No Hot Tamale

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 9:58 AM

Bill Richardson says he is trying to "get more Hispanics to know that I'm Hispanic, which is a slight problem," adding: "The name doesn't help."

Memo to Richardson: You also need to get more people, Anglo and otherwise, to know that you're running for president.

I've been scratching my head over the Richardson candidacy for some time. The guy's a governor, a westerner, a former Energy secretary, a former congressman, a former ambassador to the U.N. and a global troubleshooter who's managed to get hostages freed. Despite that resume, he is mired so deep in the Democratic second tier that it must be hard to see the first tier.

CNN carried a couple of minutes of his announcement speech Monday and then cut away; the other cable networks weren't taking it live. The NYT, WP and LAT (the New Mexico governor made the speech in Los Angeles) had substantial stories, the network newscasts each gave Richardson half a minute, and "Fox & Friends" aired an interview yesterday. But the coverage was modest at best. (Yes, I know he's been running for months and that these official "announcements" are just attention-getting devices, but that didn't stop planeloads of reporters from covering Barack Obama's formal kickoff.)

It seems odd for a guy who grew up in Mexico City to complain that he's not being properly recognized as a Hispanic. Is that how we wants to frame his candidacy? It reminds me of his recent gaffe in which he said he was reluctant to call for the attorney general's ouster because Gonzo is Hispanic.

Says MSNBC's Tucker Carlson: "It strikes me as out of bounds for a candidate -- it ought to be out of bounds -- to campaign on his ethnicity."

I think what Tucker means is that Richardson shouldn't be so blatant about it. After all, generations of Irish, Italian, Jewish and black politicians have won mayor's and governor's races with strong support from their people. Hillary and Barack don't have to say a word to advertise their novel status as presidential candidates.

The media are barely covering Richardson because he's low in the polls. If he managed to get some traction, more people would learn about his roots and he wouldn't have to wave his arms and say, "Hey! I'm Hispanic!"

Former McCain adviser Dan Schnur writes in the L.A. Times:

"Richardson's problem is that Latino voters don't know he's Latino. And although there's no guarantee that they will vote for him simply because of his ethnicity, his trailblazing endeavor would certainly bring him a much greater share of attention from the nation's fastest-growing minority community once they do find out . . .

"Richardson himself can be blamed for much of the unfamiliarity with his ethnic background. Although his mother's maiden name was Lopez, he has rejected advice throughout his career to campaign under her surname. He looks less like Benicio del Toro or Antonio Banderas and more like John Belushi."

Then he should get the SNL vote.

Dick Polman begins his Philadelphia Inquirer analysis much as I started this column: "On paper, Bill Richardson would appear to be the perfect Democratic presidential candidate."

But he says the governor is vulnerable to a certain line of GOP attacks: "I can see it now: 'Bill Richardson, serial exaggerator.' In other words, a replay of 2000, when Al Gore wore the label.

"I say this, because Richardson has been known on occasion to stray beyond the factual. Maybe that's a key character flaw, maybe not. But the point is, the GOP has been masterful at converting trivialities into hyperbole. And Monday, for instance, even as Richardson officially announced his '08 candidacy, two seemingly minor matters caught my attention.

"First, while launching his campaign in vote-rich and heavily Hispanic California, he hawked his credentials as a son of the Golden State: 'It means so much to me to announce my candidacy in California, the state that I was born.' I was surprised to learn he was a native Californian . . . but, it turns out, that was only technically true. Within hours, he felt compelled to amend his story, by confessing that that his stint as a native Californian lasted 'about eight hours,' because his father had wanted him to be born on American soil, as opposed to Mexican soil. So why did Richardson stress California roots in his announcement? Because, he replied, 'now there's the California primary, so I'm trying to improve those roots." (my emphasis) . . .

"Richardson used to claim that, during a youthful stint on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had served as the top foreign affairs aide to liberal legend Hubert Humphrey. But he dropped the claim when the press discovered it was untrue . . .

"Richardson also used to claim that, as a young amateur baseball player, he had been drafted in 1966 by the big-league Kansas City Athletics. He repeated this claim for nearly four decades; it turned up in his campaign biography when he ran for Congress, and again in a Clinton White House press release in 1997, on the eve of his stint as U.N. ambassador. Eighteen months ago, a New Mexico newspaper established that the claim was bogus. Richardson didn't dispute finding: 'After being notified of the situation and after researching the matter . . . I came to the conclusion that I was not drafted by the A's.' "

Came to the conclusion? Ay, caramba.

A long-anticipated retreat on the Hill:

"Congressional Democrats relented Tuesday on their insistence that a war spending measure set a date for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq," says the New York Times. "Instead, they moved toward a deal with President Bush that would impose new conditions on the Iraqi government.

"The decision to back down was a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats, who saw their election triumph in November as a call to force an end to the war. It was the first time since taking power in Congress that the Democrats had publicly agreed to allow a vote on war financing without a timetable for troop withdrawal.

"But even so, many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, indicated that they would not support the war money, meaning that a significant number of Republicans would have to sign on to ensure the plan's approval."

Wal-Mart remains a dirty word in Democratic politics:

"Michelle Obama resigned her position as a director of TreeHouse Foods on Tuesday, ending the relationship with the Wal-Mart supplier that had threatened to become a problem for the presidential campaign of her husband, Sen. Barack Obama," reports the Chicago Tribune.

Some liberals find it hard to fathom that Bush hasn't already been tossed out of office. Salon's Gary Kamiya offers a theory:

"Why was Clinton, who was never as unpopular as Bush, impeached for lying about sex, while Bush faces no sanction for the far more serious offense of lying about war?

