The Bright Side

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009 10:24 AM

Yesterday was a good day for me.

I still have a job.

I still have a newspaper.

I still have a Web site to write for.

If this seems like a modest accomplishment, that's because I've spent the past 36 hours reporting on whether the New York Times Co. is really, truly going to shut down the Boston Globe -- beginning with a front-page story I filed at midnight on Sunday. Why can't labor negotiators work normal hours like everyone else?

(For the moment, the Globe seems likely to survive, as you can read here. But that's a short-term judgment only.)

I had a better week than any Pontiac dealer.

I had a better week than any H1N1 reporter, who now has to explain why the killer disease seems, thankfully, to be fizzling.

I had a better week than John Edwards, who is facing both federal investigators looking into his campaign payments to his mistress and a book from his wife on how the affair made her cry and throw up.

As for the political world, some Republicans are trying to look on the bright side as well. I have the sense that people are regrouping and reassessing after last week's Specter-Souter-swine flu tsunami. It was almost too much to absorb all at once.

In the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol connects the dots in arguing that it's now Obama's economy-Congress-court-country (fill in the blank):

"Souter may have been the worst Supreme Court justice ever appointed by a Republican president. Ike regretted, as well he should have, putting Earl Warren and William Brennan on the high bench. But both were impressive individuals, if not constitutionally sound jurists. Souter has been unimpressively unsound.

"As for Specter, his departure perfectly became him: It was entirely opportunistic, driven by his conviction that he'd lose the Republican primary, and that if he did, he couldn't do what Joe Lieberman did and run and win as an independent. The Democrats are welcome to him.

"Having said all that, one has to acknowledge that the Souter and Specter developments are short-term victories for the left. . . .

"On the other hand, if the fundamental Republican task is to pick up seats in 2010 and replace Obama in 2012 -- as it must be, for the sake of the country -- and if the fundamental conservative task is to present alternatives to Obama's governance, then this week's news is not all bad.

"With 60 Democrats in the Senate, it's Obama's Congress now. Republican obstructionism goes away as an issue and as a political talking point. Obama and the Democrats will be unambiguously in charge. Within a year, it will be Obama's and the Democrats' bailouts, Obama's and the Democrats' deficits, Obama's and the Democrats' tax hikes, and Obama's and the Democrats' domestic overreach."

A somewhat less upbeat assessment from former National Review columnist Christopher Buckley:

"This past week has been, for the Republican Party, what July 1789 was to the French monarchy.

"First President Obama celebrated his first 100 days with a knockout press conference, amid polls showing that he is the most popular American since Neil Armstrong, even though a majority thinks his economics policies are going to land us in what George Bush the First called 'deep doo-doo.' . . .

"The week's second big thing was Arlen Spectre (or is it spelled Specter?) announcing that he is leaving the Republican Party, because if he stayed, he wouldn't win re-election.

"Say what you will, but you can't fault the man's principles. Not since Newt Gingrich shut down the U.S. government because of bad seating on Air Force One has a Republican taken a nobler stand . . .

"Tomorrow's obituary page in the Times might read:




Buckley goes on to offer this caveat: "Much as I admire President Obama, I believe with something approaching certainty that his spending will bring this country to its knees. 'Sustainability' is all the rage as a buzzword, but a $3.6 trillion budget is not 'sustainable.' Doubling the national debt is not 'sustainable.' Inaction in the face of $77 trillion in unfunded liabilities (Social Security, Medicare, entitlements) is not 'sustainable.' This is math, not ideology."

Specter the Defector

We're starting to see some pushback from the left, as this New Republic editorial indicates:

"It's essential that Specter not run unopposed in the Democratic primary. Right now, prominent Pennsylvania Democrats -- most notably Governor Ed Rendell -- are working to clear the field for Specter. The politician under the greatest pressure to get out of Specter's way is Joe Sestak, a Democratic congressman from suburban Philadelphia who had been preparing to run for Specter's seat.

"So far, Sestak -- who spent 31 years in the Navy, ultimately rising to the rank of vice admiral, before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 -- has indicated he won't bow to that pressure and is one of the only elected Democrats to speak critically of Specter since his party switch. But even men who were once three-star admirals have their limit, and it's not hard to imagine that, if the pressure continues, Sestak will buckle. So Obama needs to tell Rendell and other Pennsylvania Democrats not to interfere with prospective candidates.

"It's also crucial that, once the primary battle begins, Obama makes sure the intensity of his support for Specter's candidacy is closely tied to the intensity of Specter's support for Obama's agenda. In 2004, Specter relied on George W. Bush's fervent backing to help him win over enough conservative voters to eke out a two-point win in the GOP primary.

"There's no reason Obama can't do the same for Specter with liberal voters in the Democratic primary next year. But Specter, of course, had to swing right to secure Bush's support. There's no reason Obama shouldn't make Specter swing left to secure his. It's one thing for Obama to endorse Specter's candidacy; it's another thing for him to record commercials and robo-calls, hold fund-raisers, and show up at campaign events for Specter. He should only do the latter if Specter comes through for him."

Speaking of the Pennsylvania senator, is this Washington Times headline justified? "Specter: GOP Priorities Contributed to Kemp Death."

Here's what he said on "Face the Nation": "If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine."

Um, wasn't that a monumentally tasteless thing to say after someone has just died?

'Nice Firm You've Got There'

Did the White House threaten one of Chrysler's creditors with retaliation? ABC's Jake Tapper has the story:

"A leading bankruptcy attorney representing hedge funds and money managers told ABC News Saturday that Steve Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration's Auto Industry Task Force, threatened one of the firms, an investment bank, that if it continued to oppose the administration's Chrysler bankruptcy plan, the White House would use the White House press corps to destroy its reputation.

