Kevin Drum

Sympathy for Sanford? Nah.

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 9:44 AM EDT

I was feeling sort of sorry for Mark Sanford. His emails to Maria indicate he was deeply in love with her, and, thus, he was in a difficult situation. These things happen--even to conservatives. And, yes, he was a blazing hypocrite, voting for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and claiming that he knew the true meaning of marriage:

As Jenny and I are the parents of four little boys, we've always taught our kids that marriage was something between a man and a woman.

Still, I wondered how tough we should be on a fellow caught in these circumstances. Until I watched the video of Sanford's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last March.

His address was red meat for empathy-free conservatives. Sanford, taking a Palinesque view, proclaimed to the crowd of conservative activists that the United States has reached a historic moment in which the "battle line" is between "government on one side" and "liberty...on the other." In what now comes across as a poignant observation, Sanford noted that the toughest problems to contend with are "internal problems," such as "your personal life." His contention was that the United States now has a serious internal problem:

We literally do live at one of the most pivotal points in American history. Every one of our threats, or pretty much all of our threats, have been external in nature. I mean, what were the British going to do to us? Or what were the Germans going to do to? Or what were the Japanese going to do? It was always what was somebody going to do to us. But the real quesiton of our times is, what are we going to do to us? I mean, it is a very different question, because as we all know external problems at times aren't all that difficult to deal with. Internal problems--whether in your personal life, whether in business, whether in government--are the real problems that are hard to get your arms around. And what we have right now is a problem of internal. [sic] And the question is, what do we do about it?

Sanford defined this internal problem as too many Americans depending on government for guidance and assistance. He pointed to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and asked, "Did you see people who saw themselves as lions or gazelles?" His point: too many of the Louisianan residents clobbered by Katrina and the failure of the levies viewed themselves as needy gazelles, not strong and independent lions, and actually expected government to help them. For Sanford, this sums up the "internal problem": Americans have become weak and unable to assist themselves because government has become too big.

His ideology-driven lack of sympathy for these people was not charming. After viewing this video, I lost any empathy I might have had for Sanford. If he's going to judge others so harshly on the basis of what he considers to be their weaknesses, then he deserves similar treatment. Yes, "internal problems" in one's personal life are hard to handle, but try dealing with 20 feet of water on your block.

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About Those Sanford Emails to Maria

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday evening, The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, published a series of steamy but well-written and mature-sounding emails between Republican Governor Mark Sanford and his gal-pal in Argentina. The paper also reported it had received these emails six months ago from an anonymous tipster. Why hadn't the paper rushed this hot stuff to press? It could not confirm the emails were real, and Sanford had no rep as a philanderer. So the paper sat on the hot docs all this time. Apparently, the newspaper did not ask Sanford about the material.

Journalists and others can--and will--debate whether the paper ought to have approached the governor. But this part of The New York Times report on The State's actions was particularly odd:

But with one mystery solved, another endures: Mr. [Leroy] Chapman [the political editor of the paper] said he still did not know who sent the e-mail to the paper in the first place. “It’s kind of a moot point,” he said, “but I’m still curious.”

A moot point? Not at all. Whoever had those emails had been in a position for six months to pressure--or blackmail--Sanford. An enquiring newspaper person might want to know more about that. Had Sanford even been aware that someone possessed these emails? If so, did he take any actions based on that realization? The State engaged in great traditional reporting to get the scoop on Sanford's secret trip to Argentina. But now it seems it's ready to turn the story over to bloggers.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Journos Whine, Sanford Cries, and Ensign Sighs (with Relief)

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Boy, did I pick wrong. The Gibbs presser was damn tame compared to the Sanford meltdown. The hottest issue—or non-issue—at the White House was HuffPo's Nico Pitney's question at Tuesday's presidential press conference. This topic did lead to a somewhat interesting display. The front-row journos—who usually get called on during presidential news conference—complained that the Pitney set-up created the impression that reporters (like themselves) are in cahoots with the White House. Robert Gibbs pushed back by noting that he believed that CBS and other Big Media are certainly in the position to disabuse viewers of that notion. He then called on practically every reporter in the first two rows and asked each one if he or she had ever told the White House what he or she intended to ask at a press conference. Each one dutifully said no. Still, they were upset by the HuffPo episode.

