A postscript to President Obama’s phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, reportedly thanking Lurie for signing controversial quarterback Michael Vick. The call really torqued conservative pundit Tucker Carlson (also an animal lover), who said Vick should’ve been executed for torturing and killing dogs.
Now comes a report from Tacoma, Wash., that the father of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was told Obama doesn’t regularly phone individual families of war dead. Ouch. Here’s how it looks: The commander-in-chief can chit-chat with an NFL owner about resuscitating Michael Vick’s football career but can’t find the time to talk to the grieving parents of a dead soldier. “That burns,” said Patrick Collins, father of U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Collins, who was laid to rest recently. “Any soldier that gets killed in action, you’d think the president would be calling someone in the family,” Collins told the Tacoma News Tribune. “There’s no politics in it. His predecessor did it.” Double ouch.
Unfortunately, the newspaper reports, the Collins family suffered another slight when a sympathy letter arrived from the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Good intentions, poor execution: The News Tribune reports the last paragraph of the letter misidentified the fallen soldier.
No walk-back, yet, by Tucker Carlson from his broadcast remark that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should have been executed after being convicted of torturing and killing dogs. The editor in chief of The Daily Caller, an online news outlet, Carlson made the comment Tuesday while guest-hosting Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. “Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way, and I think personally he should have been executed for that,” Carlson said.
Yeah, that’s strong — too strong! But here’s some context: In addition to his work as a conservative pundit, Carlson is an animal rights defender. Earlier this year he recorded a public service spot for the Washington Animal Rescue League. He was talking about Vick in connection with President Obama’s phone call to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, reportedly thanking Lurie for signing Vick in 2009 after the player served 21 months in federal prison for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. Carlson said Obama’s support for “someone who murdered dogs” was “kind of beyond the pale.” He’s got a point about Obama but not about Vick and the death penalty. Tucker Carlson is a thoughtful, interesting commentator, but that one got away from him.
Not too many weeks ago much of the gab in Washington was about Barack Obama’s doomed presidency. His job approval ratings were in a free fall, Democrats got their corn creamed in the mid-term congressional elections and the atmosphere inside the Beltway resembled the scenes in “Gone With The Wind” where everybody’s trying to get out of Atlanta ahead of Sherman’s marauding Yankees.
That was then, this is now: Obama’s the “comeback kid” after Democrat majorities in the lame-duck Congress passed some items on his wish list — just before the dreaded Republicans take over the House and bulk up in the Senate. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, the New START arms control treaty was ratified and a new health care package for 9/11 first responders was created. Obama called it proof Democrats and Republicans can work together — under his leadership, of course — and scooted off to Hawaii for a luau. Stories appeared in The Washington Post, New York Times and on Web sites marveling at Obama’s resurgence. Amazing, right? Uh, no.
Lest we forget, Obama also absorbed a tax deal with Republicans that has ‘em rioting over at Moveon.org, and he and his Hill allies retreated on a gargantuan spending bill. DREAM Act legislation creating a citizenship path for illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as children, coveted by Obama, fizzled. As for Obama’s victories, the DADT repeal and New START both had significant Republican support all along. It’s not like Obama rose up and decreed their passage. Besides, as Jennifer Rubin writes on her Washington Post blog, Republicans wouldn’t trade victories on taxes, spending and the DREAM Act for wins on DADT and the treaty — “not in a million years.”
So has Obama got the “mojo” back? Unclear. Passing stuff with the help of a bunch of Democrats who won’t be back next month is hardly an objective test. Let’s see how things go when the 112th Congress comes to town before we start laying it on about comebacks.
Just about everyone knows U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn is known around Washington as “Senator No,” for the times he single-handedly has blocked what he considers wasteful federal spending and legislation funded by borrowing. In the clubby atmosphere of the Senate it’s an awkward roost — except that Coburn doesn’t care a whit about the institution’s you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours expectations.
Things get a little harrier when there’s an issue that attracts attention beyond the Beltway, such as legislation creating a health care package for 9/11 first responders. Coburn was opposed mostly because the spending wasn’t offset and because it bore the aroma of a new entitlement. Supporters easily morphed that position into attacks that Coburn didn’t care about first responders. Eventually, a compromise was worked out, but not before Coburn was portrayed as a heartless villain.
