Hillary, Johnny Mac and Mo

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006 8:16 AM

The '08 shadowboxing between the junior senator from New York and the senior senator from Arizona has taken a nasty turn.

Hillary Clinton and John McCain, the (ridiculously) early front-runners in their parties, seemed to have a cordial relationship, and why not? She's been working overtime to forge alliances with Republican lawmakers, and he's long been known for teaming up with the likes of Joe Lieberman and defending his friend John Kerry.

But both know they're on a collision course if she runs and they both survive the primaries. And surviving the primaries, for McCain, means showing the conservative base that he'll take on liberals like the former first lady.

McCain took the first swipe after North Korea exploded that nuclear advice and Clinton said her husband's approach was superior: "I would remind Senator Clinton and other Democrats critical of Bush administration policies that the framework agreement her husband's administration negotiated was a failure."

Enter Maureen Dowd. The New York Times columnist granted anonymity to a Hillary aide to throw this punch at the former prisoners of war: "Privately, Hillary's camp was not overly upset by the McCain swipe because it suspected he was doing the bidding of the White House and that he ended up, as one adviser put it, 'looking similar to the way he did on those captive tapes from Hanoi, where he recited the names of his crew mates.' "

That's a spectacularly insensitive comment toward someone who spent 5-1/2 years in the Hanoi Hilton, and Clinton had to apologize, but we still don't know which political genius said it. Imagine the pressure on Clinton to fire the strategist if this had happened in the heat of a presidential campaign.

Act Two involved a dinner between Clinton and McCain and two other senators during a trip to Estonia two years ago, when Hillary suggested a vodka-drinking contest and McCain was said to have a fine old time.

But when McCain was asked about this on "Hannity & Colmes," he said it never happened. "I'm glad to hear, Senator, you weren't drinking shots with Senator Clinton," said an apparently relieved Sean Hannity. McCain also told Jay Leno the incident never happened.

But the Atlantic's Josh Green chatted up the senator and "McCain lit up at the recollection. 'It's been 50 years since I'd been in a drinking game,' said McCain. ... He added, admiringly, 'She can really hold her liquor.' "

That prompted Dowd to call Mr. Straight Talk's office, where an (anonymous) aide explained: "After dinner, they had drinks. It was not a drinking contest, the way you and I think of a drinking contest. John had two drinks."

Doesn't that sound...rather Clintonian? It all depends on the meaning of the word contest . Let's hope McCain takes a more sober approach to describing his nightlife and that Clinton's staff resists cheap POW analogies.

Kudos to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for tracking down the Malta priest who Mark Foley says abused him decades ago. And what restraint in the writing:

"Anthony Mercieca described a series of encounters that he said Foley might perceive as sexually inappropriate. Among them: massaging Foley while the boy was naked, skinny-dipping together at a secluded lake in Lake Worth and being naked in the same room on overnight trips."

The New York Times investigates and finds...dissension in the GOP!

"Tax-cutters are calling evangelicals bullies. Christian conservatives say Republicans in Congress have let them down. Hawks fault President Bush for bungling the war in Iraq. And many conservatives blame Representative Mark Foley's sexual messages to teenage pages.

"With polls showing Republican control of Congress in jeopardy, conservative leaders are pointing fingers at one other in an increasingly testy circle of blame for potential Republican losses this fall...

"Whether the election will bear out their pessimism remains to be seen, and the factors that contribute to an electoral defeat are often complex and even contradictory. But the post-mortem recriminations can influence politics and policy for years after the fact. After 1992, lawmakers shunned tax increases. After 1994, they avoided gun control and health care reform. And 2004 led some Democrats to start quoting Scripture and rethinking abortion rights, while others opened an intraparty debate about the national security that is not yet resolved."

Here are some quick political hits.

Boston Globe : "Governor Mitt Romney vigorously defended a plan yesterday by his political advisers to develop a network of Mormon supporters for his potential presidential bid, while a former Internal Revenue Service commissioner said discussions among Romney operatives and Mormon Church leaders about the initiative could violate the church's tax-exempt status."

Wall Street Journal : "The Democratic Party's three major campaign committees raised more money last month than their Republican counterparts, slicing deep into a financial edge Republicans hoped would provide an advantage in the final weeks of the bruising campaign for the midterm elections."

LAT : "Orange County Republican leaders urged their own congressional candidate to withdraw from the race Thursday after he acknowledged that his campaign was involved in sending out a letter intended to scare off Latino voters."

