Commentary Magazine


Topic: political consultant

RE RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

Jonathan, you make excellent points about the common use of the term “blood libel” to describe wider acts of anti-Semitic thinking and behavior other than its original meaning — and why the day-long  attack on Sarah Palin for using the phrase has an absurd tinge to it. Today, asked about the “blood libel,” for example, the political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum described it as “centuries of killing Jews in Europe,” which describes the result of the “blood libel” but not the term’s meaning. Shrum’s ignorance was mirrored by, for example, Nate Silver of the New York Times, who said on Twitter that he didn’t know the history of the “blood libel” either.

But neither Silver nor Shrum is equivalent to Palin. While Palin should not be faulted for saying things she didn’t say or committing errors she didn’t commit, the fact is she has achieved a kind of national stature that exists in tension with her general tendency toward speaking as a lone outsider battling larger forces. She is larger than many of those forces now, and large figures must move gracefully if they are not to topple over.

Complaining about “a blood libel” was a mistake in tone, as the fact that we are still discussing it indicates. Her talk was intended to still the waters, not roil them against her further. But her use of the phrase made that impossible. Whoever advises her should have known that, and if no one who advises her did know that, she needs to get a few more advisers with better judgment.

Jonathan, you make excellent points about the common use of the term “blood libel” to describe wider acts of anti-Semitic thinking and behavior other than its original meaning — and why the day-long  attack on Sarah Palin for using the phrase has an absurd tinge to it. Today, asked about the “blood libel,” for example, the political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum described it as “centuries of killing Jews in Europe,” which describes the result of the “blood libel” but not the term’s meaning. Shrum’s ignorance was mirrored by, for example, Nate Silver of the New York Times, who said on Twitter that he didn’t know the history of the “blood libel” either.

But neither Silver nor Shrum is equivalent to Palin. While Palin should not be faulted for saying things she didn’t say or committing errors she didn’t commit, the fact is she has achieved a kind of national stature that exists in tension with her general tendency toward speaking as a lone outsider battling larger forces. She is larger than many of those forces now, and large figures must move gracefully if they are not to topple over.

Complaining about “a blood libel” was a mistake in tone, as the fact that we are still discussing it indicates. Her talk was intended to still the waters, not roil them against her further. But her use of the phrase made that impossible. Whoever advises her should have known that, and if no one who advises her did know that, she needs to get a few more advisers with better judgment.

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Speculation About Israel Attacking Iran Misses the Point

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

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Sestak Can’t Shut Up Critics, Can’t Hide

The Jewish Exponent is not exactly a conservative publication, so its coverage of ECI’s ad and of Joe Sestak’s Israel problem must be of particular concern to the Sestak camp. The report explains:

A new effort to attack U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak’s record on Israel has gone viral. A debate that has long been playing out in the pages of the Jewish Exponent has now made its way to MSNBCs “Morning Joe,” and Web sites such as Politico, The Atlantic, Commentary, the Huffington Post and YouTube. … At the centerpiece of the new campaign against Sestak is a television ad sponsored by a prominent group of Jews and Evangelical Christians calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel.

The ad, airing in Pennsylvania this week — including during a Phillies game — highlights an appearance he made before a controversial Muslim group in 2007 and criticizes him for signing one congressional letter urging Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and for not signing another one affirming Israel-U.S. ties. The spot is likely the first strike in what organizers have vowed will be a sustained effort to challenge Democrats and President Barack Obama on policy toward Israel.

The Exponent is not buying Sestak’s defense of his speech to CAIR in 2007: “According to the Anti-Defamation League, CAIR has ‘refused for many years to unequivocally condemn by name Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations.'” Nor does it appear that Sestak will be able to duck the controversy:

“Michael Bronstein, a Philadelphia political consultant and pro-Israel activist who is supporting Sestak, said that the new commercial “is completely different from anything that we have seen before. I suspect it will be effective without an adequate response.” …

For his part, Toomey, through his spokeswoman, told the Exponent: “It’s really unfortunate that Joe Sestak has repeatedly chosen to align himself with the most anti-Israel faction in Congress.”