At the same time, reporters in the lesser rows—those who don't tend to be called on by the president and who are not always afforded questioning opportunities during Gibbs' briefings—tried to exploit Nico-gate to raise another issue: how does the White House decide who makes it on to the prepared list of journalists President Obama will call on at a news conference. Gibbs ducked that query. For my money, that's the more important matter—but, not surprisingly, not for the guys and gals in the front rows. (You can read my Twitter feed for the details.)

Back to Mark Sanford. After his sad, wife-less press conference, during which he admitted an extramarital affair and stated he would resign as chair of the Republican Governors Association (not from his governor's post), Senator John Ensign, no doubt, said, "Thank you, Governor."

And that's no joke. Two hours before Sanford cried on TV, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group that chases after government wrongdoing, sent out a notice that it has filed complaints against Ensign with the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Elections Committee.

The group explains that Ensign's actions during his own extramarital escapade might have violated Senate ethics rules and campaign law:

First, Mr. Hampton has alleged Sen. Ensign terminated him and his wife for reasons related to the affair. If true, the senator likely engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII, and Senate Rule 42, which incorporates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Senate employees and prohibits discrimination based on sex. At least two members of Congress previously have been investigated for sexual harassment, including former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) and former Rep. Jim Bates (D-CA).

Second, Ms. Hampton apparently received a severance payment directly from Sen. Ensign when she was terminated from the campaign committee and PAC, but neither committee reported any in-kind contribution by the senator. In addition, if Sen. Ensign paid Ms. Hampton more than $5,000 he may have made an illegal excessive contribution to the PAC. Knowingly failing to report a contribution of over $25,000 is a violation of criminal law.

Mr. Hampton apparently was paid $6,000 upon his departure, purportedly for vacation time. If this actually was some sort of severance payment, Sen. Ensign’s office may have misused official funds.

CREW has alleged Sen. Ensign violated the rules prohibiting improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate by abusing his authority as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to hire and pay the Hampton’s son as an intern at the NRSC and by claiming to have been blackmailed by Mr. Hampton, without reporting the alleged crime to law enforcement authorities.

Remember what the Republicans used to say. It's not about the sex, it's about the deceit. Does that hold true for Ensign? Will GOPers support an investigation of these allegations?

The Republican Senator from Nevada—like Sanford, once a 2012 presidential propsect—did get a lucky break with the Sanford press conference. But he's now part of an even bigger narrative: what's with these guys who represent the party of family values? And what's next? Newt Gingrich leaving his wife for another woman? Oh yeah, been there, done that. Twice.

 

Mark Sanford or Robert Gibbs: What Would You Do?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

Robert Gibbs' daily press briefing is scheduled for 1:45 at the White House. Recently MIA South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is holding a televised press conference at 2:00 pm. What to do? I usually attend the White House briefing, but....Okay, I'll stick to routine. I'm off to the White House to Twitter the briefing. I suppose any major Sanford meltdown will be on YouTube.

Cap and Trade in the Dark?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

Here's some disturbing info on the climate change bill moving through Congress. From a press release put out by the Sunlight Foundation:

Washington, DC - This Friday, Congress plans to vote on a bill that could fundamentally alter the American economy, dramatically affect the climate, and have huge implications for our national security. But, right now no one knows what's in the bill or how it came to be.

Last week, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the "Cap and Trade Energy Bill"), or H.R. 2454, was 946 pages long. Over the weekend, it ballooned to 1,201 pages with no explanation for how or why. It is currently only available online at the House Rules Committee, and is reported as "text of the bill to be introduced." This legislative maneuvering reminds us of the failure of Congress to make bills properly available before consideration.

In a statement today, Sunlight Foundation Engagement Director Jake Brewer said, "The fastest speed-readers and the most intelligent minds can't make informed decisions with that much time. How can Congress?" He continued, "The problem here is the bill wasn't developed in the open in a committee, so no one--including those members of Congress not on the Energy Committee-knows how this latest version was created."