Here's what the Spanish-language letter from Tan Nguyen's campaign said: ""You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time . . . "

For liberals, Rove is the Great White Whale, and they hope that on Election Day he'll wind up beached:

"Is Karl Rove the great mastermind of American politics?" asks Slate Editor Jake Weisberg . "Everyone seems to think so. George W. Bush's nicknames for him include 'The Architect' and 'Boy Genius.' Other Republicans see Rove as a shaman who can conjure victory out of the air--and Democrats agree. (They would rather think they've been losing to a nefarious wizard than to a lazy moron.) The political press, always more comfortable with personality than ideology, cottons readily to the myth that the country is run by an elusive puppeteer.

"Let me concede that Rove is a detail-minded, relentless, and methodical political operator with unusual skill at networking and organization-building. He is also, clearly, a strategic and historical thinker...

"But with the conservative edifice groaning and shifting, there are at least some grounds for skepticism about the architect's brilliance. While Rove boasts an impressive winning streak, the largest part of his success is arguably due to luck and circumstances beyond his control. By rights, Bush should have lost the presidency in 2000. He got fewer popular votes than Al Gore, and would have had fewer in the Electoral College but for poor ballot design in Florida . . .

"My skeptic's reaction is that we've not yet had a true test of Roveism--one that tells us whether the theory can deliver for Republicans in less propitious circumstances and without a blundering Democratic opponent. But on Nov. 7, we are finally going to have that test. External conditions for Republicans--the war in Iraq, anemic job creation and middle-class wage growth, high gas prices, the Abramoff lobbying scandal, the Foley page scandal--are terrible. And because it's a midterm, there is no single Democratic opponent whom Rove can define as a flip-flopping traitor."

Tom Friedman found himself in the spotlight when he compared the surge of violence in Iraq to the Viet Cong's Tet offensive, and President Bush acknowledged to George Stephanopoulos that there might be something to that. TigerHawk strongly disagrees:

"At the time the media perceived and promoted the Tet offensive as a great victory for the enemy. In an age when the network anchors deployed truly awesome power, Walter Cronkite destroyed Lyndon Johnson's chances for re-election when he editorialized that we were 'mired in stalemate.' President Johnson declared 'If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America,' and withdrew from the 1968 presidential campaign.

"Tet, however, was not a military disaster for the United States. Quite to the contrary, history has revealed that the Tet offensive was in fact a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong, and effectively required that the Communists conquer the South by invasion from the North, rather than by civil insurgency. The Viet Cong were only able to turn a military disaster into strategic victory by persuading the American media that the United States was mired in stalement. With the domestic political support for the war fading fast, the United States decided to withdraw from Indochina, even though it would take Nixon and Kissinger another four years to accomplish it."

In fairness, Friedman acknowledged that very point: "Although the Vietcong and Hanoi were badly mauled during Tet, they delivered, through the media, such a psychological blow to U.S. hopes of "winning" in Vietnam that Tet is widely credited with eroding support for President Johnson and driving him to withdraw as a candidate for re-election."

At Power Line, Scott Johnson is still worked up over Tet:

"If journalism were a profession, Peter Braestrup's 1977 book Big Story would be required reading in every journalism school. Braestrup's long subtitle is a little dry: 'How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington.' But his analysis was memorable. Braestrup showed that the press blew the story of the Tet offensive, portraying a major American battlefield victory as a disaster.

"In the introduction to the 1994 edition of his book, Braestrup characterized the coverage as 'an unusual media malfunction,' one 'on a scale that helped shaped Tet's repercussions in Washington and the administration's response.' Paul Weaver wrote in his Commentary review of Big Story: 'A politicized press speaking the language of news is an instrument of propaganda, and such an institution does not foster democracy, but erodes it.' It is an observation that bears on the media's treatment of President Bush's comment itself."

I would suggest that the sectarian carnage in Iraq is so bad right now that it doesn't require a "politicized press" for people to realize the magnitude of the mess.

Dick Polman has a brilliant insight here (which happens to match something I wrote the other day):

"Curt Weldon, the embattled suburban Philadelphia Republican congressman, is already well into the predictable cycle of responses employed by politicians who labor under the cloud of scandal: I haven't been informed of any investigation; if there is an investigation, I didn't do anything wrong; the timing of this investigation is suspicious, given the impending election, but I will look forward to cooperating fully with those who are unfairly coming after me; this is just a conspiracy concocted by my political enemies; even if it's just a conspiracy, I am moving on.

