Item: U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, was one of 19 Democrats who didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi in Wednesday’s contest for House speaker. The vote itself was academic; John Boehner is speaker because Republicans outnumber Democrats in the new House 242-193. More significant is the strain within Democratic ranks, illustrated by the largest repudiation of a party’s candidate for speaker in nearly 90 years. As Chris Casteel reports in The Oklahoman, Boren’s vote was no surprise. He had told numerous town hall meetings last year he wouldn’t support Pelosi in the speaker’s vote, and he didn’t. “I kept my word,” he said, voting instead for North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler.
A couple of points. As mentioned, there must be a number of unhappy campers in the Democratic cloakroom because Pelosi is still leading their parade — even more than were willing to oppose her publicly. (On the flip side, it’s amazing that a guy like Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, who eked out an 800-vote victory in November over an opponent he beat by 12 percentage points in 2008, still voted for Pelosi.)
As for Boren and others who defied her, wow! The old adage says you don’t take on the king (or queen, as it were) unless you’re sure you can knock ‘em off the throne. Pelosi’s still there. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle those awkward situations in the House elevators. Seriously, keep an eye on Boren and the others to see if Pelosi follows through with another old saying: Don’t get mad, get even.
As tempting as it is to bemoan the Navy’s loss of an obviously capable officer — you don’t rise to the command of an aircraft carrier by being anything less than stellar — Capt. Owen Honors’ rapid defrocking over some reportedly coarse and sexually explicit videos in which he starred was necessary. Shipboard life is notoriously salty, and lots of USS Enterprise crew members probably laughed themselves silly to see Honors, the ship’s executive officer when the videos were made in 2006 and 2007, doing the things he did. Honors surely did it for the laughs. But now he’s a laughingstock, unceremoniously yanked from command of the Enterprise, which he’d held since May. Military leadership is a combination of intelligence, decisive analytical skills and charisma. But it’s also about judgment, and Capt. Honors’ dishonorable comportment showed he’s lacking in that department — which is why he’s contemplating a career out of uniform now.
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.
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.
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.
Right-Wing Conspiracy? Bah, humbug! If it was as powerful as Hillary Clinton alleges, Bristol Palin would’ve won “Dancing with the Stars” Tuesday night. But she didn’t. She and partner Kyle Massey finished third behind winning couple Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. But not before lots of Americans became convinced votes from tea partiers were keeping Palin on the show even as she received lower scores from judges than other competitors who got the boot.
The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn penned a funny column recently describing her angst as Palin survived week after week while better dancers got sent home. “This could be a metaphor for things to come,” Quinn wrote. “Sarah Palin is a force to be reckoned with and if her supporters can influence a TV show of 23 million viewers they can have more serious influence on elections. And if they can mobilize the religious right then the Democrats better pay attention and start dancing as fast as they can.” Ultimately, Grey prevailed. Of course, Grey is a ringer. Her dad is famed danceman Joel Grey and she starred in “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze in 1987. Takes a lot more than the mythical RWC to overcome bloodlines and professional talent.