- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dueling reformers

“Though they differ in many ways, John McCain and Barack Obama have one thing in common: Each sees the other as a posturing phony,” Michael Crowley writes in the New Republic.

“When McCain talks about Obama on the stump, he trades his typical graciousness for sarcasm and contempt. When McCain lectured Obama about the future of Iraq last week, he did so with what the New York Times called ‘a tone of belittlement in his voice,’ ” Mr. Crowley said.

“McCain has also called Obamamania a swindle. ‘America is not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history,’ he said in Wisconsin last month. And he has huffed that ‘I don’t seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with personal greatness.’

“After Obama issued a press release last May noting that conditions were still dangerous enough in Iraq that McCain had been forced to wear a ‘flack jacket’ during a public tour of a Baghdad market, a McCain release taunted Obama for his inexperience, adding, ‘By the way, Senator Obama, it’s a “flak” jacket, not a “flack” jacket.’ For good measure, an unnamed McCain aide drove home the point to the Politico, saying that ‘Obama wouldn’t know the difference between an RPG and a bong.’

“Obama has swung back in similar, if somewhat milder, fashion. Noting that McCain had changed his position on the Bush tax cuts, Obama joked last month that ‘the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels.’ Later, he cracked in a Democratic debate that McCain ‘traded his principles for his party’s nomination.’ Snickering at the idea that McCain is a scourge of lobbyists, Obama recently said that ‘he takes their money and has put them in charge of his campaign.’

“It’s little wonder that Obama and McCain would be casting each other as fakers. At the core of each man’s political identity is the image of a reformer determined to take on and reshape the corrupt culture of Washington, D.C. To Obama, McCain is a fixture of that system, one whose reform talk belies his debts to the GOP establishment and its lobbyist machine. McCain, meanwhile, sees Obama as an upstart self-promoter whose talk about reform isn’t matched by a record of hard work to achieve it.

“ ’In a weird sort of way, they’re fighting over a change-and-reform mantle from two ends of the same argument,’ says Dan Schnur, a former senior aide to McCain.”

Another example

“Anyone who has watched American politics lately didn’t particularly need to see another piece of evidence proving just how challenging the political environment is for Republicans,” Charlie Cook writes at nationaljournal.com.

“But Republican Jim Oberweis‘ loss to Democrat Bill Foster in Saturday’s special election in Illinois’ 14th District — for a seat held for over two decades by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert — is just one more example,” Mr. Cook said.

“The heavily Republican district that President Bush carried with 55 percent in 2004 gave Oberweis 47 percent, a big swing but not a surprising one given Bush’s high disapproval ratings.

“It would be unfair to lay the blame for this loss solely on Bush and his unpopularity, though.

“A weak candidate who had already lost two bids for the Senate and one for governor, Oberweis had upside-down numbers — higher unfavorable than favorable ratings — in some polls heading into the election and that was probably a major contributing factor in his loss.

“Had either Bush’s approval ratings been higher or Republicans nominated a candidate with less baggage, this seat likely wouldn’t have turned over.

“The National Republican Congressional Committee was forced to throw $1.2 million, roughly 20 percent of its total bank account balance, to defend a seat that never should have been in play.

“Probably the most on-target criticism of NRCC Chairman Tom Cole is that he actually wanted this job and beat two rivals for it this cycle. Reps. Phil English, R-Pa., and Pete Sessions, R-Texas, should be thanking their lucky stars they came up short in the balloting.”

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“The stupendously deluded belief that the sitting governor of New York could purchase the services of prostitutes was merely the last act of a man unable to admit either the existence of, or need for, limits,” the Wall Street Journal said yesterday in an editorial about Eliot Spitzer.

“At the least, he put himself at risk of blackmail, and in turn the possible distortion of his public duties. Mr. Spitzer’s recklessness with the state’s highest elected office, though, is of a piece with his consistent excesses as attorney general from 1999 to 2006,” the newspaper said.

“He routinely used the extraordinary threat of indicting entire firms, a financial death sentence, to force the dismissal of executives, such as AIG’s Maurice ‘Hank’ Greenberg. He routinely leaked to the press e-mails obtained with subpoena power to build public animosity against companies and executives. In the case of Mr. Greenberg, he went on national television to accuse the AIG founder of ‘illegal’ behavior. Within the confines of the law itself, though, he never indicted Mr. Greenberg. Nor did he apologize.

“In perhaps the incident most suggestive of Mr. Spitzer’s lack of self-restraint, the then-attorney general personally threatened John Whitehead after the former Goldman Sachs chief published an article on this page defending Mr. Greenberg. ‘I will be coming after you,’ Mr. Spitzer said, according to Mr. Whitehead’s account. ‘You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done.’ …

These are not merely acts of routine political rough-and-tumble. They were threats — some rhetorical, some acted upon — by one man with virtually unchecked legal powers.”

Party secret

“Incredibly, in lead stories Monday night about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring, neither ABC’s ‘World News’ nor the ‘NBC Nightly News’ verbally identified Spitzer’s political party. Must mean he’s a liberal Democrat — and he is,” the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker writes at www.mrc.org.

“CBS anchor Katie Couric, however, managed to squeeze in a mention of his party. Last August when news of Larry Craig’s arrest broke, both ABC and NBC stressed his GOP affiliation,” Mr. Baker said.

“On ABC, the only hints as to Spitzer’s party were a few seconds of video of Spitzer beside Hillary Clinton as they walked down some steps and a (D) on screen by Spitzer’s name over part of one sound bite. NBC didn’t even do that.”

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

.com.

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