"The main reason is obvious: The Democrats think it's bad politics. Bush is dying politically and taking the GOP down with him, and impeachment is risky. It could, so the cautious Beltway wisdom has it, provoke a backlash, especially while the war is still going on. Why should the Democrats gamble on hitting the political jackpot when they're likely to walk away from the table big winners anyway?

"These realpolitik considerations might be sufficient by themselves to prevent Congress from impeaching Bush. Impeachment is a strange phenomenon -- a murky combination of the legal, the political and the emotional . . .

"But there's a deeper reason why the popular impeachment movement has never taken off -- and it has to do not with Bush but with the American people. Bush's warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America's support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It's a national myth. It's John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness -- come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we're not ready to do that.

"The truth is that Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves."

Hard to square that, I think, with two-thirds of the country now being against the war. Maybe they just don't see impeachment as a suitable remedy.

American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta provides a reality check:

"And here I thought the caution around impeaching Bush was just because Dick Cheney is vice president, next in the line of succession, and even worse than the president. The Democrats have so slim and recent a governing majority in the Congress that just getting their minimum wage hike through has become a stuggle, to say nothing of getting the president to sign on to an exit strategy from Iraq. Moving to impeach the president would result in a complete scuttling of their own agenda during times that require urgent action, as well as being the one thing Democrats could do to rally the G.O.P. base and build support for the president."

Now we know how John Edwards pays for those $400 haircuts:

"Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who as a Democratic presidential candidate recently proposed an educational policy that urged 'every financial barrier' be removed for American kids who want to go to college, has been going to college himself -- as a high paid speaker, his financial records show.

"The candidate charged a whopping $55,000 to speak at to a crowd of 1,787 the taxpayer-funded University of California at Davis on Jan. 9, 2006 last year, Joe Martin, the public relations officer for the campus' Mondavi Center confirmed Monday," says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Bull Dog Pundit, writing on a site founded by Patrick Hynes, says:

"I actually heard the audio of McCain's comment. And you know what - it certainly wasn't a 'meltdown' or a 'childish insult.' I thought it was actually a pretty good comeback at Romney. Why? Because Romney has the rap of a flip-flopper on this issue (and rightfully so by my reading), as well as many others. And while not many outside the political junkie class will get the reference to 'Guatemalan gardener,' it was pretty funny, and really quite harmless.

"Now let me be clear on a few things. The whole story about Romney and his lawn care service using illegals was an overblown non-story (and I said so here). But for Hewitt and Barnett to blow McCain's comment up into some big deal is frankly, quite laughable. Both should realize that, especially now that the actual audio has been released.

"From reading their accounts you'd think it was a huge blow-up, but when you hear it your reaction is 'That's it? Are you serious?' It reminds me of the time during the Clinton impeachment that the GOP was in such a hurry to get out Clinton's deposition testimony because they said he had a 'temper tantrum' that would turn the public against him. The only problem was that the actual video showed no such thing.

"Now I know that some of you may be saying that I'm only bringing this up because Pat works for McCain. Well, you can think that if you want but you'd be wrong. Pat has never told me what to say or write, and I wouldn't do it if he asked."

Fred Thompson is blogging again, this time on Pajamas Media, and there are lots of comments:

"Whether or not the Internet can elect any particular candidate in any particular race, it's clear that all of you and our many friends across the blogosphere and the Web are part of a true information revolution. That's why so much of my effort has been focused on talking to Americans through this medium. By empowering individuals and building communities, the Internet provides a way of going around the inside-the-beltway crowd to reach people in numbers unheard of not that long ago."

The governor of Florida is dating America's hottest mom.

In Wired, Regina Lynn tackles a subject I've never had time to ponder:

"As humans begin to spend more time in space and to travel further from Earth, space agencies will need to factor sex into their equations . . .

"We cannot expect astronauts to spend three years in a spacecraft and not have sex -- of some kind. Probably with each other, and likely in more than one combination.

"Sex in space presents a number of challenges beyond tangible matters like zero gravity or awkward enclosures. In fact, the physics should be the least of NASA's concerns.

"It's the touchy-feely bit that the agency will need to consider seriously. Blindly applying Earth-bound standards that astronauts cannot follow under space-voyage conditions will only lead to guilt and shame.

"What happens if one person in the spaceship makes a romantic overture, only to be rebuffed? What happens if an astronaut in a relationship back home falls in love with another member of the mission? What to do -- send a breakup text message from Mars?"

That would really send cable news into the stratosphere.

Finally, a tale of Daddy Dearest:

"It could be a chilly Father's Day for Oprah Winfrey 's dad.

"The talk queen tells us she's 'shocked' and 'disappointed' that she had to hear it from the Daily News that her 74-year-old pop, Vernon, is writing a book about her.

"Winfrey said she laughed recently when 'one of my assistants said, "The Daily News is calling. They say they heard your father is writing a book about you." I said, "That's impossible. I can assure them it's not true." '

" 'But then my sister said, "I think you should call your father." I called him and it turned out he is writing a book. The worst part of it was him saying, "I meant to tell you I've been working on it." '

"Winfrey, 53, confided, 'I was upset. I won't say devastated, but I was stunned. The last person in the world to be doing a book about me is Vernon Winfrey,' she added. "The last person.' "

"Oprah was 14 and pregnant when she left her mother's home in Milwaukee to live with her father in Nashville. Her baby died weeks after he was born. She has said before that she's grateful to her father for helping her go on, for teaching her discipline and the importance of education.

"Nevertheless, Vernon, who plans to call his book, 'Things Unspoken,' was quoted as saying he should have been tougher on her, because Oprah was 'out of hand and an unruly child.' "

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