Saturday, March 11, 2006

Moe, Larry and Curly?
Moe, Larry and Curly?
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

Boy, talk about tough love!

No sooner do I finish writing yesterday's column about the press covering the Democrats groping for a message than one prominent progressive sends them a message that might be aptly summarized as a one-finger salute.

Jake Weisberg, the editor of Slate, an unabashed liberal, a Kerry voter in 2004, co-author of a book with Robert Rubin, presumably has something to say about the headlines on his Web site. So I gather he has no problem with calling the party's leading lights "The Three Stooges."

This is no wishy-washy analysis. Weisberg seems fightin' mad at the House minority leader, Senate minority leader and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

I would contend that no set of Democratic leaders--remember all the complaints about Daschle and Gephardt?--could mastermind the perfect opposition when the Beltway balance of power is so seriously out of whack. And maybe they've hatched a secret plot to have the Republicans soften up President Bush. When a GOP-controlled committee votes 62 to 2 to reject a ports deal that the president says is necessary, you don't necessarily need to do a lot of screaming and yelling. (We'll get to the ports meltdown in a few moments.)

As for forging a positive agenda, there are certainly questions about whether anyone but the junkies is paying attention in March of an election year. The Democrats, in fact, probably wish the election was, say, tomorrow.

But the Weisberg piece makes clear that there is major-league exasperation with the Democratic leadership:

"Nancy Pelosi epitomizes [the] problem. To understand her politics, think Huffington Post without the flashes of wit. Here is a typical Bush-bashing, cliché-ridden quote of hers: 'The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back!'

"Pelosi dismisses people who disagree as hoodwinked or stupid. She's not exactly Hillary Clinton herself, though. A five-minute interview is usually sufficient to exhaust her knowledge on any subject. And she can flop around like a fish. When Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., proposed a pullout, or 'redeployment,' of U.S. troops from Iraq in November, Pelosi's first reaction was to isolate him. 'Mr. Murtha speaks for himself,' she said. But after taking a drubbing from left-wing bloggers and her anti-war constituents, she announced that she supported Murtha after all. This shored up her image as Washington's answer to Barbra Streisand, and set up Dick Cheney to paint the Democrats as defeatist and unsupportive of our troops in Iraq.

"Reid's flaws are mostly a mirror image of Pelosi's. A Mormon convert who grew up in a working-class family in a small town, he doesn't dabble in Hollywood politics. Reid voted for the Iraq war resolution, and is anti-gun-control, anti-gay marriage, and--most shocking for a Democratic figurehead--anti-abortion. But as a leader, he's colorless and erratic. Most of the time, he's a study in gray, except when he livens it up with a spasm of random aggression. Reid has called Alan Greenspan a 'hack,' Bush a loser and a liar, and, in one off-the-mark, vaguely racist-sounding rant, charged that Clarence Thomas' opinions were poorly written. . . .

"After calling for more Supreme Court justices as brilliant as Antonin Scalia, he recommended that Bush nominate his undistinguished flunky Harriet Miers. Moreover, Reid's own pork-barreling and lobbyist-courting suggest that making him majority leader would merely replace the Republican hackocracy in Congress with a Democratic hackocracy...

"Howard Dean is smarter than either Pelosi or Reid and clearly stands for something. Unfortunately, what he stands for in the minds of most people is incandescent rage and upscale socialism. Dean has an unfortunate knack for making himself the issue, even when, as lately, he's trying to maintain a low profile. His injudicious comment about the GOP being the party of white Christians was followed by his statement that 'the idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong.' Such gaffes lead to endless debate about how Howard Dean is screwing up, rather than about how Bush is screwing up."

Too bad the above mentioned politicians don't blog; I'd love to run their response.

All right, let's check in on Dubya's Dubai Disaster, and the deal's collapse:

"The decision came just hours after a delegation of Republican leaders in Congress told President Bush in an Oval Office meeting that Congress would act within days to block the company's acquisition of the United States port terminals in the name of national security, lawmakers present said," reports the New York Times .

"It was not immediately clear whether that concession alone would appease the bipartisan chorus against a Bush administration-brokered arrangement to let the Middle Eastern firm manage port facilities in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans," says the Los Angeles Times .

"The announcement was an extraordinary retreat that signaled a shift in the power relationship between the White House and Congress," says the Philadelphia Inquirer . "Bush has been unused to losing. But this time, the Republican-led House, which has been a rubber stamp for Bush the last five years, was the first to revolt."

"Not since Watergate, when GOP congressional leaders told Richard Nixon they would vote him from office if he didn't resign, have Capitol Hill Republicans challenged their President like this," says the New York Daily News .

Back to the Democratic infighting: Another intramural spat has broken out over the loss of Ciro Rodriguez, favored candidate of the liberal bloggers, in a House Democratic primary in Texas.

Kos sees a silver lining:

"The bottom line: we helped a campaign that was the walking dead and gave it new life, pumped in resources, and made it competitive. We did much to even the playing field even if ultimately we came up tantalizingly short.

"And yeah, I know 'tantalizingly short', alongside 'moral victories', is about as desirable as the Bubonic Plague. We want more. But this is a long-term movement, building from nothing."

This set off the New Republic's Jason Zengerle :

"It's bizarre that these very same bloggers are always so eager to celebrate moral victories. After Howard Dean went down to defeat, they boasted about how they took a virtual nobody to the precipice of victory. Ditto for Paul Hackett. And the same thing is happening today now that Ciro Rodriguez--the former Texas congressman who became a blog darling after his Democratic primary opponent, incumbent Congressman Henry Cuellar, was shown hugging President Bush at the State of the Union--has apparently lost. . . .