It is not simply that Sestak gave the speech to a group that often spouts anti-Israel venom. It is that, as the Exponent points out, “Despite repeated calls for Sestak to have canceled before the CAIR speech, and calls for him to admit the appearance was a mistake, he has never backed down.” Even now that CAIR continues to carry water (and censor books) on behalf of radical Islamists and even now that CAIR’s track record is well known (see here and here and here), Sestak has never issued an apology or denounced the group.

You can understand why his lawyer tried to take down the ad. In doing so, however, he’s only called more attention to Sestak’s shabby record.

The Jewish Exponent is not exactly a conservative publication, so its coverage of ECI’s ad and of Joe Sestak’s Israel problem must be of particular concern to the Sestak camp. The report explains:

A new effort to attack U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak’s record on Israel has gone viral. A debate that has long been playing out in the pages of the Jewish Exponent has now made its way to MSNBCs “Morning Joe,” and Web sites such as Politico, The Atlantic, Commentary, the Huffington Post and YouTube. … At the centerpiece of the new campaign against Sestak is a television ad sponsored by a prominent group of Jews and Evangelical Christians calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel.

The ad, airing in Pennsylvania this week — including during a Phillies game — highlights an appearance he made before a controversial Muslim group in 2007 and criticizes him for signing one congressional letter urging Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and for not signing another one affirming Israel-U.S. ties. The spot is likely the first strike in what organizers have vowed will be a sustained effort to challenge Democrats and President Barack Obama on policy toward Israel.

The Exponent is not buying Sestak’s defense of his speech to CAIR in 2007: “According to the Anti-Defamation League, CAIR has ‘refused for many years to unequivocally condemn by name Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations.'” Nor does it appear that Sestak will be able to duck the controversy:

“Michael Bronstein, a Philadelphia political consultant and pro-Israel activist who is supporting Sestak, said that the new commercial “is completely different from anything that we have seen before. I suspect it will be effective without an adequate response.” …

For his part, Toomey, through his spokeswoman, told the Exponent: “It’s really unfortunate that Joe Sestak has repeatedly chosen to align himself with the most anti-Israel faction in Congress.”

It is not simply that Sestak gave the speech to a group that often spouts anti-Israel venom. It is that, as the Exponent points out, “Despite repeated calls for Sestak to have canceled before the CAIR speech, and calls for him to admit the appearance was a mistake, he has never backed down.” Even now that CAIR continues to carry water (and censor books) on behalf of radical Islamists and even now that CAIR’s track record is well known (see here and here and here), Sestak has never issued an apology or denounced the group.

You can understand why his lawyer tried to take down the ad. In doing so, however, he’s only called more attention to Sestak’s shabby record.

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Yes Minister — From the 1980s, A Practical Guide to Politics in 2008

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey — and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey — and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

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Mr. Sharpton’s Neighborhood

New York magazine recently reported on the continuing political influence of Al Sharpton, a man whose last foray into politics was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary in which he received negligible support. For some inexplicable reason, Sharpton plays the role of kingmaker in Democratic circles, with candidates falsely assuming that he holds sway with black voters. Sitting with him at the swank Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Gray listens to voicemails left on Sharpton’s phone from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seeking Sharpton’s advice. “In the end they may all hate my guts,” Sharpton says. “But it’s the reality of the landscape . . . how much they need me and how bad. I’m sure right now they know they need me.”

One would hope that the F.B.I.’s subpoenaing several of Sharpton’s closest associates as part of an investigation to determine whether he swindled the government out of federal campaign-matching funds four years ago would dissuade the leading Democratic contenders from so shamelessly paying obeisance to this man. But if instigating race riots and defaming public servants were not enough to get Sharpton booted out of respectable circles, what’s a little embezzlement of taxpayer money?

Sharpton’s lawyer told the New York Daily News “I can’t think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn’t under investigation,” which is probably accurate. His latest travails conjure up memory of this December 2000 New York Times article–perhaps the most hilarious item ever to appear in the paper–detailing a deposition Sharpton gave to the lawyers of the prosecutor he defamed in the Tawana Brawley case:

The company, he says, pays part of his rent and all of his utilities for the family home on Ditmas Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It bought some of his furniture and a couple of his business suits. It pays for most of his telephone calls. He says it now pays the $15,000 tuition for each of his two young daughters who attend the prestigious Brooklyn private school Poly Prep Country Day School. . . .
Mr. Bolnick wanted to know if Rev. Als Productions maintained an office in Mr. Sharpton’s home. Mr. Sharpton said it did.

