Political MoJo

Hobbit Fans Unleash Geek Fury on Rick Santorum

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 12:48 PM EDT

Yesterday, Sen. Rick Santorum tried to explain the war in Iraq by drawing an analogy to the Lord of the Rings:

As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else.... It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.

Really, Santorum should have known better. By invoking LOTR, he was inviting the scrutiny of hordes of Tolkien fans, who, sure enough, are unleashing their fantasy-lit fury on him. First off, Santorum called it the Eye of Mordor, when it's really the Eye of Sauron. Jeeze! Scott Rosenberg exposes more flaws in Santorum's comments:

First of all, in Tolkien's saga, the good guys are outgunned and outmanned by the Dark Lord, whereas in our world, the U.S. is a "hyperpower" whose military, in 2001-2, seemed to bestride the world. Second, in Tolkien, the good guys sent Frodo with the Ring into the depths of Mordor as a sort of last-ditch, bet-everything gamble; then they sent an army to the gates of Mordor as a diversion — to keep the Eye occupied and distract it from the hobbits headed for Mount Doom.

David Weigel at Reason's Hit and Run further explains how Santorum's comments failed to reflect the geopolitical complexities of Middle Earth:

Was Santorum referring to the hobbits' final approach up Mount Doom, when Aragorn (George Bush) was convincing the men of Gondor (Tony Blair) and Rohan (John Howard) to make a final, diversionary push at the Black Gates? Or is he referring to the entire quest of Frodo and Sam (300 million Americans), which was aided at various points by mystical creatures - the Ents, the Dead Men of Dunharrow - that don't have any easy relations in the real war on terror?

And Rosenberg again:

It's hard, in truth, to find any useful Middle Earth analogy to the Iraq War: the parallels break down across the board. Still, you might think of Bush's invasion of Iraq as the equivalent of a beleaguered Gondor, attacked by the armies of Mordor across the River Anduin, sending its army off on an expedition to Far Harad, after its leaders issued proclamations that the White Council had incontrovertible evidence of the Haradrim's possession of Rings of Mass Destruction.

So wait, if Bush is Aragorn, does that mean Condi Rice is Arwen?

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Money in California Politics Laid Bare

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:40 PM EDT

Hey California voters! Curious about how much beverage company cash helped influence a vote on bottled-water standards? Wondering which interest groups are especially generous to your state Assembly member? Check out this new online money-and-politics database from Maplight.org, a Berkeley-based non-profit. It tracks votes on specific bills by state pols and cross-references that info with details on who gave them money, and when. So far, only data from 2003-2004 is available, but the Maplighters claim more recent stuff will be up soon. The impatient can do their own state-level research with the help of The Institute on Money and State Politics , or go federal at OpenSecrets.org. And of course there's always the famous Mother Jones 400, one of the very first online sources of campaign finace dirt.

Muslim Religious Differences Too Trivial to Pursue

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:09 PM EDT

Jeff Stein, the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, published an op-ed piece in today's New York Times (available, alas, only to TimesSelect members) giving the results of his recent survey of counterterrorism officials. The survey has just one question: What's the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?

Stein was dumbfounded to learn that very few of his interviewees, who play important roles in intelligence and law enforcement communities and Congress, had any idea. And, as Stein writes, he wasn't asking deep, theological questions, "just the basics: Who's on what side today, and what does each want?"

For those of you who might—like Trent Lott, who recently wondered, "Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me"—see this as a rarefied inquiry, here's how Stein explains why it matters:

[T]he nature of the threat from Iran [Shiite], a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda [Sunni]. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

Hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites are on center stage in Iraq, and play an important role in Al Qaeda's motivations. Perhaps if officials knew more about them, better policy would follow?

But one of Stein's interviewees—the spokesman for the FBI—took the position that understanding the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite was akin to "memoriz[ing] the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be[ing] able to read Urdu [or] playing 'Islamic Trivial Pursuit.'"

If there's a game comparison, shouldn't it at least be Risk?

Will Saddam Help the GOP Get an Election Bump?

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 7:54 PM EDT

Over at the Nation, the ever-prolific Tom Engelhardt speculates about what he thinks could be the GOP's November Surprise: the November 5 sentencing of Saddam Hussein. Assuming that Saddam is guaranteed to get the death penalty, the White House could get itself a nice last-minute blip of "progress" to sell to voters. Clearly, the timing will work well for Bush & Co. Whether that's a happy coincdence is subject to debate. But as law prof and blogger Scott Horton tells Engelhardt,

"When you look at polling figures," Horton said," there have been three significant spike points. One was the date on which Saddam was captured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third was Zarqawi being killed. Based on those three, it's easy to project that they will get a mild bump out of this....This is not coincidence.... Nothing in Iraq that's set up this far in advance is coincidental."

But would this "mild bump" be enough to revive Republicans' fortunes at the polls? It's not like the Democrats won't cheer Saddam's descent to death row, so the Republicans would have to work fast to turn this into a partisan issue (not that they won't try their darndest). And in the eyes of many Americans, Saddam's hardly the WMD-toting bogeyman he was three years ago; he's no Osama, no matter how much the "Saddam was behind 9/11" crowd wishes he was. With support for the war at an all-time low, it's hard for me to see how this verdict will change many war-weary minds, much less energize a disheartened GOP base.

JoeMotion

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Charlie Cook's staff on CSPAN Sunday were predicting Senate control will ride on one vote. Could go either way. Whatever happens that's going to give tremendous leverage to Joe Lieberman,who is running 8-10 points ahead of Ned Lamont. Lieberman confirmed to us this morning he will organize with the Democrats. But, he can always change his mind.Whatever happens he is in a position to exercise considerable leverage—in terms of committee assignments and pork.Lieberman could end up with more power in Connecticut than fellow senator and Democrat Christopher Dodd , not to mention greater influence than the Bush family before it fled into exile in Texas.