"It's worth revisiting Weldon's claim that he is the victim of a conspiracy. At last check, he is attributing the FBI's raid on his lobbyist-daughter's house to, among other people: public interest activist Melanie Sloan (who used to work for a Democrat, and who filed a complaint against Weldon with the FBI two years ago), former President Bill Clinton, a former senior Justice Department official and 9-11 Commission member named Jamie Gorelick, former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"But here's the part that I don't get:

"1. Do all those people, acting separately or in concert, have the clout to tell the FBI what to do?

"2. Isn't the FBI a part of the Justice Department, which, last I checked, is run by a Bush Republican loyalist named Alberto Gonzalez?"

I slapped my forehead when I heard the following news, and the Nation's Tom Engelhart apparently agrees:

"A possible death-sentence for Saddam and his top lieutenants on November 5? Now, shouldn't that raise a few eyebrows somewhere? If you happen to have a calendar close at hand, pull it over and take a quick look. That verdict would then come, curiously enough, just two days before the midterm elections. It's the sort of thing that--you would think--that any reporter with knowledge of the US election cycle (no less of how Karl Rove has worked these last years) would at least note in an article. But no, you can search high and low without finding a reference to this in the mainstream media . . .

"Scheduling the announcement of what will almost certainly be a future execution to give yourself one last shot at a bump in the polls? Welcome to Bushworld."

Are big, fat Sunday papers the next to fall? In London, the Guardian's Kim Fletcher muses:

"It doesn't help that the latest iteration of internet publishing is such a long way from Sunday papers. The internet is all updated news and instant information and audio and video spewing from a computer screen. Sunday papers are meant to be taking your time and sprawling on sofas and eating brunch in those attractive coffee shops they show on adverts for building societies. Daily papers now believe in putting up not only news but also comment and analysis of that news as it happens. Sunday papers continue to believe in news stories off the obvious agenda or in reflective comment and analysis that is held until the end of the week."

This prompts Jeff Jarvis to ponder their fate as well:

"The problem there is that Sunday papers have separate staffs -- thus added costs -- and in the case of the Guardian, a separate brand: The Observer . . .

"In the U.S. most Sunday papers operate with the same staffs as the daily. When I was Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, I saw continuing efforts to dedicate reporting staff to Sunday, efforts that failed as the hands were recruited to work on daily stories. So the inefficiency of a separate Sunday staff is not really an issue here. And I don't fully understand why it is an issue in the UK; Sunday's just another day, only fatter.

"But I do wonder about the fate of the Sunday paper from our end of the press. I don't read Sunday papers anymore. I spend the weekend catching up on reading many sources, including Sunday papers, online. Sunday's best business reason to exist here was classified advertising and with that shriveling like a year-old grape, they are less profitable. Oh, they're not doomed yet. As long as papers still print, they'll likely print on Sundays. Saturday papers face a more dire fate here, since they are not bought and have little advertising. But I have to wonder whether the tradition of the fat Sunday read is in doubt here as well."

I'm not a political consultant, but after reading this Las Vegas Sun story, I'd say this is not want you want in the final weeks of an election:

"Police said they would release new information, including 911 tapes and witness interviews, about a mysterious event Friday in which a woman accused Republican governor candidate Jim Gibbons of assault, only to withdraw the allegation.

"The story is still stirring questions, fed by Democratic whispering, by information and contradictory accounts gleaned from Metro Police and a potential witness, and by the refusal of police or the Gibbons campaign to identify the people involved.

"As questions grew this week, police said they would provide more information Tuesday. But late in the afternoon, they postponed the release until today, saying they needed more time to transcribe and assemble statements.

"The incident occurred about 10 p.m. Friday night, after Gibbons and campaign adviser Sig Rogich dined with supporters at McCormick & Schmick's restaurant near the corner of Flamingo and Paradise roads. Rogich is a longtime Republican consultant and lobbyist with strong ties to Nevada's casino industry. He has an office near the restaurant.

"After dinner, Rogich and Gibbons retreated to the bar to wait out a rainstorm. In the bar, Rogich said Tuesday, he and Gibbons met two female attorneys who worked in Rogich's building and two other women, one of whom knew the two attorneys. The incident with Gibbons occurred after the candidate left the bar.

"Among the information that has surfaced this week is the existence of a second 911 call alleging an assault."

If I were a political consultant, I'd make my candidates stay home at night and have milk and cookies.

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