2006 - %3, November

Will Moderate Republicans Defect?

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:53 PM EST

Over at Rolling Stone, Tim speculates:

I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one Republican defection in the Senate in the coming months. If you're Northeastern Republican this election ought to be writing on the wall. Especially in Pennsylvania, where four House seats dominoed to the Democrats, and Rick Santorum — the idological standard bearer for the Republican party — was rudely given his walking papers.
At the same time the Democratic party is clearly becoming a bigger ideological tent. If the devoutly pro-life Bob Casey is a Democrat why isn't the pro-choice Arlen Specter?
If Jim Webb is a Democrat. Why isn't Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins of Maine?
The Republican party is redefining itself as a regional party, and the region isn't the Northeast. Specter nearly lost his seat in 2004. If he'd been running as a Republican this year, he'd be preparing for a lobbying career right about now.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, meanwhile has zero wiggle room and a fickle Bush smoocher in Joe Lieberman on whom the whole game depends.
Reid's a very pragmatic guy. He's got powerful committee chairmanships to offer. Again, it's just a feeling I've got. The Democrats' majority is going to grow between now and 2008.

Thoughts?

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In the Heartland, a Vote for Separation of Church and State

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:26 PM EST

From the Associated Press:

BOISE, Idaho — City voters have rejected a proposal to return a Ten Commandments monument to a public park in a referendum on religious displays on public property.

With 99% of precincts counted, the vote was 37,568 to 33,747, about 53% to 47% against moving the monument back to city property.

Boise's debate began in March 2004 after Mayor Dave Bieter and the City Council agreed to move a 40-year-old granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from Julia Davis Park to an Episcopal church across the street from the Statehouse.

Was the vote a bellwether for Midwestern social values? Maybe, maybe not. For what's it's worth, the AP notes that Boise had removed the statue to avoid a lawsuit brought by Rev. Fred Phelps of Kansas, who sought to erect an anti-gay monument in the same park. So maybe people were expressing sympathy for gays. Either way, Boise is busting out.

Eliot Spitzer, Enigmatic Superstar

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:18 PM EST

Though he's not yet governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer is already making popular moves. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle writes that the day after he was elected, Spitzer held a meeting between labor and big business, for a groupthink session on how to revitalize the New York state economy.

As Mother Jones reports, Spitzer has the ability to bring people together because of unique advantages that he had throughout campaign season. He has been considered the next governor of New York for so long, and led his opponent in the polls by so much, that he has never needed to throw his chits in with one side or another on labor issues, or for that matter, on any issues. The result is a rising progressive star who remains a question mark to most.

All of this and more from Mother Jones in a report and photo essay entitled, "Can Eliot Spitzer Stay Progressive?"

Oh, and if you want to work for Spitzer, he's accepting resumes now via his website.

Steny Hoyer's K Street Project

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 5:37 PM EST

Now that the Democrats have taken back Congress, members are jockeying for leadership positions. Among them is Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who announced he would seek the number two job in the House leadership, Majority Leader, the morning after the election. By all accounts the Maryland Democrat has been paving the way for this post for some time. As Zach Roth points out in a recent profile of Hoyer in Washington Monthly, the Democrat, if successful in securing the job, will have something in common with one of his Republican predecessors -- Tom DeLay. Like DeLay, Hoyer has made it his business to cultivate close ties to K Street, which, Roth notes, may not make him the best choice for Majority Leader, particularly since the Democrats have taken pains to distance themselves from the lobbying scandals that ensnared top Republicans:

...There is no doubt he has worked hard to curry favor on K Street. Over the last year and a half, he has ramped up an effort—begun soon after taking over the whip's job—to raise money for Democrats from Washington business lobbyists. Starting in late 2004, Hoyer and three close allies—Reps. Crowley, Tauscher, and John Tanner (D-Tenn.)—launched an energetic K-Street-outreach program, with a goal of raising $250,000 for vulnerable Democratic incumbents by June 2006. Later, they would switch the focus to raising money for promising Democratic challengers, increasingly basing their pitch on the growing likelihood that Democrats would retake the House this fall, and thus be in a position to pass legislation. Hoyer's particular political gifts—his persuasiveness, his talent for negotiation, and his willingness to see all sides of an issue—appear to have made him well suited to the task. "We find mutual interests, mutual ways to help each other," says [Bill] Cable, [Hoyer's] chief of staff.

But the outreach has at times complicated Democrats' efforts to capitalize on the slew of Republican influence-buying scandals—from Abramoff to DeLay to Cunningham to Safavian to Ney—that has come to light over the last year and a half. After Hoyer's office posted on its website a news story describing the fundraising project, Republicans were quick to call Hoyer a hypocrite for attacking the GOP over Abramoff while at the same time touting his relationships with lobbyists. Hoyer's staff quickly took the story down.

