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Howard Kurtz Media Notes


By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; 9:09 AM

One of the most common headlines around these days is "GOP Split on [Fill-in-the-Blank]."

The image of a unified governing party is cracking fast.

_____More Media Notes_____
Turning on DeLay (washingtonpost.com, Mar 29, 2005)
TV Dogs Learning New Tricks (washingtonpost.com, Mar 28, 2005)
Culture War (washingtonpost.com, Mar 25, 2005)
Singling Out Schiavo (washingtonpost.com, Mar 24, 2005)
Shouting Over Schiavo (washingtonpost.com, Mar 23, 2005)
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These are normal strains, of course, for a political coalition that controls all the levers of government in Washington. When the Democrats ran the show, they were split on just about everything (health care, welfare, Clinton's conduct, you name it). But it's at odds with the image of a well-oiled Republican machine with the discipline to carry out the president's every wish. That now seems so first-term.

The budget? Some of the party's economic conservatives say federal spending is out of control and that Congress might even have to think about (gasp) limiting the Bush tax cuts.

Social Security? Not all Republicans are climbing on the Bush bandwagon for private accounts, which they view as political dynamite. Some, like Lindsey Graham, want to raise the $90,000 cap on wages subject to SS taxation, which Denny Hastert and other party leaders have rejected as a tax increase.

Immigration? While Bush promised Vicente Fox he would push a program aimed at allowing guest workers, some Republicans want to crack down on border control and asylum seekers instead.

Terri Schiavo? Some libertarian Republicans don't like the idea of the party shedding its traditional opposition to federal control and judicial activism to pluck the case out of the Florida courts, let alone writing a bill aimed at just one person. It was GOP Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut who said, "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy."

With the Democrats in a weakened state, the most entertaining debates are clearly taking place within the party of theo--the GOP, I mean. How the various factions resolve their differences--and whether they can lure some Dems into temporary coalitions--will probably determine the fate of the rest of the Bush agenda.

(Speaking of Schiavo, you may want to check out my report here on charges in the blogosphere that those "talking points" reported by ABC and The Washington Post were fake, or at least not GOP talking points, along with the news organizations' response.)

The nature of Republicanism, and the role of religion, happens to be the subject of a raging debate in the blogosphere. Jeff Jarvis got some pulses racing at the Buzz Machine:

"The religious right is separating itself from the rest of America. The theocrats may have finally gone too far too often.

"They have been aided and abetted --- but ultimately undermined -- by a media that bought their PR and presented the loud voices of a few as the voice of the nation marching to the right and up to the altar. But the overdose of overdoing it that we're seeing on TV these last few weeks may just be the catalyst that causes a backlash, that reminds us that we are a secular nation of churchgoers and that we value separation of church and state over either church or state: That is our mainstream."

Radio host Hugh Hewitt takes sharp exception:

"While full of entertaining fury, Jeff's logic is compromised on a number of points. Like those who see a crack-up among the conservatives, Jeff's essay is an exercise in wish-fulfillment.

"Let's start with the debate over the still-suffering Terri Schiavo: Among those who disagreed with the decision to deny Mrs. Schiavo water and nutrition are James Q. Wilson, John Leo, Mark Steyn, Thomas Sowell, Brendan Miniter, Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, John Podhoretz and many others who are not part of anyone's definition of the 'religious right.' In fact, unless Jeff wants to define the Vatican as the 'religious right,' he's got to abandon this term in this context."

InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds sees a danger in high-visibility fringe types:

"Hugh's right that it's hard to ascribe the Congressional legislation to 'theocrats' when it was supported by Tom Harkin (and Ralph Nader!). There's much more going on than that; this is a matter on which all sorts of people, of all sorts of persuasions, can be found on both sides.

"On the other hand, here's some advice, very similar to advice I gave to the antiwar movement: If you don't want to be confused with a movement led by theocrats, don't let actual theocrats be seen as your spokesmen. It may be impossible to shut Randall Terry up -- though if I were Karl Rove, I would have tried really hard -- but he needs to be loudly and regularly denounced as a nut. Otherwise you're in the same boat as lefties who don't want to be identified with Ward Churchill, but happily use him when they want to draw a crowd. . . .

