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Inside the Beltway: Selfies and stinkburgers test a casual White House

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Is the nation now witnessing dignity of office, a sense of decorum and gravitas? No. America is now on "the road to stinkburger" says online news maven Lucianne Goldberg, who refers to the increasing tendency of the White House to lower the quality of the public discourse.

To be specific, President Obama recently called the GOP budget proposal a "stinkburger" — much to the merriment of his college-aged audience. But there's a price for such things.

"Presidents are most effective when they lead, not when they join the chorus of the ragtag pack," notes Washington Post columnist Ed Rogers.

This is true, though presidents of yore took poetic license with their rivals according to historical records. Theodore Roosevelt once noted that William Taft was "a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig" while Herbert Hoover declared Franklin D. Roosevelt to be "a chameleon on plaid." But wait. There's official chafing over another popular, populist practice.

"Maybe this will be the end of all selfies," White House special adviser Dan Pfeiffer proclaimed to CBS News on Sunday, addressing Mr. Obama's recent selfie with Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz. The cheerful moment later was used by Samsung for publicity, the image retweeted by the company 5.2 million times to the distress of White House media handlers. White House lawyers, however, had a little word with the electronics giant.

Why, there hasn't been this much fuss since the Weatherproof Garment Co. put Mr. Obama on a billboard over Times Square four years ago. Think of it. The manufacturer came across an Associated Press photo of the president, who happened to be wearing a Weatherproof windbreaker. The licensing fee for the image was paid, up went the billboard and "The Obama Jacket" was born. Yes, well. That didn't last long.

"This ad is clearly misleading because the company suggests the approval or endorsement of the president or the White House that it does not have," a White House aide said at the time.

The fate of the presidential selfie, meanwhile, is likely more secure, though Mr. Obama previously was criticized for orchestrating a quickie portrait with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The Pope is still taking selfies, though. So are the British Royals.

"Let's not get too selfie-righteous," suggests Boston Herald sports columnist Chris Villani.

WHO DOES THE TEA PARTY HATE THE MOST?

Disagreements between grass-roots tea partyers and "establishment" Republicans continues to draw an intense audience. And here comes the analysis. "Ranking the RINOs: Who does the tea party hate most?" asks new research by the Center for Responsive Politics, which ranks the vilified by the numbers, tracking how much tea party groups have spent in their battle against "Republicans in name only."

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is in first place. "Conservative outside groups" spent $788,101 opposing him, and another $586,151 in support of his primary opponent Matt Bevin. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi ranks a close second, "Conservative groups have spent $334,808 opposing Cochran and $780,539 in support of his tea party challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel," the analysis says.

Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina is in third place; the Ending Spending Fund and the Emergency Committee for Israel spent $348,000 opposing him. House Speaker John Boehner follows on the list. The TeaParty.net Leadership Fund spent $238,799 opposing the Ohio lawmaker and $33,558 boosting his the appeal of his grass-roots opponent, J.D. Winteregg.

And in fifth place, it's Rep. Mike Simpson of Ohio. The Club for Growth Action and FreedomWorks spent $206,634 to defeat him and $36,869 in support of challenger Bryan Smith the watchdog says.

"The rankings will change as primary dates inch ever closer. Our tallies do not include the 'issue' ads favored by Americans for Prosperity and other organizations so far this cycle," says analyst Emily Kopp. "Those are often aimed to influence elections, but do not specifically endorse or attack a candidate and thus needn't be reported until the election is closer."

NOW HEAR THIS

Pollsters have already revealed that the majority of Americans says that yes, the U.S. is now headed for another Cold War with Russia. The cultural hallmarks seem to bear this out. In a move more akin to 1964 than 2014, Dmitry Kiselev, director of the nation's information agency Rossiya Segodnya, ended Voice of America programming in Moscow at the end of March.

"Moscow has chosen to do the wrong thing and restrict free speech," says Jeff Shell, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency that oversees U.S. programming to a mammoth overseas audience of 206 million in 100 countries. He offers some push back, noting that American fare can still be had via the Internet and satellite.

"We're asking for an even playing field: As Moscow's media crackdown deepens, Russian media — including Russia Today television, which is under Mr. Kiselev's authority — enjoy open access to the airwaves in the United States and around the world. The Russian people deserve the same freedom to access information," Mr. Shell adds.

NAVAL GAZING

The admirals, the generals, the steely officials: it's not SOS they're interested in; it's SAS. To the uninitiated, this stands for the Sea-Air-Space Exposition, the largest maritime showcase in the world, which gets underway Monday. Organized by the Navy League, the three-day event is situated in a glittering hotel on the banks of the Potomac River some eight miles south of the White House. The brass will be glinting all on its own here.

Suffice it to say that the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp, U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Amos will be the first to stroll out on the massive stage to talk about "interoperability" between the services. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will also make an appearance. The theme of the big doings — which is not open to the public but offers free admission to active, reserve and retired military — is "The Sea Services: Forward. Mobile, Ready."

Among the myriad sources of discussion: Arctic strategy, "emerging threats in the Western hemisphere," 3-D printing, digital rocket launchers, electromagnetic railguns. Littoral combat ships, unmanned maritime systems presidential helicopter replacements. Of note: there also will be talk of "Expeditionary Force 21," the U.S. Marine Corps push in the next decade that "does not change what Marines do, but how they will do it." And among adjectives associated with the new strategy: "fast, austere, and lethal".

POLL DU JOUR

62 percent of Americans say "big government" is a greater threat to the nation than "big business." 87 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 36 percent of Democrats agree.

38 percent overall say big business is the greater threat; 13 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of independents and 64 percent of Democrats agree.

56 percent overall oppose the idea of the federal government taking over and controlling banks; 76 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 39 percent of Democrats agree.

54 percent overall say most problems with banks "have not been fixed" since the 2008 financial crisis; 46 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: An Economist/YouGov poll of 9,999 U.S. adults conducted March 29-31.

Crabby commentary, haughty admonitions to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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