...More problematic than the fundraising program has been Hoyer's stance on lobbying reform, in which he has consistently stood in the way of Democratic efforts to unite behind a far-reaching approach. Hoyer's opposition to reform appears to be of long standing, and well known on both sides of the aisle. Back in October 1994, Congress had been considering a lobbying reform bill that many lawmakers privately considered too restrictive. According to Roll Call, DeLay and Hoyer were walking down the Capitol steps shortly before leaving for the October recess in advance of the midterms that would bring the GOP to power, when the Texan "cupped his hands around his mouth and chuckled to Hoyer, 'But lobbying reform is dead!'" DeLay, it seems, understood even then that he and Hoyer were of one mind on the issue.

Big D Stands for Democrat

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 4:46 PM EST

JR is finally dead. Dallas, the city of the eponymous TV show, the city which has (somewhat unfairly) been linked more than any other in the national psyche with everything Republican, is Republican no more. As the Dallas Morning News says: Big D Means Democrat Again.

For the first time in decades, straight ticket voting in Dallas County (the county of my birth) leaned against the GOP. The upshot? A whopping 41 of 42 Republican county judges up for reelection this year were tossed out on the curb. As I reported for Mother Jones a few weeks ago, the shift is part of a demographic trend in Texas that could eventually put the entire state back in the hands of Democrats.

But don't hold your breath. A big reason for the shift in Dallas County: white flight to exurbs such as (ironically-named) Frisco, a road stop on the Metroplex's march towards Oklahoma. The northward sprawl is giving new meaning to a common joke in Dallas: Why doesn't Texas fall into the Gulf of Mexico? Because Oklahoma sucks.

New Facts Appear In Tillman Shooting Affair

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 4:20 PM EST

The latest inquiry into the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman is scheduled to end in December. However, the Associated Press has studied thousands of pages of documents, conducted a number of interviews, and has uncovered some rather interesting facts:

Staff Sgt. Trevor Alders, one of the shooters, underwent a PRK laser eye procedure not long before the Tillman incident, and his vision was "hazy." In the absence of "friendly identifying hand signals," he assumed that both Tillman and an Afghan ally were enemies.

Spc. Steve Elliott described his excitement over seeing rifles, muzzle flashes and "shapes." Spc. Stephen Ashpole said "he saw two figures, and just aimed where everyone else was shooting." Squad leader Greg Baker whose vision is 20/20, claims to have tunnel vision. He says he shot at who he thought was the enemy, but who turned out to be the allied Afgan fighter who was giving cover to the American soldiers.

None of the four shooters identified his target before firing, a violation of military training. Tillman's platoon had also run out of supplies, a condition which could contribute to fatigue and lapses in judgment. The same commander who was reprimanded for his role in the shootings was also responsible for delivering punishment to those in his command who fired the shots.

And there's even more: According to a field hospital report, someone tried to start Tillman heart with CPR after his head had been partly blown off and his corpse wrapped. Tillman's body armor and uniform were burned.

"I will not assume his death was accidental or 'fog of war'," said Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman Sr. This is the fourth investigation of the incident, which the Tillman family believes has been repeatedly covered up by the Pentagon.

The AP has many more details, which are available here.

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George Allen Gone Today -- Back Tomorrow?

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 4:02 PM EST

As expected, George Allen conceded the Virginia Senate race a moment ago, saying that a recount could drag until Christmas, and out of respect for the people of Virginia, and for the sake of mending divisions in the state, he would not seek a recount. He nodded briefly to the unlikelihood of any change in currently voting results.

The thing that stuck out, from this point of view, was Allen's elaborate tree analogy that came early in the speech that made it sound like he plans to return to Virginia and national politics. He is not a broken branch, he said. He is a strong tree, with deep roots; he will regrow. Or the tree will regrow. Or something.

Just a bit of theorizing: George Allen may be very smart to (almost) promise such a return. The Democrats have a lot of convincing to do if they're going to argue they made in-roads into red state America and now have an expanded (and durable) base of support. What seems much closer to the truth is that an unpopular war, unpopular President, and unpopular Congress all doomed a number of sitting Republicans, and those in the tightest races lost. In six years, Bush will have been out of office for four and Iraq will likely be off the national radar. Republican voters who voted Dem this time around could easily "come home," which sets the stage of George Allen's triumphant return in what is still a conservative state. After all, the guy spent day after day shooting himself in the foot and still just barely lost. Somehow, Virginia loves him.

Do Republicans Have the Third-Party Blues?

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 2:29 PM EST

As we noted on election night with some sense of déjà vu, green and libertarian candidates wreaked terror this year on the major parties. In Virginia, independent green Gail Parker now seems to have left Jim Webb with enough liberal scraps to make a Democratic victory banner in the Senate (rumors have it that Allen will to concede today at 3:00)--but over at the GOP, Karl Rove is finally feeling the third-party blues. Rove's woe has been triggered by a Smurf-like (more on this shortly) libertarian, Stan Jones, who helped bring down the mighty Conrad Burns in Montana by snatching three percent of the don't-tread-on-me vote, quite likely tipping the race to Democratic challenger Jon Tester. The Republicans have thus far accepted this liklihood with noble restraint. Jones told me no angry red staters have called to harass him, and I couldn't find a single complaint about his race on conservative blogs. It could be Republicans are too shell shocked to notice. Or, to their credit, too preoccupied with soul searching.

