David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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David Plouffe For Democratic Party Chief?

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 2:28 PM EST

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe wouldn't say what he might be doing post-election.

Howard Dean is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This is no surprise; it's been known for months he would be departing after the election. The question is, who's next?

HuffingtonPost reports one possibility is that Dean will be replaced by a duo: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who would be the talk-show face of the party, and an operative who would do the operating (perhaps Steve Hildebrand, who was deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential bid).

But shouldn't the DNC job go to David Plouffe?

As the manager of Obama's campaign, Plouffe steered the best-run presidential campaign in years. He put together an effective campaign structure. He efficiently matched man, message, money, and machine. Developing his own version of Dean's 50-state strategy, Plouffe expanded the electoral map for Democrats. In public, he projected an image of calm, confidence, and competence. His public spin was always tethered to reality. He came across a master mechanic who believed in the mission, not an ideologue or a grandstander. And he beat the toughest, most experienced operation in politics: the Clintons.

It's no put-down of McCaskill to suggest Plouffe. Naming her DNC chief--with or without a partner--would have symbolic value. And she was an effective advocate for Obama, especially when he was locked in a fierce battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, though Obama appears to have lost her home state by 6000 votes. Perhaps if McCaskill becomes DNC head, that would help Obama and Dems narrow that narrow gap next time.

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Did Palin Declare Her Clothes as Gifts?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:36 PM EST

Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving--at least to journalists. Newsweek got a pop this week when it disclosed new details of Palin's infamous shopping sprees:

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

The Palin camp--such as it is--continues to deny she did anything wrong. But Alaska government watchdog Andrée McLeod is seeking information to determine whether Palin and her family kept any of these clothes. In recent months, McLeod has peppered Governor Palin's office with various Open Records Act requests. In response to a request McLeod filed in June, the Palin administration refused to release about 1100 emails from her office, claiming they covered confidential policy matters, even though the subject lines in some of these emails referred to a political foe, a journalist and non-policy topics. Now McLeod is focusing on Palin's Neiman Marcus free-for-all. This week, she filed a request for copies of "every record of gift disclosures assigned to Sarah Palin and all family members and/or extended family members (according to state regulations) since July 1, 2008."

The question, of course, is, did Palin declare any of the clothes she and her family acquired as gifts? Or did she consider them loaners (as convicted Senator Ted Stevens unsuccessfully claimed in regards to the gifts he received)? Under Alaska state law, Palin generally has to disclose gifts over $150.00 that she or a family member receives. McCleod wants to see what gift disclosures, if any, Palin has filed.

By the way, McLeod and others (including Mother Jones) have requests pending regarding the emails Palin has sent and received as governor (using her official and private accounts). Palin managed to delay producing these records until after the election. But the requests are still being processed by her office. By the time this information is released--and it may take months--will there still be much interest in the governor of Alaska?

Does John Boehner Have a Point about Rahm Emanuel?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 2:22 PM EST

Does Republican Representative John Boehner, the in-the-dumps House minority leader, have a point when he criticizes President-elect Barack Obama for tapping Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff? Boehner says:

This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.

Boehner misunderstood--or is now, for political gain, misrepresenting--Obama's call for cooperation and productivity in Washington as a vow to govern from the center. The policy proposals Obama presented during the campaign were mostly progressive. Hey, doesn't Boehner remember that Obama was blasted as an anti-American liberal and socialist by Boehner's fellow GOPers? They didn't seem to believe he was going to govern from the center.

Despite the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-a-centrist spin, Boehner is not incorrect in noting that Emanuel is not known as a nonpartisan agent of change in Washington. As the leading fundraiser for Democrats in the House in the 2006 election, Emanuel, a fierce partisan, did do much to change Washington by winning the House back for the Democrats. But he's a walking advertisement for how Washington does business (see here and here)--as is the less-successful Boehner.

By selecting Emanuel as first big appointment, Obama teed up the this-ain't-really-change ball for Boehner. And Boehner whacked it down the fairway. On Friday, Obama is slated to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. The speculation is that afterward he may have something to say about other appointments. Obama believers ought to hope he doesn't again make it easy for Boehner.

Is Rahm Emanuel--Reportedly Obama's New Chief of Staff--an Agent of Change?