"Terry's getting what he wants from this: Attention, and a measure of undeserved legitimacy. But Bush seems to have fallen into a no-win situation. The Terryesque nuts on the far-right are mad at him for not standing in the hospice door a la George Wallace, while lots of other people see Randall Terry speaking, and George W. Bush rushing to sign the Schiavo bill, and associate the two. That may be unfair, but it's inevitable, and I think it may turn out to be costly."

On Sunday, Jesse Jackson inserted himself into one controversy by interviewing on his radio show one Michael Jackson, who said he was a victim of a conspiracy like such other ''black luminaries'' including Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. Yesterday, the Reverend Jackson made his way to Florida--or, more precisely, to the cameras in Florida--to declare that Schiavo's feeding tube should be restored.

"Summoned by Terri Schiavo's increasingly desperate parents, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the hospice Tuesday where the brain-damaged woman entered her 12th day without food or water," says USA Today.

"He received a reception befitting a rock star when he emerged from a white stretch limousine in front of the hospice and was surrounded by supporters of Schiavo's parents."

The New York Post, which jumped on the case with front-page screamers like "DOOMED," waited quite a bit before unleashing this Page 1 editorial, headlined "ENOUGH":

"The time has come to let Terri Schiavo die with dignity - and in peace.

"The battle over her fate was mostly a noble one, and always a heart-rending one, but it has turned into a circus.

"Nothing anyone can do will alter the outcome now. The arrests will make no difference; yesterday's high-profile arrival of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's stretch limousine will change nothing; Randall Terry's publicity-mongering is pointless."

Sadly, it's been turned into a circus since Day One.

The Moderate Republican has some less-than-moderate comments:

"I tend to agree that the Schiavo affair has ripped the face off the mask that is the Religious Right. People might have thought of them as a nuisance before, but the rhetoric we've been hearing from some of the protesters is just downright scary and most of America agrees, according to polls. . . .

"Sometimes I wonder though, aren't the theocrats the 'mainstream' of the GOP these days? As an old-style Republican (I sometimes think I'm the lovechild of Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller), I feel kinda like the odd duck in the party these days. I guess it leads me to wonder if Jarvis is right. In the past I believed that if the party realized how nutty the theocrats were, they would drop them like a hot potato and move towards the center. But the GOP has come to dominance because it catered to these yahoos or at least the leadership would like to believe that. I want to believe that the GOP will see how dangerous these people are to our democracy, but I'm not certain they will."

Andrew Sullivan sees an irreparable split:

"It's been striking lately how the rhetoric of some conservatives has morphed into revolutionary tones. Bill Kristol, at heart an ally of religious radicalism, calls for a revolution against the independent judiciary we now have. Fox News' John Gibson has argued that 'the temple of the law is not so sacrosanct that an occasional chief executive cannot flaunt it once in a while.' Bill Bennett has said that the courts are not the ultimate means to interpret law and the constitution, that the people, with rights vested in the Declaration of Independence, have a right to over-turn the courts if judges violate natural law precepts such as the right to life.

"Beneath all this is a struggle between conservatives who place their faith in the formalities of constitutionalism and those who place their literal faith in the God-revealed truths they believe are enshrined in the Declaration, truths that alone give meaning, in their eyes, to America as a political project."

I wrote yesterday about the Wall Street Journal's anti-DeLay editorial. Are conservative bloggers bailing on the Hammer as well? Check out this

RedState posting:

"It takes only a casual observer of congressional politics to understand that the Democrats have adopted a 'Gingrich' strategy of tarring and feathering every opposition leader with charges of impropriety and arrogance while stymieing all of the majority's legislative efforts. With DeLay, the Democrats have largely succeeded in the eyes of the media. Once DeLay becomes involved in any issue, he is treated by the Democrats and many in the media, no matter how casually he might be involved, as a congressional bogie man on the issue -- if DeLay is for it, it must be bad. . . .

"DeLay actually acted like an unethical man. DeLay knew or should have known that the Democrats would be out to tar and feather him as a power hungry, corrupt politician. Notwithstanding that, DeLay willingly participated in junkets arranged by scandal plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Tom DeLay, as far as anyone can tell, has not broken any law. DeLay's problems stem from the fact that he acted like an ordinary Member of Congress, i.e. he followed the ethics rules mostly to the letter, but did nothing more to overcome appearances of impropriety. Being in his position, he should have done more and been more careful. . . . If DeLay does not work harder and fight harder against the left, which is out to get him, and the media, which wants out of a scandal drought, he will cause more harm than good for the party."