As for Vermont's Bernie Sanders, running far ahead of Richard Tarrant (64-32) in the Vermont senate race, his office said Sanders will organize with the Democrats.

Dancing with DeLay

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

How far Tom Delay's fallen. The former Majority Leader has been reduced to rallying his base on behalf of a contestant on the reality TV series "Dancing with the Stars." Of late, Delay has launched a media campaign for country singer Sara Evans, who recently filed for divorce from her husband Craig Schelske, a former Republican candidate for Congress. Here's what DeLay had to say about Evans in an email:

"Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media. From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in. Let's show Sara that same support by watching and voting for her each week to help her win this competition. One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans."

Talk show host and former Cincinnatti mayor, Jerry Springer, is another "Dancing with the Stars 3" contestant who announced in September that he would not run for Senate.

That's right, the man once known as "The Hammer" has gone from ruling the House with an iron fist to letting Jerry Springer really have it.

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Radar's Ten Dumbest Congressmen

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 2:05 PM EDT

Radar has fun detailing "America's Dumbest Congressmen." Readers of Mother Jones' regular feature "The Diddly Award" will know many of the names and anecdotes already but when it comes to the antics of wise legislators such as Jim Bunning, Katherine Harris, and Patrick Kennedy, is it possible for familiarity to breed even more contempt?

Update, May 26, 2010: Hi Huffington Post readers! That Radar link (to their 2006 feature on America's "dumbest" members of Congress) doesn't work anymore, probably because of Radar's complicated history. I've reproduced the list here for your convenience (minus Radar's commentary, which I can't find in a complete form is available on the internet archive—thanks, Anon.):

10. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY)
9. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
8. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT)
7. Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
6. Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
5. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
4. Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ)
3. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)
2. Representative Donald Young (R-AK)
1. Representative Katherine Harris (R-FL)

A lot of these folks are no longer in Congress. Burns (8) lost to Jon Tester in 2006. McKinney (7) lost to Hank Johnson (of "Guam capsizing" fame) in a Democratic primary the same year. J.D. Hayworth is no longer a member of the House, but he's running against John McCain in the GOP senate primary in Arizona. Harris (1) ran for Senate in 2006 and lost. Vern Buchanan now holds her House seat. Bunning (10) and Kennedy (9) are retiring this year. That leaves Schmidt (6), Boxer (5), Inhofe (3), and Young (2) still in Congress. None of those four seem particularly "dumb" to me, although I disagree with some of them on the issues. Anyway, here's Mother Jones being mean about some of these very same folks back in 2006. 

—Nick Baumann

Money in California Politics Laid Bare

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 12:22 PM EDT

Hey California voters! Curious about how much beverage company cash helped influence a vote on bottled-water standards? Wondering which interest groups are especially generous to your state Assembly member? Check out this new online money-and-politics database from Maplight.org, a Berkeley-based non-profit. It tracks votes on specific bills by state pols and cross-references that info with details on who gave them money, and when. So far, only data from 2003-2004 is available, but the Maplighters claim more recent stuff will be up soon. The impatient can do their own state-level research with the help of The Institute on Money and State Politics , or go federal at OpenSecrets.org. And of course there's always the famous Mother Jones 400, one of the very first online sources of campaign finace dirt.

California Hispanics Told It Is A Crime To Vote

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 12:18 PM EDT

A letter, written in Spanish, has gone out to some Hispanic citizens of California, telling them that it is a crime for immigrants to vote, and that voting could cause them to be jailed or deported. The letter also warns that the state has a computer system that can track down the names of all Hispanic voters.

Several of the recipients of this letter are naturalized citizens of the U.S. The California Attorney General is investigating the mailing, and the sender could be charged with a felony.

Another Weldon Conspiracy

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 11:18 AM EDT

For Curt Weldon, pushing conspiracy theories is something of a hobby. In the past, he's claimed that a secret intelligence program called Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta, among other 9/11 conspirators, over a year before the attacks. And his book, Countdown to Terror, is filled with all sorts of dubious allegations about Iran's ties to terrorism. (This information, it turns out, was funneled to him by a middleman for Manucher Ghorbanifar, an alleged intelligence fabricator and Iran-Contra figure.) Now, after the feds raided the homes of his lobbyist daughter and her business partner yesterday, investigating whether the Pennsylvania congressman used his position to steer business to their firm, Weldon is alerting the world to a new conspiracy. In a statement released yesterday, he questioned the timing of the investigation, which comes just three weeks before the election, suggesting that the probe is politically motivated. As is increasingly becoming the case when members of the GOP get caught up in scandals (see Hastert, Dennis), Weldon blamed the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for the supposed smear. "It is no coincidence that the vice president of CREW, Philadelphia trial lawyer Daniel Berger, and his law firm are among the single largest contributors to my opponent Joe Sestak's campaign," Weldon said. "This is a group that is closely tied to my opponent Joe Sestak and now, just weeks before my re-election word that the inquiry is occurring has mysteriously trickled out. That is dirty, partisan politics at its absolute worst."

Of course, politics is a dirty business and damaging allegations that arise in advance of an election should always be subject to the highest level of skepticism. But, in this case, there are a couple of major things wrong with Weldon's hypothesis. First, the allegations against Weldon have been circulating for some time. In fact, CREW's deputy director, Naomi Seligman Steiner, told me last night that her organization requested that the Justice Department investigate Weldon a full two-and-a-half years ago. Further, for Weldon's assertions to hold any water, one would also have to believe that the FBI is taking its direction from CREW. A conspiracy theory of that magnitude sounds like it might make an apt topic for Weldon's next book.