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.
On Friday morning, on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, guest-host Susan Page made me--really, really, really made me--and the two other commentators (PR man/syndicated columnist Tony Blankley and Politico's Jeanne Cummings) predict John McCain's running-mate pick. None of us were eager to prognosticate. But Page insisted.
Earlier in the day, I had pondered the conventional-wisdom short-list of McCain's choices: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Bush budget director Rob Portman, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. At least three of these contenders should be nowhere near McCain's calculations:
* Ridge: He favors abortion rights. That could help McCain with independent voters, when the inevitable McCain-wants-to-criminalize-abortion ads start flooding the airwaves in the fall. But does McCain want to be at war with the base of his party from now until election day? (One problem for McCain is that he cannot win without the party's base, and he may not be able to win by catering to it. What a paradox!)
* Portman: As the economy slides further into a ravine--and Bush's approval ratings remain in the gutter--does McCain want by his side the man who was in charge of Bush's budget? Portman does hail from the must-win state of Ohio, and he's considered an affable and effective campaigner. But McCain would find it harder to distance himself from Bush's economic policies with one of Bush's key economic appointees on the ticket.
* Jindal: As I noted earlier, if McCain opts for this 37-year-old overachiever, he will make exorcism a campaign issue, for Jindal will have to explain his 1994 account of an exorcism in which he participated--and prove his account was true. Also, Jindal's record in Louisiana has been not-so-stellar recently. Senator, once more, can you explain whether you believe that Satanic demons can take possession of an individual and that people like your running-mate can perform amateur exorcisms to drive these spirits away?
So that leaves Pawlenty and Romney. Pawlenty comes from a swing state, but he has no standing on the national stage. "Pawlenty of nothing," one conservative pundit quipped to me recently. As for Romney, he does okay (not great) with the GOP base (the part of which that does not consider Mormonism to be an anti-Christian cult), and he can talk about his business experience at a time when the economy is ailing. One key question is, is McCain still pissed off at Romney over his attacks on McCain during the primary campaign? McCain does have anger issues. (See here for a recent example.)
When pressed for an answer by Page, I went with Romney, noting I was probably wrong. Blankley chose Ridge. And Cummings picked Portman, adding that voters would not necessarily identify him with Bush. But we all stipulated that we had no clue. As for me, I doubt that the veep pick will make much of a difference for McCain's campaign. He (and Barack Obama, too) ought to keep in mind the cardinal rule: first, do no harm. Yet that short-list is full of potential dangers.
Elections, the consultants tell us, are about the future, not the past. And all politics is not only local but aspiration-driven. It's about not only what's gone wrong or what people fear but what voters want and, yes, hope, for. And Barack Obama is quite good at speaking about aspirations, whether at home or abroad.
From his much-anticipated speech in Berlin on Thursday:
People of Berlin people of the world this is our moment. This is our time. I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived at great cost and great sacrifice to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.
These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people everywhere became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation our generation must make our mark on the world.
The speech was predictably grand; the photo op, superb, with Obama bathed in golden light. There's not much policy in these eloquent words--though elsewhere in the speech he did speak about the pressing need to globally confront climate change, poverty, and AIDS. But in politics--and in government--inspiration does matter. And being a great communicator of lofty ideals is not a bad credential for a candidate--or a president.
Usually, there's no reason to pay much attention to the scandal news of the National Enquirer. But in a recent report, the mag claims that several of its reporters witnessed and confronted John Edwards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where a woman, who months ago was alleged by the magazine to have become pregnant due to an affair with Edwards, was checked in--with her child. (The woman and Edwards initially both denied they were romantically involved.) The latest story is full of firsthand details--Edwards fleeing the Enquirer snoops, hiding in a bathroom, being escorted out by a security detail--that perhaps even the Enquirer would be hesitant to fabricate. After all, it can be sued by either Edwards or the woman.
Blogger Mickey Kaus has complained that the MSM hasn't touched the matter: "Will this be the first presidential-contender level scandal to occur completely in the undernews, without ever being reported in the cautious, respectable MSM?" But it's tough for responsible journalists to figure out how to handle a report from the gutter about a potential vice presidential candidate. Yet whether you read about this matter in the Times or not, the veep-vetters of the Obama campaign have probably paid the story notice. If Edwards is still in contention, he better have for them a rather convincing denial to allay suspicions that this time the scandalmongers of the Enquirer might have actually gotten it right.