The issue illustrates one of Coburn’s main points about Washington: You can’t cut anything. Yes, we know the bill’s not paid for, it was said. But the first responders are sooo deserving. Guess what: The same can be said of just about every Washington program. Each has a deserving constituency. No one’s more consistent than Sen. Coburn in their opposition to that way of thinking. If it occasionally lands him in hot water from a PR standpoint, so be it. He doesn’t care much about PR, either.
Actual headline, seen on a national cable news network: “United Nations evacuated for suspicious odor” (Eye roll.) Next!
Seeing published remarks by Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos, talking negatively about the possible repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military, a question comes to mind: What are Amos’ plans after military service? It’s not the first time Amos has questioned the wisdom of repealing DADT (as the policy is known inside the Beltway). You’ve got to wonder how many times Amos can be publicly at odds with President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen on DADT before he gets word that he’s been invited to a wonderful retirement ceremony at Quantico.
Speaking to newspaper and wire service reporters, Amos said combat service requires such a focus that no distractions can be permitted. He said repealing the policy would harm unit cohesion. A Defense Department survey of armed services personnel found 58 percent of Marine combat unit members said repealing DADT would be a negative (compared to 48 percent in Army combat units). “The Marines came back and they said, ‘Look, anything that’s going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,’ ” Amos said. “I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I’ll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] Hospital … Marines are up there with no legs, none. We’ve got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs.” Amos adds that if higher ups repeal the policy he’ll salute and move smartly to implement changes. But the odds are rising he won’t get that chance.
The U.S. foreign policy community suffered a shocking blow Monday with the death of super special envoy Richard Holbrooke from complications related to weekend surgery to fix a torn aorta. Holbrooke was a 45-year diplomatic veteran and one of America’s ablest emissaries. He was ambassador to the United Nations during President Clinton’s second term. He was the Obama administration’s diplomatic point man for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Holbrooke’s work saved lives all over the world. He’ll be missed.
John Boehner, the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, admits he’s a pretty emotional guy. In a segment with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Boehner breaks up a couple of times and tells Lesley Stahl, “What you see is what you get.” The mere mention of children, U.S. security, the “American Dream” — his ascendancy to the speakership from working as the night janitor at a bar — all break Boehner up. He’s not ashamed of it, telling Stahl he’s comfortable in his own skin. As mentioned in another post, Boehner will be the sharp contrast with Barack Obama, our Cool Cat president. Yet, what of a leader whose face, at a moment’s notice, looks like it’s being melted by a heat dish? Maybe Boehner will liberate a lot of closet-crying men out there, tough guys who need help being comfortable in their own skins. Stahl thinks America will like Boehner’s crying. Maybe. Or maybe, after a few months of a watery-eyed Boehner, we’ll all wish former Marine/actor R. Lee Ermey would stop by Boehner’s office with a box of tissues.
Let’s see: You’re the president of the United States, in the unenviable position of having to defend your tax plan against your own party. So you call in the Big Tuna of re-enforcements: former President Bill Clinton. The two of you meet, you set your stra-tee-gery (as W. liked to say it) and you go out to meet the press, which is in a froth for some red meat. Things are going well. The big guy has ‘em eating out of his hand, and in the process he’s letting Democrats know they better back your tax deal or risk being blamed for unleashing the economy from hell on America. But then a question comes your way, you check your watch and announce you’ve got to leave. The first lady is waiting. You head for the briefing room door, leaving the Tuna with the press while America gets the idea Mrs. Obama is tugging your leash. The optics? Not so good.
U.S. House Democrats say the White House’s tax compromise with Republicans is a bridge too far for them. On Thursday the Democratic caucus held a non-binding vote rejecting President Obama’s tax deal that would keep income tax rates where they’ve been for the better part of the past decade. The deal also would temporarily lower the payroll tax and extend unemployment benefits. The last shriek of a House Democratic majority that’s about to go poof, or a rallying cry for progressives and liberals throughout the land? If taxes go up on all Americans in January, the backwash against Democrats might be fearful. “A clear majority of the U.S. House of Representatives supports this plan,” Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, said in a statement. “We are allowing the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus to hold these critically needed tax cuts hostage.” Maybe, but not for long. Even if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her loyalists fight it out on last stand hill, you’ve got to think the new Republican majority’s first agenda item will be taxes.