Archive

January 5th, 2016

GOP consultant, for a day

    The value of free advice is measured by what you pay for it, and Republicans don't usually ask me for mine.

    Nonetheless, the GOP's presidential race is one of the most fascinating political brawls in years. It's about to hit full stride, and I can't resist kibitzing. I know the leading candidates will take my guidance for what it's worth.

     Marco Rubio: You have three related problems. You're trying to appeal to every wing of the party, which means that none regards you as one of its own. There is no state in the early going that you can consider an obvious bet. And, to put it charitably, you do not look like a person of conviction.

    You were pro-immigration until you weren't. You optimistically embraced the changing nature of our nation until you ran an ad about "all of us who feel out of place in our own country." You left McCainville to enter Trumpland.

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The Affluenza Candidate

    Ethan Couch, meet Donald Trump, fellow Affluenza sufferer.

    Couch is the Texas teenager whose drunken driving killed four people in 2013 when he lost control of his -- or, should I say, his mommy and daddy's -- speeding pickup. Couch was 16. Three hours after the grisly crash, his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult.

    His lawyer and his expert witness psychologist -- or, should I say, the lawyer and the expert witness psychologist hired by his mommy and daddy -- argued that Couch should be spared imprisonment because his overprivileged upbringing had failed to teach him the difference between right and wrong. Mommy and Daddy had never set limits or imposed consequences on young Ethan.

    Couch's infuriating defense -- it's not fair to punish me because I've never been punished before -- succeeded in winning him probation instead of the 20 years sought by prosecutors. Of course, Couch is back in the news because complying with the no-alcohol terms of probation was apparently too much for him; Mommy fled with him to Mexico rather than allow him to face punishment.

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Remembering Mary McGrory

    There's a new book out on the late Mary McGrory, rightly subtitled "The First Queen of Journalism." It tells as much about the nation's capital and its politics that she covered elegantly for more than half a century as it does about the wisdom and toughness with which she dominated the column-writing racket over that time.

    First at the late lamented Washington Star and then at the Washington Post, she brought to life with uncommon vividness and honesty the roller-coaster ride that was the Vietnam War years, the civil rights era of the 1960s, the dazzling Kennedy and complicated Lyndon Johnson interludes, and then the demoralizing Nixon reign of corruption.

    Her Boston Irish Catholic roots brought forth a lyricism in her writing with a biting cynicism toward politicians of all stripes. Yet it couldn't tarnish her love for the game and its mix of rogues and defenders of the democratic ideal, small and large D.

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Fond Cosby memories take another beating

    In Washington, a city with many memorials, the locals argue heatedly these days over whether one should be painted over.

    That's because it is a mural on the side of a popular local landmark called Ben's Chili Bowl that includes the 10-foot high face of Bill Cosby.

    The mural, which was painted by a local artist in 2010, includes such other famous past customers of Ben's as President Barack Obama. But the neighborhood's dispute over Cosby's face illustrates how far the star of one of the world's most popular comedians has fallen -- from superstar to criminal suspect.

    Cosby's fortunes abruptly turned in October 2014 when a YouTube video clip of rising comedian Hannibal Buress put a new national spotlight on old accusations of sexual assault that include at least one out-of-court settlement.

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Why the next Supreme Court vacancy will favor liberals, no matter who retires

    If the Supreme Court follows the election returns, as the old saying goes, the 2016 election will set the court's path for a generation. When the next president is sworn in, three sitting justices - Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy - will be in their 80s; Stephen Breyer will be 78. These justices are hard-charging, yet statistics are against them: The average retirement age for a justice leaving the court since 1971 is just under 79. They may not be able to delay retirement until the political stars align or even until their replacements are confirmed. So pundits are predicting, and fundraisers for both parties are warning, that the next president will get to chart the course the court will take for decades to come.

    This argument rests on the unexamined assumption that "the next president will hold tremendous power over the Supreme Court's make-up," as Rolling Stone put it. But legal scholars have started discussing scenarios in which the next president is practically powerless when it comes to appointments. They caution that because the partisan divide is so deep, it may be impossible to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed.

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January 4th

An article of conciliation

    At year's end, I want to offer a word to my conservative and libertarian readers whose patience I try regularly.

    Perhaps you read me to have someone to yell at, or in search of evidence for how dumb liberals can be. No matter. I'm glad you're there.

    I am not someone who believes that if only we understood each other better, we would find our way to agreement. Indeed, sometimes people get to understand each other better and the results are disastrous. They learn that the distance between them is even greater than they assumed.

    But more fundamentally, people disagree because they have honest differences over what matters most. We might all claim to believe in liberty, justice, equality, community, security and personal responsibility. But we can still quarrel because we put different weights on each, or because we define some of these concepts differently.

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A year to remember, regrettably

    So long, 2015, and don't let the door hit you on the seat of your pants on the way out. On second thought, let it give you a good strong whack.

    Here are some of the odious things the year brought us: First of all, a return of terrorism, abroad and at home, in Paris and San Bernardino in addition to those gruesome Middle East beheadings by agents of the emergent Islamic State.

    In Europe, there was the return of the Cold War and Russian imperialism. Former Soviet henchman Vladimir Putin's brazen seizure of Crimea in 2014 is still unchallenged, and his dreams of restoring the Soviet Union to its former superpower stature were sustained through 2015.

    At home, there was a year-long stagnation of the legislative process on Capitol Hill, as President Obama continued to knock his head into Republican obstructionism and deep personal animosity toward him. At the same time, internal GOP dissension drove House Speaker John Boehner from office, though with a faint flickering of hope in a pledge from successor Paul Ryan to break the legislative logjam.

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Will anti-Cruz movement rally behind Rubio?

    National Review's Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson report a potentially important development: The emergence of an Anybody-But-Cruz-(Except-Trump) movement from the soon-to-be ashes of the Iowa campaigns of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. It would seem that some social conservatives, including a few currently supporting the last two Iowa winners, consider Sen. Ted Cruz a "phony opportunist" -- and would rather see Sen. Marco Rubio do well if their own candidates don't have an unexpected late surge.

    This suggests that reporting indicating that Cruz has wrapped up the support of Iowa Christian conservative leaders may have overstated the strength of his hold on that large faction of the Republican vote.

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What could go wrong in 2016?

You probably noticed that 2015 was pretty weird. But hey, it's a brand new year -- a fresh start, a blank slate, an unwritten script. In 2016, what could possibly go wrong?

    Uh, where to begin?

     My fingers balk at typing the words "President-elect Trump" because I don't think such a thing will actually happen. But at this point I'm wondering how to justify ruling anything out.

     A year ago, was there anyone on earth who predicted that Donald Trump would utterly dominate the Republican presidential race? That the boastful billionaire would be setting the nation's political agenda? That Jeb Bush, armed with more campaign money than he could possibly spend, would be drifting helplessly toward the single-digit wings of the crowded debate stage?

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The way out of partisan gridlock

    As we head into a new year and another election cycle, all evidence points toward a disheartening replay of years past. We will see a rearranging of the players, perhaps, but the continuing landscape in Washington is unmistakable. Though Congress recently passed a budget agreement and a highway bill, it seems mainly to have spent the past year spinning its wheels. Our great deliberative bodies continue to be embroiled in an unnecessary standoff with themselves and a poisonous relationship with the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. More money than ever is flooding the system. On deck is a batch of candidates merely demonizing the other side in hopes of rallying support by scratching at the basest itches of the electorate. We have never been more divided.

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