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 3:24 PM EST

The Obama administration is already under way. And a new theme begins for the Obama tale: is he bringing real change to Washington?

The day after Barack Obama's historic and decisive victory, various media outlets are reporting that the president-elect has picked Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to be his White House chief of staff. Emanuel is one of the more colorful characters in Washington: a sharp-tongued, quick-witted partisan. He was one of the original Clinton warriors--those political operatives who guided Bill Clinton to the White House and then went to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He put in five years on the front lines of the Clinton wars--longer than most of his comrades--and then left to make millions of dollars in the private sector. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2002 and soon became the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Leading the DCCC, Emanuel was a prolific fundraiser and engineered the 2006 election wins that allowed the Democrats to regain control of the House.

A Washington player he is. Mother Jones profiled him and examined his tough-guy ways in 1993, a few months into his stint at the Clinton White House. When Emanuel left the Clinton White House in October 1998--during the Monica Madness--The Washington Post summed up his years there:

Obama Wins and Redefines Real America

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 12:53 AM EST

So who's a real American now?

With his decisive triumph over Senator John McCain, Senate Barack Obama made obvious history: he is the first black (or biracial) man to win the presidency. But the meaning of his victory--in which Obama splashed blue across previously red states--extends far beyond its racial significance. Obama, a former community organizer and law professor, won the White House as one of the most progressive (or liberal) nominees in the Democratic Party's recent history. Mounting one of the best run presidential bids in decades, Obama tied his support for progressive positions (taxing the wealthy to pay for tax cuts for working Americans, addressing global warming, expanding affordable health insurance, withdrawing troops from Iraq) to calls for cleaning up Washington and for crafting a new type of politics. Charismatic, steady, and confident, he melded substance and style into a winning mix that could be summed up in simple and basic terms: hope and change.

After nearly eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama was the non-Bush: intelligent, curious, thoughtful, deliberate, and competent. His personal narrative--he was the product of an unconventional family and worked his way into the nation's governing class--fueled his campaign narrative. His story was the American Dream v2.0. He was change, at least at skin level. But he also championed the end of Bushism. He had opposed the Iraq war. He had opposed Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He was no advocate of let-'er-rip, free market capitalism or American unilateralism. In policy terms, Obama represents a serious course correction.

And more. In the general election campaign, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, turned the fight for the presidency into a culture clash. They accused Obama of being a socialist. They assailed him for having associated with William Ayers, a former, bomb-throwing Weather Underground radical,who has since become an education expert. Palin indirectly referred to Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who once preached fiery sermons denouncing the United States government for certain policies. On the campaign trail, Palin suggested there were "real" parts of America and fake parts. At campaign events, she promoted a combative, black-helicopter version of conservatism: if you're for government expansion, you're against freedom. During her one debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, she hinted that if her opponents won the White House there might come a day when kids would ask their grandparents what it had been like to live in a free country. At McCain-Palin rallies, supporters shouted out, "Communist!" and "terrorist!" and "Muslim!" when the Republican candidates referred to Obama. And McCain and Palin hurled the standard charges at Obama: he will raise your taxes and he is weak on national security.

Put it all together and the message was clear: there are two types of Americans. Those who are true Americans--who love their nation and cherish freedom--and those who are not. The other Americans do not put their country first; they blame it first. The other Americans do not believe in opportunity; they want to take what you have and give it to someone else. The other Americans do not care about Joe the Plumber; they are out-of-touch elitists who look down on (and laugh at) hard-working, church-going folks. The other Americans do not get the idea of America. They are not patriots. And it just so happens that the other America is full of blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and non-Christians.

McCain, Palin and their compatriots did what they could to depict Obama as the rebel chief of this other un-American America. (Hillary Clinton helped set up their effort during the primaries by beating the Ayers drum.) Remember the stories of Obama's supposed refusal to wear a flag pin or place his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance? The emails about Obama being a secret Muslim? The goal was to delegitimize Obama, as well as the Americans who were moved by his biography, his rhetoric, and his ideas. It was back to the 1960s--drawing a harsh line between the squares (the real Americans) and the freaks (those redistribution-loving, terrorist-coddling faux Americans).

It didn't work.

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