Inside the Beltway

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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PERSONHOOD

President Obama, Sarah Palin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fox News host Glenn Beck, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Comedy Central fake newsmen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, “ground zero mosque” organizer Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, “the Chilean miners,” “the unemployed American,” Lady Gaga.

Confused, indifferent or annoyed with this cavalcade of unrelated names? They are among the nominees for Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year. Who’s currently in the lead, based on an ongoing reader opinion poll? Prepare to be confused, indifferent or annoyed: Mr. Assange is in first place, followed by Mr. Stewart, Mr. Colbert and Lady Gaga, who incidentally has just negotiated a perfume deal for herself. Care to be heard? Vote at www.time.com. Be advised, the mighty publication cautions, “Give them your rating — though TIME’s editors who choose the actual Person of the Year reserve the right to disagree.”

DUKING WITH DUCKS

Let the quacking begin. It’s lame-duck time. When Congress returns to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the big, fat, noisy Democratic agenda will waddle in - preening and ready to be fed. Though some wonder if the liberal wish list will be pared down in a post-“shellacking” world, it’s probable that House Democrats still pine to introduce a number of items in the brief window before the Republican majority takes over with a roar on Jan. 3.

Among them: the DREAM Act, the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” “cap-and-trade,” tax cuts, campaign finance limitations, federal unemployment benefits, Medicare matters, food safety, union-backed legislation, assorted agency appropriations, natural-gas and electric vehicles, the New START on arms control, judicial appointments. The agenda will be clarified after Monday; there may be a list, even.

For all that quacking and preening, “lame duck” makes Americans nervous. Just a third of voters think Congress should push through major legislation during the session, says a Rasmussen Reports survey released Thursday. More than three-fourths say it’s likely the Democrats will try the ramrod approach anyway. And more than half — 56 percent — say Congress should wait until the new year begins to take care of business.

ON A MOUNTAIN TOP

“You can see Russia from here … almost.”

— Quip from Sarah Palin in the opening minutes of her reality show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which debuts on the cable channel TLC on Sunday.

IN A FAR-OFF GALAXY

“She has more experience working in and with the White House than most living presidents.”

— Motto from a 30-second campaign advertisement for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, produced and self-financed by William DeJean, a Chicago dentist who has bought airtime in New Orleans, New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

TOOL OF DEMOCRACY

Aside from cooking, kiddie shows and vintage-style radio, so-called neutral “public media” like PBS and NPR often present a mournful portrayal of life. Prime-time fare features dissonant cello music and a melancholy narrator chalking up the planet’s losses; it’s all usually the fault of either mankind in general or America in particular. The syndrome must be catchy. The American Spectator Editor-in-Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. notes that “hand-wringing” seems to be a new journalistic virtue among liberal newspapers.

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