Slate's William Saletan, meanwhile, chides DeLay for hypocrisy after the LAT revealed he had helped pull the plug on his own father back in 1988:

"Although Charles DeLay had no living will, his family concluded that he would be better off dead and wouldn't want to go on living this way. Tom DeLay joined other family members in deciding to withhold dialysis. His father died.

That story, pieced together from interviews and medical and court records by Walter F. Roche Jr. and Sam Howe Verhovek of the Los Angeles Times, defies Tom DeLay's pronouncements 16 years later. In the Terri Schiavo case, DeLay condemns the reasoning he and his relatives followed when the tragedy was theirs."

It would be nice, wouldn't it, after those inspiring elections, if Iraqis could get around to forming a government? Now everything, including the writing of a constitution, has been pushed back by at least six months, the New York Times reports.

Los Angeles Times media columnist David Shaw knew what to expect when he wrote: "This statement will surely bring me an avalanche of angry e-mail from bloggers and their acolytes, cyber citizens convinced that I'm just a self-serving apologist for the soon-to-be-obsolete media that pay my salary." The statement was that bloggers aren't entitled to the same legal protections as capital-J journalists.

Jack Shafer obliges in Slate:

"It's a 'solipsistic, self-aggrandizing journalist-wannabe genre,' Shaw writes. Without naming a specific offender -- except Matt Drudge, who he acknowledges really isn't a blogger -- Shaw generalizes about bloggers for 1,300 gassy words. He writes:

"Many bloggers -- not all, perhaps not even most -- don't seem to worry much about being accurate. Or fair. They just want to get their opinions -- and their 'scoops' -- out there as fast as they pop into their brains. One of the great advantages of the Internet, many Web lovers have told me, is that it's easy to correct an error there. You can do it instantly, as soon as the error is called to your attention, instead of having to wait until the next day's paper.

"These nameless bloggers don't deserve the 'same constitutional protections as traditional print and broadcast journalists,' Shaw writes. . . .

"Shaw puts great stock in the fact that mainstream journalism, unlike blog entries, goes 'through several filters before a reader sees it.' He boasts of how his columns benefit from the vetting of at 'least four experienced Times editors,' who check it for 'accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel. . . . '

"According to Shaw, regular journalists strive harder than bloggers for accuracy because of their greater legal exposure. He writes: 'If I'm careless -- if I am guilty of what the courts call a "reckless disregard for the truth" -- The Times could be sued for libel . . . and could lose a lot of money.' Doesn't Shaw appreciate that Joe Blogger can be sued, too, and that if he loses his case could be forced to forfeit his house, his bank account, his car, and his Fiestaware collection? On the face of it, Joe Blogger would seem to have a greater incentive to avoid libel than Shaw, whose employer will cover his legal bills and take the financial hit in case of a legal judgment.

"Shaw defends the mistakes made by mainstream journalists because most publications faithfully correct those errors in subsequent editions. Why is he not similarly forgiving of bloggers, who in my experience are just as likely to do the same? For all the energy he spends on damning error-filled blogs, the only significant gaffe he actually cites is the online assertion that President Bush wore a device under his suit coat through which advisers fed him answers during a presidential debate. And even this is more an unsolved mystery than it is an out-and-out error. Shaw fails to confront the uncomfortable fact that mainstream journalists make routine errors, even on important stories."

Finally, I don't know the backstory here, but two bloggers are apparently getting married. Frank J of IMAO writes:

"Having found a girl crazy enough to put up with me, I decided I couldn't wait any longer. Thus I proposed on Saturday evening (and she said yes!). Probably didn't notice, but I had butterflies in my stomach all last week leading up to this...

"I feel like I should thank everyone in the blogosphere who helped me along. I started this blog to get my say out there, and never really thought I'd find a wife."

Frank's fiance, Sarah of Mountaineer Musings, recounts the proposal. You were expecting maybe that such things would remain private?

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