That Jones could be the man who indirectly turned Montana, and thus the whole Senate, blue, is oddly poetic given that Jones is himself blue. By this I don't mean he's sad, louche, or a libertarian with Democratic sympathies (though the lattermost is also true), but that Stan Jones is blue. A few bloggers know the story: In the days leading up to the dawn of the new millennium, Jones believed the Y2K virus could cause the collapse of Western Civilization. To steel his immune system against a post-apocalypse wracked by pandemics, he began drinking a solution of ionic silver, which he believed was a more powerful armor than vitamin C. "The pioneers that crossed the plains of America used to put a silver dollar in the bottom of a bucket of milk to keep it fresh longer," he explained when I reached him at his house in Bozeman. "So anyway, I studied it, and I thought it would be a good preventative, so I just started taking it all the time. But I wasn't smart enough to figure out the whole story." He didn't realize the silver ions would bind with minerals in the Montana tap water and lodge in his cells. "The silver is nontoxic; it doesn't affect my health in any way," he says, "but I am a little blue-grey."

Not all the time, it should be noted. But most definitely under fluorescent bulbs in rotary clubs and rec centers.

So what role did Jones' blueness play in helping him win the votes that turned the Senate? "I think it's a wash," he says. "People don't treat me any differently than anyone else. I mean, Bozeman's not a big town, and people that come around, they're used to me."

What is Being Said About Women in American Politics

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 12:06 PM EST

The number of women in U.S. government will be at least 70 in the House, 16 in Senate and nine in governorships. This changing in the ranks is being touted by some as the next step towards the election of a woman president.

Melanie Reid of the UK's Herald wrote:

It's a no-brainer. Until there are enough women leaders, they will continue to receive the wrong kind of scrutiny. When there are more women on the playing field, there will be less emphasis on gender, appearance or spouse - and a sharper focus on what they're actually saying"

According to recent polls, nearly 3 out of 5 New Yorkers think Senator Hillary Clinton would make a good president. And a recent CBS-New York Times poll found that 92% of Americans would vote for a woman from their political party -- if they thought she was qualified.

The tide may be turning, but -- in light of the increased popularity of Botox -- women in American politics will likely have to contend with speculations on their appearances. Both Sen. Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have been alleged to have undergone plastic surgery, and have undergone some fashion criticism from the press. Most recently, the Guardian described Pelosi as "an Armani clad...left winger of the caricaturists' dreams."

Women in Congress are expected to address issues about family. According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the increased number of women in Congress will mean increased focus on minimum wage, stem cell research and health care policies.

While most women elected were Democrats, several of the incumbents elected are Republicans, including Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. On election night, Lingle said increasing affordable housing, reducing the cost of living and improving education would be her top priorities.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Casey's Man

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 10:47 AM EST

The first key test for the new Democratic Majority in the Senate will be whether or not to confirm Robert Gates as new Secretary of Defense. It is too early to tell for sure, but with the relief at the firing of Rumsfeld, it seems unlikely anyone will seriously challenge Gates, a man who is often thought of as the creation of Reagan's CIA director William Casey. Senator Joe Biden, new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that Gates has a much more "pragmatic and realistic view of the place we find ourselves."

In the media Gates is being hailed, along with the reappearance of Jim Baker, as a return to sanity. Both are members of the Iraq Study Group. It has all the appearances of a supra State Department for deciding what to do in Iraq. All thanks in large part to Bush senior who is thought to be sending in a rescue team to get his boy off the hook.

Gates faced rough confirmation hearings in 1991 when appointed CIA director by Bush senior. There was concern about his manipulation of intelligence back then, but more than that, official Washington didn't know whether to trust him because of his relationship with Ollie North in the secret Iran-Contra war. At the time, Gates brushed aside questions on Iran-Contra, saying he couldn't remember details, or apologetically stating that he should have given the whole situation closer attention. In the end, Congress attributed whatever errors were made to Casey, the CIA director at the time, who was long viewed as a strong, independent-minded anti-Communist of a somewhat bizarre sort. But as has been noted before, Gates often was thought of as Casey's man, and it was Casey who put him in a top job as deputy director and chair of the National Intelligence Council.

At Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991, the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared weary of Iran-Contra. Warren Rudman, then a Republican congressman from New Hampshire, remarked, "I might say parenthetically that I hope someday I will never have to talk about this subject again. But I guess it just keeps coming up. It's almost like a typhus epidemic in that anybody within five miles of the germ either died, is infected, or is barely able to survive, so I guess we're back in that mode again."

That was 15 years ago. The memories of most people in Congress aren't likely to go back that far.