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.
For over two decades, Democrats planning their party's presidential conventions have faced a dilemma: what to do with Jimmy Carter? After losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter was not the most popular fellow around. In the following years, the party wasn't eager to remind voters that Carter had once been its leaders. In recent years, Carter, while engaged in multiple humanitarian efforts at home and abroad, has sparked controversy with his candid talk about Middle East matters.
This time around, the convention planners devised a smart and appropriate way to use and acknowledge--and pay tribute--to one of the best ex-presidents in U.S. history. They showed a film in which Carter, labeled both president and humanitarian, interviewed victims of Hurricane Katrina in their still-devastated New Orleans neighborhoods. Carter also narrated the film, noting that Katrina "sent a signal around the world that our own government couldn't take care of own people." He noted that what has happened--and not happened--in New Orleans is similar to what he has seen in the poorest regions of the world. "We have been forgotten," one New Orleans resident told him, as he nodded sympathetically. That sympathy was obviously genuine. And Carter took the obvious jab at George W. Bush, noting that Barack Obama, if elected, will make sure that such an inadequate government response never happens again.
Once the film ended, Carter hit the stage, with his wife, Rosalynn. The thousands of Democratic delegates cheered loudly for them. He said nothing. He waved. He left. It was well done--and a reminder that this ex-president has been more effective than the current one.
Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, was standing outside a Walgreen's on 16th Street in downtown Denver yesterday. It was a beautiful afternoon, and scores of his fellow Democrats who had arrived for their party's conventions were strolling up and down the 16th Street Mall, past high-end chain stores and restaurants. It felt like something of a block party. Ford, an African-American who lost a 2006 Senate bid after his foes ran an ad featuring a young white woman noting that Ford had attended a Playboy mansion party and asking him for a date, joyously greeted members of Congress, political operatives, and reporters who happened to pass by. But he did have a worry. A worry regarding Hillary Clinton. Not the Senator herself. But her die-hard supporters. Ford said that he feared that Clinton supporters who had come to Denver to demand Clinton receive the party's presidential nomination--and who were planning demonstrations and events during the week--could cause trouble.
Two blocks away, two of those Clinton supporters were hoping--and planning--exactly for that. Nancy Kirlen, a middle-aged woman from San Diego, and Kathy Skerl, also middle-aged and from Asheville, North Carolina, stood at the entrance to the Sheraton Hotel, where media credentials were being distributed, and enthusiastically told reporters of their intentions to derail the convention.
With Senator Barack Obama recognized by the vast majority of Democrats as the presumptive nominee, with Senator Joe Biden tapped as his running-mate, with no major debates under way about the party platform, the convention appears to be short on news, suspense and conflict. With the exception of one possible plot-line: the revenge of the Hillaryites. Reporters looking for a story have focused on the possible clash between this band of activists and the party.
Their goal--to get Clinton nominated by persuading superdelegates to ditch Obama for her--is certainly far-fetched. The question is, can they create enough sound and fury--amplified or not by the mainstream media--to make it appear that there is significant dissension within the ranks? Outside the Sheraton, Kirlen said she expected thousands of Hillary-backers to take to Denver's streets for a Tuesday march. Skerl lowered expectations, saying the crowd might number in the hundreds. In addition to the march, several other rallies for Hillary are planned before the roll call vote at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night.
In the end, Barack Obama used unconventional means to announce a conventional choice for his running-mate.
Via a three A.M. text message sent to the cell phones of his supporters, donors and volunteers, Obama's campaign declared that he had chosen Senator Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat, to be "our" veep nominee. (Three in the morning--was this a dig at Senator Hillary Clinton or just a coincidence?) With this I'll-let-you-know-first gimmick, Obama had snagged millions of cell numbers and email addresses his campaign can use in the weeks ahead to motivate voters and push them to the polls on Election Day. So in purely tactical terms, his running-mate rollout was indeed pioneering and widely successful. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether he made a smart pick by attaching his campaign for change to a fellow who has worked Washington's ways in the Senate for 35 years.
