnuru; B. Kate O'Beirne; C. Wayne LaPierre; D. Jonah Goldberg; and F. Marlin Maddoux.