- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

About-face

“Responsibility has a way of focusing the mind,” Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel writes.

“Take Mark Pryor, Democratic senator from Arkansas. In 2007, Mr. Pryor voted to move card check, Big Labor’s No. 1 priority. And why not? Mr. Pryor knew the GOP would block the bill, which gets rid of secret ballots in union elections. Besides, his support helped guarantee labor wouldn’t field a challenger to him in the primary,” the writer said.

“Post-election, Mr. Pryor isn’t so committed. He’s indicated he wouldn’t co-sponsor the legislation again. …

“It hasn’t been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor’s card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions. The conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama and an unfettered Democratic majority would write that check, lickety-split.

“Instead, union leaders now say they are being told card check won’t happen soon. It seems the Obama team plans to devote its opening months to important issues, like the economy, and has no intention of jumping straight into the mother of all labor brawls. It also seems Majority Leader Harry Reid, even with his new numbers, might not have what it takes to overcome a filibuster. It’s a case study in how quickly a political landscape can change, and how frequently the conventional wisdom is wrong.

“Paradoxically, it’s Mr. Reid’s bigger majority that is now hurting him. In 2007, he got every Democrat (save South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, who was out sick) to vote for cloture. But it was an easy vote. Democrats like Mr. Pryor knew the GOP held the filibuster, and that Mr. Bush stood ready with a veto. Now that Mr. Reid has 58 seats, red-state Democrats in particular are worried they might actually have to pass this turkey, infuriating voters and businesses back home.”

Unrequited love

“It seems as if a lifetime has passed since the 2008 presidential election,” Jennifer Rubin writes at pajamasmedia.com.

John McCain’s Keystone Cops campaign is a hazy memory. The daily media barrage aimed at Sarah Palin has vanished. And the notion that Republicans might retain the White House during the greatest financial meltdown in 70 years now seems like a distant pipe dream. Meanwhile, in the interim between the election and the start of the new year, the country has learned a bit more about its president-elect,” the writer said.

“He hasn’t downloaded voluminous policy plans or divulged his deepest thoughts, but his actions - and decisions not to act - during the transition period suggest that he may not be exactly what either his supporters hoped or his opponents feared. The contours of his agenda are still not crystal clear, but some of the blanks have been filled in over the last two months.

“For starters, the fear of some on the right - and the hope of those on the left - that President-elect Obama was an ultra-dove, a sort of Manchurian candidate, has been largely discredited. His choice of a national security team filled with center-right figures and even a Bush administration defense secretary has shaken the left. His plans for a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and a prompt buildup in Afghanistan are virtually indistinguishable from McCain’s. So long as terrorists are on the rampage in Mumbai, and Hamas incites a new round of Middle East violence, one suspects the dawning of a new age of world peace and togetherness will be a long time in coming. And it doesn’t appear that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Cuba’s Raul Castro will be coming for tea at the White House anytime soon.

“We have also learned that the media’s love affair with the president-elect is largely unrequited. He dumped the transition team report regarding his staff’s contacts with Blago the afternoon before a holiday, gave pabulum or non-answers at press conferences, and ditched the press pool to take his kids to an amusement park. The imbalance in his press relationship - devotion on one side and evasion, verging on testiness, on the other - may suggest rockier times lay ahead.”

Rule of law

“One of the axioms of American democracy is that we are a government of laws, not of men,” Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes.

“We are supposed to follow the requirements of our Constitution and statutes even when they yield results we don’t like - say, freeing a person who appears guilty. We are about to find out if Democrats in the U.S. Senate want to follow the rule of law or indulge their own preferences,” Mr. Chapman said.

“The dilemma arises because of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s decision to appoint a replacement, Roland Burris, for the seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. I have no desire to be represented in Washington by Roland Burris, but then, I have no desire to be represented in Springfield by Blagojevich. The truth, though, is that both were chosen by legitimate, democratic procedures, and until they are removed by legitimate, democratic procedures, we - and the Senate - have an obligation to put up with them.”

Unfit habitat

Residents of a model housing development bankrolled by Hollywood celebrities and hand-built by former President Jimmy Carter are complaining that it is falling apart, the London Sunday Times’ John Harlow reports.

Fairway Oaks was built on northern Florida wasteland by 10,000 volunteers, including Mr. Carter, in a record 17-day “blitz” organized by the charity Habitat for Humanity, the reporter said.

Eight years later, it is better known for cockroaches, mildew and mysterious skin rashes.

A forthcoming legal battle over Fairway Oaks threatens the reputation of a charity envied for the caliber of its celebrity supporters, such as Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Helena Bonham Carter.

The case could challenge the bedrock philosophy behind Habitat for Humanity, claiming that using volunteers, rather than professional builders, is causing as many problems as it solves.

April Charney, an attorney representing many of the 85 homeowners in Fairway Oaks, said she had no reluctance to take on Habitat for Humanity, despite its status as a “darling of liberal social activists.” She said the charity should have told people that part of the estate had been built on a garbage dump.

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or e-mail Greg Pierce.

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