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Inside the Beltway: Enchanted by political image alone

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Politicians and political parties may be a little too preoccupied with the business of branding themselves, heeding opinion polls, micro-targeting voters and megamarketing the message. Their real appeal may be getting lost in the turmoil.

"I say we get rid of all this research and development for a while," conservative commentator Armstrong Williams tells Inside the Beltway. "We need to get these voters to know the candidates — not the label. That way, they won't be so shocked when their elected officials actually start to govern."

Yes, now wouldn't that be something? There are greater implications, though. Transparency and fair-minded media coverage may also suffer when elected officials project an image that is more akin to entertainment than authentic leadership.

Consider that President Obama has now been labeled the "reality-show president" by Todd Krainin, a producer for Reason TV who notes that the White House has almost become a broadcast company itself, what with its official photographers, strategic selfies and tactical tweets. The observant Michael Shaw, publisher of Bagnewsnotes.com — a "visual politics" site which analyzes news images — declares that the public "has been fed a steady diet of whatever kind of president the news cycle demands."

Miffed journalists can whine about it, to no avail. That, apparently, is political show biz. And it's happening everywhere.

"All over the world, heads of state are producing idealized versions of their own identities on social media, a technology that empowers leaders every bit as much as the rest of us. Heads of state and politicians are increasingly free to project their own self-image directly to the public, with less accountability than ever from an independent press," writes Mr. Krainan, who has produced a 12-minute expose of same using still photography from the White House. It's available at Reason.com/reasontv.

A MOST TELLING POLL

Arriving Tuesday from the Family Research Council and WPA Opinion Research, a pivotal poll gauging public reaction to the contraception mandate in Obamacare that requires all health plans to provide "all FDA-approved contraceptives, including drugs that can destroy a human embryo, and sterilization services."

The national survey of 901 likely voters found that 53 percent of the respondents oppose the mandate, compared to 43 percent who support it. The takeaway: Opposition to the mandate remains high among key demographics who support Democrats, including women (50 percent oppose), independents (53 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent).

"Democrats should be wary about being on the wrong side of this issue as voters that typically support them tend to oppose the mandate," the poll advises.

BUMPER PATROL

"Keep your doctor, change your senator."

— Bumper sticker spotted in Warren, Ohio.

BIG-HEARTED GOLF

Rep. Trey Gowdy — Benghazi investigation chairman. But wait. There's also Trey Gowdy — golf aficionado extraordinaire. Indeed, the South Carolina Republican is among 11 other lawmakers described as "Washington's most powerful golf enthusiasts" who are set to gather on Capitol Hill to herald the upcoming "NGS Golf Digest Congressional Shoot-Out" for charity.

On hand Wednesday evening for a pre-tournament reception: Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson plus Rep. Mick Mulvaney and the aforementioned Mr. Gowdy.

And among Democrats, it's Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Udall and Mark Warner, plus Reps. Jim Clyburn, Mike Doyle, and Cedric Richmond.

Former Sens. Chris Dodd and Don Nickles, plus Fox News anchor Brett Baier, will also attend.

The big tournament itself is June 23 at the spectacular Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia featuring 20 fivesomes composed of lawmakers, VIPs, celebrities and wounded veterans. The charities that will benefit: NGS — No Greater Sacrifice, devoted to the children of fallen or wounded service members; the PGA Foundation; Children's National Medical Center; Armed Services YMCA; Helping A Hero.org; the Dixon Center; and Thanks USA. See their big doings here: NGSshootout.org. And see Mr. Trump's 600 acres of riverside golfing at Trumpnationaldc.com.

WHERE'S THAT ALASKAN AMMO?

Is there still an ammunition shortage in Alaska? You betcha. Up in Sarah Palin country, .22-caliber ammunition is an increasingly rare thing. There are daily lines at sporting goods stores, customer sprints to the gun counter. The stuff disappears from shelves the moment it appears, apparently.

"If you aren't at the sporting goods store or gun shop when it opens in the morning, you might have a better chance of encountering Bigfoot roaming the aisles than of finding ammunition for your .22-caliber weapon," says Sean Doogan, a reporter for the Alaska Dispatch.

The shortage is now about three years old, but its origins are still somewhat mysterious. The National Shooting Sports Foundation says that manufacturers can't keep up with the demand, gun enthusiasts are hoarding their hard-won rounds. Gun sales are also up.

"There are a lot of wild stories," Foundation spokesman Mike Bazinet told the Dispatch. "One story we've heard anecdotally is that the government is buying up all the ammo. That is not true. Government purchases have gone down over last three years."

He says the .22-caliber shortage is easing in the Lower 48. But not in Alaska.

"The .22-caliber cartridges are popular among people who want to teach their children how to shoot. It is small and has little kick when fired. It's also popular for targeting small game like snowshoe hares, grouse and ptarmigan," Mr. Doogan says. "But .22-caliber is also the round of choice for shooting competitions, including the biathlon — a combination of Nordic skiing and shooting."

SANITY CORNER

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Carleton University pored over self-reported data from 6,000 people about the directions and decisions of their lives during a 14-year period and here's what they found: "Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age," they conclude in research published in Psychological Science, an academic journal.

"Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose," says lead researcher Patrick Hill. "So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur."

POLL DU JOUR

64 percent of Americans rate the U.S. Constitution "excellent or pretty good"; 71 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats agree.

62 percent overall rate American quality of life as excellent or pretty good; 69 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats agree.

41 percent overall rate the U.S. system of government excellent or pretty good; 43 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats agree.

34 percent overall rate the U.S. economic system excellent or pretty good; 34 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats agree.

23 percent overall rate the American political system excellent or pretty good; 22 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Harris Poll of 2,300 U.S. adults conducted April 16-21 and released Monday.

Cranky talk, intellectual chitter-chatter to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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