It's very likely that even many of those advocating for or against this legislation won't know what was inserted or what the final bill will be, since changes will be accepted right up until 9:30am on Thursday morning before an intended vote on Friday....

Without proper public and journalistic oversight, it may be too late for the cap and trade energy bill. It will likely become another case study in Sunlight's hall of shamefully rushed bills.

Earlier today, I noted that Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, the two lead authors of the bill, are honorable legislators and passionate about redressing the negative consequences of climate change. Still, folks on and off the Hill ought to know--and understand--what's in the bill before it reaches a vote.

Spinning Health Care Reform

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:14 AM EDT

How does the health care industry spin the media to protect its turf? Columbia Journalism Review's Trudy Lieberman interviews Wendell Potter, a former head of corporate communications for CIGNA, the country’s fourth-largest insurer (and the insurer of the Corn household). And Potter tells all. He shares an insider's perspective we rarely get:

Trudy Lieberman: Why did you leave CIGNA?

Wendell Potter: I didn’t want to be part of another health insurance industry effort to shape reform that would benefit the industry at the expense of the public.

TL: Was there anything in particular that turned you against the industry?

WP: A couple of years ago I was in Tennessee and saw an ad for a health expedition in the nearby town of Wise, Virginia. Out of curiosity I went and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Hundreds of people were standing in line to get free medical care in animal stalls. Some had camped out the night before in the rain. It was like being in a different country. It moved me to tears. Shortly afterward I was flying in a corporate jet and realized someone’s insurance premiums were paying for me to fly that way. I knew it wasn’t long before I had to leave the industry. It was like my road to Damascus.

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Mick Jagger and the Climate Change Bill

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 9:31 AM EDT

It's not a big surprise that John Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress and who ran President Barack Obama's transition, has endorsed the imperfect Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. Podesta, who has long worked on climate change, writes

Once again, Mick Jagger is right: “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try, sometimes you just might find/ You get what you need.” The House of Representatives is poised for its first ever floor debate on legislation to reduce global warming pollution. This landmark bill is revolutionary in its intent and, while imperfect in its means, deserves the support of progressives.

Podesta is a smart fellow, but he has this Rolling Stones reference backward. If you believe the scientists—and I believe them—then we need a greater and faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than we would get from this bill. Unlike, say, the public health plan option, this is not a matter of obtaining merely what progressives want.

Best in Blog: 24 June 2009

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 8:00 AM EDT

Today's three MoJo picks:

1) Can Michelle Obama Save Health Care Reform?

David Corn: On a day when the politerati focused on President Obama's press conference (Iran, health care, Iran, health care, the economy, smoking, Iran), Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, and I went off-topic to discuss whether Michelle Obama can help her husband sell the health care bill now under construction in Congress. Watch the video.

 

2) Barney Frank to F-22: Drop Dead

Rachel Morris: Rep. Barney Frank has authored an amendment that would remove funding for the extra F-22s that the House Armed Services committee slipped into the defense budget authorization bill last week. Here's the story so far.

 

3) Will Europe Out-Whale Japan?

Jen Phillips: The International Whaling Commmission is meeting in Portugal this week, and there's a small Japanese fishing town that gives dead whales Buddhist names. Really! Read more.

Jake Tapper, Mensch

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 6:25 AM EDT

Kevin's gone for a few days. He says he's in NYC, but I wonder if he's off hiking with South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford. During this brief sabbatical, I will be filling in. Feel free to let me know how you think I'm doing in the comments section. By the way, I should let you know this: I'm allergic to cats. -- David Corn

An event happened yesterday at the White House that warrants notice and a hat tip to Jake Tapper of ABC News.

I know, bloggers are usually supposed to hold MSMers in disdain—especially White House correspondents. But during the presidential press conference, Tapper did what few White House reporters do: when President Barack Obama didn't answer another reporter's question, Tapper held him accountable.

Vacation Time

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:01 AM EDT

Remember I said a few weeks ago that I'd be taking a short vacation in New York City in a few weeks?  Well, the future is now, and that means I'm officially on vacation.  David Corn will be guest blogging here during my absence, and other folks from our DC bureau may chime in from time to time as well.  Be nice to 'em.  I'll be back next Tuesday.