Sometimes going conventional is not the wrong course. During the past weeks of veep-frenzy, Biden's assets and liabilities have been dissected repeatedly. He possesses extensive foreign policy experience (which Obama does not). He can do straight-talk relatively well for a senator (while Obama has been accused of not fully connecting with working-class voters). Then again, Biden has suffered in the past from both verbal diarrhea and gaffe-itis. I've attended many committee hearings in the Senate when Biden turned a question into a long-winded monologue that drove people in the room to want to shout, "Question, Senator, do you have a question?!!" And there are times when Biden's mental filter has switched off and he has said the dumbest thing, such as when he famously called Obama "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." (The Daily Mail headlined its account of Obama's pick this way: "Obama names 'gaffe-prone' Joe Biden as his running mate.")
But Biden is a smart legislator who has shown that he can suppress his own faults when he must. He had a good campaign this past year as a presidential candidate. He won few votes but performed well at the debates and demonstrated he could keep his infamous verbosity under control. At the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, while other Democrats got bogged down in legal jargon practically indecipherable to the average person, Biden peppered Roberts with straightforward questions about Roberts' claim that he merely wanted to be an umpire on the bench who calls constitutional balls and strikes. "Much as I respect your metaphor," Biden countered, "it's not very apt, because you get to determine the strike zone. The founders never set a strike zone." It was the best moment of the hearing.
Sean McFate is the son of Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate), the NRA-connected private spy who infiltrated the gun control movement for about 15 years. Her tale was first disclosed by Mother Jones last week. That article noted that Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper, and his wife, Montgomery McFate, a controversial Pentagon adviser, had once both worked for Mary Lou Sapone's business, which specialized, according to an old version of Montgomery's resume, in "domestic and internal opposition research" and "special investigations." Sean and Montgomery McFate might also have been involved in Mary Lou Sapone's penetration of the gun control community.
More recently, Sean McFate was program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. That is, he was until the appearance of the Mother Jones story on his mother.
As that story was being posted last week, McFate was listed on BPC's staff list on its website. Days later, his name was gone.
Asked about McFate's fate, the BPC issued this statement:
So far the National Rifle Association's reaction to the Mother Jonesinvestigation that revealed that a NRA-connected mole had penetrated the gun control community for 15 years has been nothing but silence. No matter which media outfit asks the gun lobby for a comment--ABC News, Associated Press, Mother Jones--the NRA declines to say anything. It just refuses to explain its connection to Mary Lou Sapone, the self-described "research consultant" who infiltrated various gun control groups under the name of Mary McFate. As we first reported, a onetime business associate of Sapone said during a deposition that the NRA was a client for Sapone.
Why won't the NRA speak? Can anyone compel it to respond to the Sapone story?
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first in Congress to give it a try. On Thursday, he sent a letter to John Sigler, the president of the NRA:
I write regarding Mother Jones' recent expose of a reported National Rifle Association (NRA) operative who infiltrated a number of gun violence prevention organizations. This story contains serious allegations and I urge you to address them quickly.
According to Mother Jones, Mary McFate spent more than a decade rising through the ranks at several gun violence prevention organizations, including CeaseFire PA, Freedom States Alliance and States United to Prevent Gun VIolence. At the same time, however, McFate--going by the name Mary Lou Sapone--reportedly was a paid "research consultant" for the NRA. As a result, McFate/Sapone was in a position to learn about, and to report back to the NRA on, the concerns, plans and strategies of various gun violence prevention groups.
In light of these serious charges, I call upon you to immediately:
* Admit whether these charges are true or false;
* If these charges are true, disclose the precise nature of the NRA's relationship with Mary McFate/Mary Lou Sapone, including how much she was paid, the time periods for which she received payment and the services she provided;
* Make public the names (including any aliases) of any other NRA employees, consultants, members, or volunteers who have joined gun violence prevention organizations in order to report to the NRA on their activities; and
* Denounce and discontinue the practice of asking or encouraging NRA employees, consultants, members and volunteers to infiltrate gun violence prevention groups.
Although the NRA and I certainly have had our disagreements over the years, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Lautenberg also sent copies of this letter to Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, and Chris Cox, who heads the NRA's political arm.
Will Lautenberg receive a prompt reply of any substance? As an advocate of gun control measures, Lautenberg is indeed not one of the NRA's favorite legislators. But can the gun lobby ignore his request for information about its involvement in the McFate/Sapone episode? And if it does tell him to get lost, what might happen next? But whatever occurs, the NRA's silence up to now hardly allays suspicions about its role in the McFate operation.