- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Art critic

Sen. Barack Obama, already scrutinized for a gaffe in Richmond this week, is now being labeled a censor of fine art.

The Illinois Democrat held a Tuesday fundraiser at the Plant Zero Art Center in Virginia’s capital. At the request of the presidential candidate’s campaign, the art gallery covered up an oil reproduction of the infamous photo showing pop star Britney Spears getting out of a car sans underwear. The painting has a $5,000 price tag.

Plant Zero also took down a painting of a woman in a “Kill Lincoln” T-shirt — meant to pay homage to the 1980s movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” but potentially misconstrued as a message about the 16th president.

Times-Dispatch reporter Tyler Whitley wrote that an Obama advance staffer asked the gallery to remove or conceal the two art pieces. The staffer threatened to hold the event elsewhere if the demand was not met.

The artist, Jamie Boling, told Mr. Whitley that at first he was offended but relented when he realized the art could have been used against the campaign.

“I wish we could have had a good dialogue about freedom of speech,” Mr. Boling told the Times-Dispatch, but added, “I understand that a politician would want to avoid being photographed” in front of the Spears painting.

Identity crisis

“When Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were hauling their ambition around the country a month or so ago — the primaries a year off and the general election nearly two years — their march to the horizon looked to me like a parody of serious politics. I was wrong. It’s too short,” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger writes.

“It would take a lifetime to figure out who these guys really are, and longer than that to decode Hillary Clinton. Yet come January 2009, one will run the nation. Time’s running out,” Mr. Henninger said.

“Fred Thompson’s boom-voiced boomlet is said to reflect Republican dissatisfaction with the announced candidates. What that dissatisfaction consists of is hard to say. Given there were 10 men onstage in last week’s debate in the haunted house of the Reagan Library — nearly all experienced and serious Republican politicians — that’s a pretty high level of dissatisfaction. What do GOP voters want?

“What they want, I suspect, is not so much Mr. Right as a clearer understanding than they’ve got now of what it means to be a Republican.

“The GOP muddle is George Bush’s fault. After more than six years of the Bush presidency, the Republican template is broken. Largely this is the result of presiding over a war presidency for nearly two terms. The war has dropped virtually all else in the nation’s political life into the footnotes. …

“After the Bush presidency — the good, the bad and the endless — what Republicans most want to do is simply reboot themselves and their party.”

Sharpton’s gaffe

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney denounced the Rev. Al Sharpton’s remarks about God and his Mormon religion, saying it could be construed as “a bigoted comment.”

“It shows that bigotry still exists in some corners,” said Mr. Romney, who spoke to reporters Wednesday after a campaign event. “I thought it was a most unfortunate comment to make.”

On Monday, Mr. Sharpton said in a debate that “those of us who believe in God” will defeat Mr. Romney for the White House. He denied he was questioning the Mormon’s own belief in God. Rather, the New York Democrat said he was contrasting himself with Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author he was debating at the time.

“As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation,” Mr. Sharpton said during a debate with Mr. Hitchens at the New York Public Library.

Mr. Romney’s campaign seized on the comments to criticize Mr. Sharpton, and the candidate complained about the remarks on Wednesday, calling them “terribly misguided,” the Associated Press reports.

Asked whether he considered the civil rights leader a bigot, Mr. Romney demurred.

“I don’t know Reverend Sharpton,” he said. “I doubt he is personally such a thing, but the comment was a comment which could be described as a bigoted comment.”

In a statement, Mr. Sharpton accused the Romney campaign of a “blatant effort to fabricate a controversy to help their lagging campaign” and argued that it was Mr. Hitchens who criticized Mormons.

“In no way did I attack Mormons or the Mormon Church when I responded that other believers, not atheists, would vote against Mr. Romney for purely political reasons,” Mr. Sharpton said.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Mr. Sharpton denied questioning Mr. Romney’s belief in God. “A Mormon, by definition, believes in God. They don’t believe in God the way I do, but by definition, they believe in God,” the minister said.

Unknown aliens

“So three of the men arrested for plotting to massacre American soldiers in New Jersey were here illegally. Here’s a dumb question: Why are there any people here in this country illegally?” syndicated columnist James P. Pinkerton writes.

“It’s possible to argue back and forth about the economic and social impact of illegal immigration into the United States. But surely there can be no argument about the undesirability of terrorism,” Mr. Pinkerton said.

“And, since we have just been reminded yet again that illegal aliens can be terrorists, we should ask a further question: Do we really have to wait for an A-bomb to go off in a U.S. city before we get curious as to who is in our midst?

“Now, of course, some might say we should target only certain groups, such as Arabs and Muslims — the Fort Dix Six are all Muslim — for special surveillance. But that would be profiling, and we can’t have that.”

Not so rich

President Bush helped raise $10.5 million for the national Republican Party at its annual gala last night, the smallest take in years for the event, held only months after the party lost control of both houses of Congress, the Associated Press reports.

The Republican National Committee’s spring fundraising gala hosted by the president raised $17 million last year, $15 million in 2005 and $14 million in 2003.

The cocktail reception drew about 800 people to the D.C. Armory. Standing up, they dined on tenderloin sandwiches, crab cakes, vegetables and hummus. The ticket price was $1,500 per person, though many donated more. The president put a positive spin on the night, saying donors would help return Washington to Republican control.

“I believe we’re the party of the entrepreneur. I believe we’re the party of the doer, the dreamer, the people that work,” Mr. Bush said. “I believe that we’re the party of low taxes. And I know we’re the party of strong national defense to protect the United States of America.”

The latest fundraising filings for the parties, released in April, showed that national Democrats have nearly eliminated Republicans’ traditional fundraising advantage.

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

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