”A separate entrance?” Mr. Bolnick asked.

”We use the front entrance for Rev. Als,” Mr. Sharpton said. ”The back entrance is what we use for the family and guests.”

Mr. Bolnick seemed a bit confused. ”But when I walk in the front door to visit, to make a business meeting with Rev. Als, I walk through your personal residence?”

Not exactly, Mr. Sharpton said. ”We consider it our personal residence, one part of the house, one that you would not walk through.”

The answer was still not getting through to Mr. Bolnick. He asked again, ”So I can go through the front door to Rev. Als without going through your personal residence?”

Mr. Sharpton then explained how his entertainment business related to his floor plan: ”We consider the living room and dining room part of Rev. Als. We entertain people for speaking engagements — hopefully the artist will sign with us. That’s all part of doing the business.”

”If I have Artist A at 1902 Ditmas and they eat in the dining room,” he said, ”that is a Rev. Als.”

The exchange ended with Mr. Bolnick noting that while he himself met clients in his living room, that did not make it an office.

”There is an office there,” Mr. Sharpton said of his house. ”But when you walk in the door, you are not walking into the office. But nor are you walking into my living quarters, either.”

On second thought, any politician worth his salt ought to be consulting Sharpton, whose parsing and inability to answer a simple question prove him to be a valuable political consultant.

New York magazine recently reported on the continuing political influence of Al Sharpton, a man whose last foray into politics was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary in which he received negligible support. For some inexplicable reason, Sharpton plays the role of kingmaker in Democratic circles, with candidates falsely assuming that he holds sway with black voters. Sitting with him at the swank Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Gray listens to voicemails left on Sharpton’s phone from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seeking Sharpton’s advice. “In the end they may all hate my guts,” Sharpton says. “But it’s the reality of the landscape . . . how much they need me and how bad. I’m sure right now they know they need me.”

One would hope that the F.B.I.’s subpoenaing several of Sharpton’s closest associates as part of an investigation to determine whether he swindled the government out of federal campaign-matching funds four years ago would dissuade the leading Democratic contenders from so shamelessly paying obeisance to this man. But if instigating race riots and defaming public servants were not enough to get Sharpton booted out of respectable circles, what’s a little embezzlement of taxpayer money?

Sharpton’s lawyer told the New York Daily News “I can’t think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn’t under investigation,” which is probably accurate. His latest travails conjure up memory of this December 2000 New York Times article–perhaps the most hilarious item ever to appear in the paper–detailing a deposition Sharpton gave to the lawyers of the prosecutor he defamed in the Tawana Brawley case:

The company, he says, pays part of his rent and all of his utilities for the family home on Ditmas Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It bought some of his furniture and a couple of his business suits. It pays for most of his telephone calls. He says it now pays the $15,000 tuition for each of his two young daughters who attend the prestigious Brooklyn private school Poly Prep Country Day School. . . .
Mr. Bolnick wanted to know if Rev. Als Productions maintained an office in Mr. Sharpton’s home. Mr. Sharpton said it did.

”A separate entrance?” Mr. Bolnick asked.

”We use the front entrance for Rev. Als,” Mr. Sharpton said. ”The back entrance is what we use for the family and guests.”

Mr. Bolnick seemed a bit confused. ”But when I walk in the front door to visit, to make a business meeting with Rev. Als, I walk through your personal residence?”

Not exactly, Mr. Sharpton said. ”We consider it our personal residence, one part of the house, one that you would not walk through.”

The answer was still not getting through to Mr. Bolnick. He asked again, ”So I can go through the front door to Rev. Als without going through your personal residence?”

Mr. Sharpton then explained how his entertainment business related to his floor plan: ”We consider the living room and dining room part of Rev. Als. We entertain people for speaking engagements — hopefully the artist will sign with us. That’s all part of doing the business.”

”If I have Artist A at 1902 Ditmas and they eat in the dining room,” he said, ”that is a Rev. Als.”