"The White House and a spokesperson for the investment bank in question challenged the accuracy of the story.

" 'The charge is completely untrue,' said White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, 'and there's obviously no evidence to suggest that this happened in any way.'

"Thomas Lauria, Global Practice Head of the Financial Restructuring and Insolvency Group at White & Case, told ABC News that Rattner suggested to an official of the boutique investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners that officials of the Obama White House would embarrass the firm for opposing the Obama administration plan, which President Obama announced Thursday, and which requires creditors to accept roughly 29 cents on the dollar for an estimated $6.8 billion owed by Chrysler. Lauria first told the story, without naming Rattner, to Frank Beckmann on Detroit's WJR-AM radio."

Some righty bloggers are playing this as if the press corps stands ready to do the White House's bidding. Isn't a more logical interpretation (if this is true) that administration officials would take their case against the Perella firm to the press?

Hands Off My Shelter

This has been a reliable Democratic applause line for at least a decade, but now that it has some chance of passing, the business lobby is going haywire:

"President Obama's plan to crack down on what he called abuse of overseas tax loopholes was met Monday with quick and unusually sharp opposition from big business, threatening to produce the administration's first major confrontation with a broad segment of corporate America," the L.A. Times reports.

"Because the recession has made members of Congress sensitive about adding to anyone's tax burden, Obama may have a tough time getting his plan through Congress."

After all, we can't inconvenience one of the bill's targets, "wealthy people who use foreign tax havens such as the Cayman Islands to hide resources from the Internal Revenue Service."

Going Negative

Conservatives are piling on some of the female appellate judges said/reported/rumored to be on Obama's short list. But here's a New Republic takedown of Sonia Sotomayor by Jeffrey Rosen, who says her colleagues "expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

"The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was 'not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,' as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. 'She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue.' "

Is it really fair to have another judge trash her without signing his name to the opinion, so to speak?

Salter's Shot

McCain's longtime confidant Mark Salter takes a swipe at conflict-driven journalism:

"Politico recently reported a 'sparks fly' confrontation between President Obama and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor over which party has been less bipartisan in the first hundred days of the Obama administration. Never mind that the actual exchange sounded more like a civil even friendly discussion. Politico's modus operandi is to make news by investing trivial incidents with more significance than they possess . . .

"The twenty four hour news cycle has become as quaint a relic as reporters using a telephone to dictate their stories to scribbling editors. Winning the hour assumes there is news made in this town every hour. There isn't. Most days, nothing that informs, enlightens or should be of serious interest to anyone occurs here. But if you inject the mundane with a little performance enhancing conflict you excite the competitive instincts of other reporters, and the curiosity of politicians and their staffs. You manufacture 'buzz,' which might be the purpose of many political journalists.

"I don't make these observations to chastise Politico. They have built a business model that appears to be successful in a terrible environment for their profession. More power to them. I offer them as a partial explanation for why sincere attempts at bipartisanship accomplishment are rather infrequent and the tone in Washington, despite its off putting nature to many voters, seems only to get worse."

Here's why Salter way overstates the point. Politicians play on divisions to rally their base and marginalize the other side (McCain does it less than most but certainly did it in his campaign, when his running mate accused Obama of palling around with terrorists). Well before there was an Internet, pols were using attack sound bites to get on television news and get booked on cable shoutfests. If Politico and every other site like it vanished tomorrow, Washington's political culture would not suddenly become peaceful.

Paying Tribute

Kemp, who rose from Buffalo Bills quarterback to VP nominee, has to be the liberals' favorite Republican. Here's one remembrance, among many, from the Nation's John Nichols:

"When Kemp became George H.W. Bush's secretary of housing and urban development, he set out to prove that conservatives had better ideas for how to revitalize American cities. As it turned out, most of Kemp's ideas were fatally flawed--he was, for instance, a passionate exponent of 'public-private partnerships' that invariably shifted public money into the bank accounts of private speculators. And he never succeeded in getting the majority of Republicans (or, for that matter, leading Democrats) to commit to an urban agenda that, in his words, would 'work for the people in need, not those motivated by greed.' But I came over time to believe that, whether we agreed on not on specific programs, Kemp was sincere in his view that Republicans could and should compete for the votes of all Americans--and especially of African-Americans, Latinos and other minority groups that he argued had been let down by the Democratic Party."

Language Matters

The Huffington Post unearths two examples of questionable verbiage by conservatives. Plumber Joe Wurzelbacher on homosexuality, to Christianity Today:

"I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary -- it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that." Ho-kay.

Rep. Michele Bachmann "delivered a rally speech in which she said the administration had engaged in an 'orgy' of spending and that the government 'spent its wad' too early."


How Low Can He Go?

The reason we've been hearing about Andrew Cuomo eyeing a run for governor next year is that David Paterson has been sinking like a stone, as this Marist poll makes clear:

"Not quite one-fifth of New York registered voters statewide -- 19% -- report that Governor David Paterson is doing either an excellent or good job in office. That is a seven percentage point drop since The Marist Poll last asked this question in its March 2009 survey. In fact, voters are so dissatisfied with the governor's performance that a majority -- 51% -- say they would prefer his sex scandal-plagued predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, be in office than he."


You're Wearing What?

White House social secretary Desiree Rogers is the cover girl for the new WSJ magazine. WWD offers this backstage tidbit:

"White House press secretary Robert Gibbs vetoed a shot of Rogers in an Oscar de la Renta ballgown in the First Lady's garden."

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