- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“We’ve gone from Benghazi to Bergdahzi,” proclaims a headline at Fark.com, the online news site that specializes in cheeky, often outrageous headlines. This time, however, the headline is not far off the mark. Indeed, one controversy has replaced another this week, forcing the nation to confront issues of national security, foreign policy and presidential prowess, or the lack thereof. The unfolding saga of a U.S. soldier, five Taliban fighters and the White House could yield some collateral damage.

Consider that a Fox News poll released late Wednesday found that Americans are split about President Obama’s decision to exchange Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the quintet of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Forty-seven percent disapprove; 45 percent approve.

But “by a decisive 20 percentage-point margin, Americans think the country is weaker under the leadership of President Obama, whose White House is seen as less competent than the previous two administrations,” says Fox News analyst Dana Blanton. “Fifty-five percent of voters think the Obama administration has made America weaker. That includes 22 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 89 percent of Republicans. Just over a third says the country is stronger under Obama.”


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Some 9,000-plus news accounts and op-eds now track every facet of the trajectory, according to a Google News count. The Bergdahl rescue once seemed like a promising panacea for Mr. Obama’s increasingly dismal poll numbers, and a feel-good moment leading up to the anniversary of D-Day on Friday. Alas, the narrative has gone awry as even traditional press allies parse serious questions about Sgt. Bergdahl, related casualties, disquieting videos, executive clout, White House spin, national will, clandestine matters and infuriated lawmakers.

Everyone has a piece of this story, still very much a work in progress. Among the headlines: “War zone deserter? If so, Bowe Bergdahl joins a fascinating and bizarre club” (The Washington Post); “The Bergdahl controversy could be politics at its worst” (The Huffington Post); “The administration’s Bowe Bergdahl fairy tale” (Real Clear Politics); “Can Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl financially profit from his story?” (Fox News); “Bergdahl: Could he have lost his English skills?” (USA Today); and “Sarah Palin to Bowe Bergdahl: Use Rosetta Stone to relearn English” (Breitbart News).

THE FAITH FACTOR BECKONS


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Seeking the faith-based vote, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be among the political luminaries set to appear at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s three-day “Road to Majority” Policy Conference later this month in the nation’s capital. Also among the many, many on the podium: Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, plus Reps. Paul Ryan, Steve King, Eric Cantor and Michele Bachmann. Also on the roster: Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Allen West, Herman Cain, John R. Bolton and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“This will likely be the largest single gathering of social conservative activists in the country this year,” says coalition Chairman Ralph Reed. “Exit polls in 2012 made clear evangelicals are the single largest constituency in the Republican presidential primaries. The faith-based vote will likely remain pivotal and impossible to ignore.”

He expects up to 2,000 to attend. Things get underway June 19. Information here: Roadtomajority.com

‘UNEXPECTED NEWSMAKERS’

Hillary Clinton may have “moved on” past the Monica Lewinsky matter that addled her husband’s second term in office, according to a new People magazine interview with the former secretary of state titled, “I have a decision to make,” out on newsstands Friday. Americans, however, will be reminded all over again about former President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with the former White House intern by — oddly enough — the National Geographic Channel.

The network has reframed Miss Lewinsky’s experiences as among “captivating stories of unexpected newsmakers in the ‘90s.” Heave a sigh or run for the hills, but here comes a whole new miniseries devoted to firsthand interviews with 120 people swept up in one thing or another, most accompanied by much caterwaul from both the press and the public.

“History can happen any day, anytime, anywhere and to anyone,” the channel advises about the series, which begins July 6. Miss Lewinsky herself is described as “a White House intern whose relationship with Bill Clinton led to her becoming a legal target in an investigation and a media target like the world had never seen before.”

It will be her first TV interview in 11 years.

It is a varied group appearing in the series, titled “The ‘90s: The Last Great Decade?” Others who will share the spotlight: Newt Gingrich, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Colin L. Powell, Courtney Love, Tony Blair, Vanilla Ice and Roseanne Barr. Among those who will comment on-camera: Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson, CNN analyst Peter Bergen and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

FOR THE LEXICON

“The Sarah Palin of Iowa”

— New name for Republican Senate hopeful Joni Ernst, courtesy of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter. The candidate won the GOP primary in the Hawkeye State with 56 percent of the vote.

THE CROWD CHIPS IN

An emerging hybrid in the campaign-finance kingdom is attracting some big money, in order to oppose big money. Witness the Mayday PAC, which has raised over $1 million in under two weeks through basic online crowd funding. The “mission” of the super PAC is to lessen the influence of big money in politics by targeting congressional candidates opposed to campaign-finance reform, explains political strategist Mark McKinnon and Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor.

The two organizers intend to accrue a war chest of more than $12 million in the next two months, meant to fund campaigns in five unnamed congressional districts, targeting candidates who oppose campaign-finance reform. It’s not all crowd-sourced, though. The Mayday PAC has some high rollers matching the crowd’s donations, including Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

“Like other super PACs, Mayday PAC will spend its money independently of any political candidate. Unlike other super PACs, the names of all contributors above $200 will be reported to the FEC,” says Mr. McKinnon. “It will also list the names of large contributors prominently on its website, and will not accept anonymous contributions.”

POLL DU JOUR

58 percent of voters say the Obama administration is “trying to cover up the facts” about Benghazi; 84 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats agree.

32 percent overall say the administration has “honestly disclosed what it knows”; 11 percent of Republicans, 26 percent of independents and 56 percent of Democrats agree.

51 percent of voters overall support a congressional investigation into Benghazi; 72 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats agree.

42 percent say the events have been “investigated enough”; 24 percent of Republicans, 44 percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats agree.

50 percent of voters overall disapprove of the way Hillary Clinton handled Benghazi; 78 percent of Republicans, 22 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Washington Post/ABC News poll of 1,022 U.S. voters conducted May 29-June 1.

Indignant squawks, ballyhoo to jharper@washingtontimes.com