As John McCain moves to select a running mate, it seems--at least for the moment--that the star of potential veep nominee Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, is rising. This is good news for Democrats.
On one level, Jindal is impressive. The son of Indian immigrants, he's only 37 years old, and he has already been elected a member of the U.S. House and a governor. (Talk about a Junior Achiever!) Yet can McCain, who claims Obama is not sufficiently experienced to become president, say with a straight face that Jindal is prepared to take the helm? And Jindal's record in Louisiana--including his stint in charge of the state health department--has its spotty moments. Then there's that exorcism.
Blogs and news outfits have already picked over a 1994 essay that Jindal, a convert to Catholicism, wrote for a Catholic magazine, describing an exorcism of a friend in which he was an observer/participant. Not only did Jindal and his pals manage to drive the Satanic demon out of their friend; the exercise, Jindal suggested, also cured her skin cancer. The article was entitled, "Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare."
Americans tend to be quite religious. Most tell pollsters they believe in heaven and hell (and assume they are heading upward, not downward, once they expire). Many tend to believe literally in the devil. But how will an amateur exorcism--that violated Catholic law (which allows only certified exorcists to perform the ritual in very limited circumstances)--play with, say, swing voters? No doubt, Jindal will have to discuss the episode. With Oprah perhaps? That would indeed be Must See TV.
Here's one excerpt of his article that an interviewer might want to ask about:
While Alice and Louise held Susan, her sister continued holding the Bible to her face. Almost taunting the evil spirit that had almost beaten us minutes before, the students dared Susan to read biblical passages. She choked on certain passages and could not finish the sentence "Jesus is Lord." Over and over, she repeated "Jesus is L..L..LL," often ending in profanities. In between her futile attempts, Susan pleaded with us to continue trying and often smiled between the grimaces that accompanied her readings of Scripture. Just as suddenly as she went into the trance, Susan suddenly reappeared and claimed "Jesus is Lord."
With an almost comical smile, Susan then looked up as if awakening from a deep sleep and asked, "Has something happened?" She did not remember any of the past few hours and was startled to find her friends breaking out in cheers and laughter, overwhelmed by sudden joy and relief.
As a vice presidential candidate, Jindal would be under great pressure--and ought to be--to make other participants in the event available for interview. In the article, he used fake names. But he insisted every single detail was true. Given that such an event must have had a profound impact on him--he came face to face with a real demon!-- this possible president-in-waiting would be obligated to prove that he got the story right, that he was not exaggerating. (Remember how the press and the GOPers went after Al Gore's claims in 2000 with a vengeance?) And the media, of course, would be on the hunt to find "Susan" to get her side of the tale. (Enquiring minds might want to know if her skin cancer is still gone.)
Is Jindal prepared to disclose more about this exorcism? Is the McCain campaign prepared to see more disclosed? The event is a legitimate target for voter interest and media scrutiny. After all, Representative Dennis Kucinich had to explain his UFO sighting. And Jindal should not be allowed to hide behind the cloaks of faith and personal privacy. Barack Obama had no choice but to explain his relationship to a particular minister. He didn't duck the issue by claiming it was a private relationship based on faith. So if Jindal is anointed by McCain, the exorcism will be fair game.
America may or may not be ready for a national political debate about exorcism and Satanic demons. By picking Jindal as a running mate, McCain would give the country a chance to find out.
One of my favorite excuses in public life is the distraction excuse. It's used when someone is caught doing something he or she ought not to have done but does not want to admit the screw-up. So the wrongdoer says he or she is resigning, quitting, or running away to not become a "distraction" that diverts attention from a greater cause.
Thus, when former Senator Phil Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign, he did not acknowledge that his headline-making comments (Americans worried about the economy are "whiners" and there is nothing but a "mental recession" under way) were worthy of dismissal or that his past as a lobbyist for a Swiss bank and a Senate committee chairman who committed a backroom maneuver that led to the subprime crisis made him (or should have made him) radioactive for McCain. No, he took the faux noble route of purported self-sacrifice. Here is his statement:
It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country. That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain's ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country's problems, it hurts the country. To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as Co-Chair of the McCain Campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters.
Yep, the only problem is those awful Democrats who want to turn Gramm into a pinata-for-McCain. It does seem that McCain's foes will no longer have Gramm to kick around. But it sure won't be a distraction for Democrats to remind voters that when McCain was seeking economic advice he turned to a Swiss bank lobbyist who previously had helped steer the nation into the subprime debacle, for while Gramm may be gone, the consequences of his actions are still very much present.