"Electoral politics in the United States is a zero-sum game and, at some point, these bloggers are going to have to make enough of a difference to actually win a race--something they've so far failed to do. . . .

"But more often than not, these liberal bloggers (especially Kos) act like they already have taken over the world--writing manifestoes, issuing threats, and engaging in all sorts of chest-thumping behavior. But, like I said, their batting average is still a big fat zero."

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum begs to differ:

"Look, this slam from Jason Zengerle is just unfair. Yes, Ciro Rodriguez, the Kos/Atrios/etc. candidate, lost fairly badly to Henry Cuellar in Texas last night, and yes, this means that liberal blogs continue to have a batting average that makes the '62 Mets look good. But Rome wasn't built in a day. I imagine the Kossacks will learn from their mistakes and figure out how to do better in the future."

Anyway, why not include the media in this sort of sniping? Salon's Peter Daou has had it with the host of "Hardball":

"The case against Chris Matthews is simple: he is not neutral. He channels a right-leaning perspective. This wouldn't be an issue if he and his employers acknowledged it, but a viewer who doesn't have the time or resources to analyze Hardball's content may well assimilate the pro-GOP spin unwittingly. As I've written recently, it's the seemingly neutral reporters who do the most insidious damage to our public discourse, augmenting and magnifying the filth spewed by legions of liberal-haters like Limbaugh and Hannity."

But isn't Chris one of the most opinionated guys on television? And aren't viewers smart enough to figure out where he stands and whether they agree with him?

The liberal Raw Story says Matthews "has accepted hefty speaking fees from conservative groups," but adds that "can't be proven whether Matthews has taken money from the groups." The "conservative" groups are basically corporate trade associations such as the Mortgage Bankers Association and American Hospital Association.

Okay, the same-side slams aren't only on the liberal side. Michelle Malkin was against the ports deal early and often, and now says:

"Already, the House Republicans are being dismissed as hysterical political opportunists. There will be a new round of race-card playing and accusations of Islamophobia against them. They will be lambasted for betraying President Bush.

"But if they are guilty of anything, the House Republicans who are revolting on this issue are guilty of doing something the incompetent staffers at the White House can't seem to do very well these days: listen and respond effectively to their constituents. When all is said and done, security-minded Americans would rather not see management of terminals at our U.S. ports in the hands of an Arab state-owned company whose government officials not only provided cover to Osama bin Laden before 9/11 and created a ripe environment that facilitated al Qaeda financing and remained a logistical hub after 9/11, but who also still maintain a catch-and-release policy toward terror suspects, deny the existence of our established ally, Israel, and may be providing material support for terrorism even as they welcome U.S. military forces to their shores. . . .

"House Republicans continue to get overwhelmingly negative feedback from their constituents about the deal. The message is clear: Bush is blowing it. Will all the brilliant GOP political strategists--the ones who are always telling us the American people know best and that the Republican Party is most in tune with ordinary citizens--now reprimand House GOP members for taking the electorate's pulse and reacting to bona fide national security concerns?"

And in the some-things-never-change department:

"Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was sentenced yesterday to three years of probation and ordered to pay almost $250,000 in delinquent taxes and interest for failing to file federal and city returns in 2000," says the Washington Times .

Oh, and don't forget this: "Mr. Barry's legal problems were compounded when he tested positive for cocaine during a drug screening shortly after his plea agreement last year."

Here's the tale of a Mexican paper that buried news of five murders because of threats from drug traffickers.

Speaking of violence, check out this "60 Minutes" release on the planned murder of a Boston columnist:

"The man who helped James 'Whitey' Bulger, the FBI's most wanted criminal, to rule Boston's streets through murder, robbery and drug dealing says he also tried to silence one of the city's top newspaper and radio personalities for Bulger. Kevin Weeks tells Ed Bradley in his first interview that he had radio talker and Boston Herald Columnist Howie Carr in his rifle sight but couldn't pull the trigger because Carr was with his daughter.

"Bulger and Weeks wanted Carr dead because the journalist wrote and spoke about their crimes constantly. After a plan to put an exploding basketball in Carr's driveway was abandoned for fear it would harm neighbors, he and Bulger decided on a more direct way. 'I was down at his house . . . about 5:30 in the morning, across the street in a cemetery with a rifle, waiting for him to come out," says Weeks. "And he come [sic] out . . . between 7:15, 7:30 and he had his daughter with him. I assume it was his daughter, young girl. He was holding her by the hand, going to his car. So I had to pass on it,' he tells Bradley. 'I didn't want to kill him in front of his daughter.'

"Carr lived across from a cemetery and acknowledges the possibility that Weeks may have been there, but believes Bulger was more apt to commit such a bold crime. 'It doesn't seem like Kevin would have the stones to do it. . . . If he said Whitey was there, well,' Carr tells Bradley, 'you wouldn't be interviewing me, because I'd be dead.' "

Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp on a profile in non-courage in South Dakota:

"Although the biggest abortion rights story in 33 years is taking place in its own backyard, South Dakota's largest newspaper will not editorialize on the controversial statewide abortion ban just recently approved by its legislature.

"'Part of it was that we wouldn't change people's minds, and part of it, regardless of which side we came down on this, is that people would read into it things that are not true,' Chuck Baldwin, editorial page editor of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., told E&P. 'People would think our coverage is tainted, and not just on abortion but on everything.' "

Um, in that case, why have an editorial page?