The exchange ended with Mr. Bolnick noting that while he himself met clients in his living room, that did not make it an office.

”There is an office there,” Mr. Sharpton said of his house. ”But when you walk in the door, you are not walking into the office. But nor are you walking into my living quarters, either.”

On second thought, any politician worth his salt ought to be consulting Sharpton, whose parsing and inability to answer a simple question prove him to be a valuable political consultant.

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Edwards the Phony

Matt Drudge has posted this headline on his site: “Editor For SC Largest Paper: Edwards Is ‘A Big Phony.’” That claim may qualify as the understatement of the political year. John Edwards has gone from what U.S. News & World Report describes as “the happy-face centrist” to the Candidate from the World of Kos. Has any ’08 candidate traveled so far (to the left), so fast, and in such a transparently false manner?

There are the predictable flip-flops. Today Edwards says the Iraq war was a mistake; in 2002, he insisted that “Saddam Hussein’s regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies. . . . [W]e must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, and eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction once and for all.”

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Matt Drudge has posted this headline on his site: “Editor For SC Largest Paper: Edwards Is ‘A Big Phony.’” That claim may qualify as the understatement of the political year. John Edwards has gone from what U.S. News & World Report describes as “the happy-face centrist” to the Candidate from the World of Kos. Has any ’08 candidate traveled so far (to the left), so fast, and in such a transparently false manner?

There are the predictable flip-flops. Today Edwards says the Iraq war was a mistake; in 2002, he insisted that “Saddam Hussein’s regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies. . . . [W]e must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, and eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction once and for all.”

Having been an early supporter of the war on terror, he now refers to it as a “bumper sticker.” John Edwards is now a passionate critic of NAFTA—after having had nice words to say about it just a few years ago. Once upon a time he expressed concern about government spending; today, he is a champion of it. He raged against “shameful lending practices” that are “devastating communities”—and then we found out he was employed in a firm that engaged in predatory lending practices. The multi-millionaire owner of a 28,000-square-foot home targets the rich in his speeches. On and on it goes.

Edwards is also leading the campaign against Fox News. He was among the first Democratic candidates to refuse to take part in Fox-sponsored debates, prompting this withering reply from Roger Ailes: “The candidates that can’t face Fox, can’t face al Qaeda.”

And sometimes what reveals the most about a candidate is not his stance on issues, but how he acts. John Edwards’s actions range from the funny (the high-priced haircuts and this widely-mocked video of the candidate’s carefully attending to his hair) to the disturbing. For instance, according to the political consultant Bob Shrum, during the 2004 campaign Edwards told Kerry a highly personal story about his son’s death. Edwards said it was a story about which he had told very few people. In Shrum’s account, Edwards told Kerry “that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body….” Shrum says Kerry was “queasy” because Senator Edwards had recounted that story before, in almost the same language.

This story, by itself, is unsettling. In the context of the Makeover of John Edwards, it is unnerving. One senses that Edwards is unanchored philosophically, that he is thirsting for political power and willing to remake himself in order to gain it.

He is Bill Clinton without the interns.

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Hillary’s Undamaged Hopes

Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

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Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

The most interesting chapters may come from Gerth and Van Atta. These two are really the first to take an extended, in-depth look at Hillary’s record as a Senator. But that’s precisely the rub. Senator Clinton has played it close to the vest in Congress, emphasizing her competence and bi-partisan instincts largely to the exclusion of any political skywriting. And unless there are hitherto unsuspected revelations about her Senate career, any damage caused by Her Way may be minimal. The book comes early in the campaign; most likely voters already have a strong sense of what they think of Hillary.

As things now stand, the relentless, low-key emphasis on competence which served Hillary so well in her 2000 Senate campaign will also help her in 2008. Not least because it plays off of President Bush’s marked incompetence, the latest example of which is his ill-drafted immigration reform bill.

When it comes to the Clinton campaign it is important to remember that she’s engaged not in one but in two primary races (political consultant Craig Charney first formulated this idea). One is against Obama for the upper-middle-class vote; the other against John Edwards for the blue-collar vote. She can lose both and still likely win the nomination: neither of her rivals has any cross-class appeal. Which is why, these new exposés notwithstanding, Hillary still remains the favorite.

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