- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

A squeaker

“Staffers from the National Republican Congressional Committee are quietly telling GOP House members to prepare for a possible loss in the June 6 special election to fill the seat of Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham, now in prison for taking bribes,” according to the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“The Southern California district is heavily Republican, but some GOP insiders believe that Democrat Francine Busby will defeat former GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray and go on to win a full term in November. More alarming, some worry that a Bilbray defeat could signal the GOP’s loss of control of the House.

“The NRCC has already pumped $3.1 million into the race. ‘It is becoming more and more likely,’ says one GOP strategist, ‘that Bilbray will squeak out a victory.’ But another longtime Republican operative isn’t so sure. ‘This is a district we should never lose,’ he says. ‘It’s the stink of Cunningham, and the Bush problem.’”

Twilight zone

“Did this [past] week mark the first return steps to bipartisan sanity in the war on terror?” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger asks.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee approved Gen. Michael Hayden to run the CIA by a 12-3 vote. And by helpful coincidence, the Supreme Court decided 9-0 in Brigham City v. Stuart that the police can make a warrantless entry into a home in which people are in imminent danger of physical harm. As we all are now,” Mr. Henninger said.

“For a while after 9/11, the war on terror was a serious national enterprise. Then it entered a twilight zone between the reality of terrorist killing and the abstractions of our domestic politics. The subject became a kind of political video game in which political partisans — the press, the pols, the bureaucracies — attempt to splatter each other. The best-selling version of the game has been Warrantless Wiretaps, introduced for political PlayStations by the New York Times.

“The Times reported in December that President Bush had authorized a ‘secret’ National Security Agency program run by Gen. Hayden to monitor international phone calls related to al Qaeda. Like most video games, the story line of Warrantless Wiretaps is crudely simple: President Bush sits at a console of electronic surveillance programs and tries to demolish ‘our most basic civil liberties,’ eviscerate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and trample the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The person who has scored the most points playing Warrantless Wiretaps is GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, just ahead of Democratic presidential gamer Sen. Russ Feingold. The rest of the country has shown little interest in Washington’s new game. In opinion polls about the NSA’s surveillance programs, strong majorities essentially say, ‘So what?’”

Liberal speech

“Why don’t liberals understand the freedom-crushing nature of campaign-finance reform?” St. Petersburg Times columnist Robyn E. Blumner writes.

“How come it is easy for liberals to see the First Amendment interest in other overheated free-speech issues, such as reporting on the classified operations of the National Security Agency or displaying Robert Mapplethorpe nudes, but when it comes to political discourse during an election season, they’re all for government restraints,” the writer said.

“This is the same question that famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams raises in his autobiographical book ‘Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment.’ In one chapter, Abrams recounts a speech he gave to a Unitarian church congregation in New York City in 2000. The audience was very friendly toward his discussion of the Pentagon Papers case and the Brooklyn Museum case, in which Abrams defended the museum after then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to cut its funding. The mayor had been deeply offended by a Nigerian artist’s use of elephant dung in a painting of the Virgin Mary that the museum exhibited.

“But when Abrams said that the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform measure would likely put unconstitutional limits on political activity and promote censorship of political speech, his audience audibly objected.

“Abrams and I are in the same tiny club. We believe in freedom for flag burners, Mapplethorpe and the Republican Party and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. We lose most of our liberal allies halfway through the list.”

Saving the flag

Amending the Constitution to prohibit flag burning may be considered political posturing in the nation’s capital, says Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, but it’s not pandering to the Republican Party’s conservative base to pursue such protection.

“It’s important to the heart and soul of the American people,” said Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, who is considering a White House bid in 2008.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if flag burning and homosexual “marriage” were the most important issues the Senate can address in June, Mr. Frist said the agenda will focus on securing the country and its values, the Associated Press reports.

“I’m going to Arlington Cemetery tomorrow, and I’m going to see that American flag waving on every single grave over there,” Mr. Frist said the day before Memorial Day ceremonies at the military cemetery.

“And when you look at that flag, and then you tell me that right now people in this country are saying it’s OK to desecrate that flag and to burn it and to not pay respect to it. Is that important to our values as a people, when we’ve got 130,000 people fighting for our freedom and liberty today? That is important.”

Durbin and Obama

Sen. Barack Obama is getting a push toward a presidential run from someone close to home — his fellow Democratic senator from Illinois, Richard J. Durbin.

“I’ve sat down with him and said, ‘You ought to look at this long and hard,’” Mr. Durbin, the Democrats’ No. 2 leader in the Senate, told “Fox News Sunday.”

“I know many people are saying wait, and he may decide to wait,” Mr. Durbin said. “But he ought to take a hard look at it.”

Mr. Obama, 44, who was elected to the Senate in 2004, has said he will not run for president in 2008. He was a state senator for seven years and came to national attention when he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Durbin said Mr. Obama brings something special to politics, the Associated Press reports.

“I think he has dramatic potential to unite this country, both red and blue,” Mr. Durbin said.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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