Age before beauty.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Dec. 8 2005 2:03 PM

Age Before Beauty

Impotence is as impotence does.

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The court decided that was too high a burden for modern democracy to meet. How can we distinguish sham candidates from honest ones, when the main difference seems to be that sham candidates hand out bribes and drop out, while honest candidates take bribes and stay in?

In short, the West Virginia case turns a host of modern political assumptions on their head. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but hardly any power corrupts pretty well, too. The federal bureaucracy may be more bloated than the private sector in other areas, but whether you're looking for someone to hand out bribes or take them, Washington is more efficient by far.

Justice Department gumshoes will drive six hours on winding roads to lower the boom on a crooked county, but won't take a 10-minute cab ride across town to clean up a crooked country. The FBI has no trouble finding out when the mayor of some town with 1,500 people pays somebody else's bar bill, but may not notice when foreign terrorists ask for visas to go to flight school.

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Finally, Jon Corzine and Michael Bloomberg could have saved millions by hiring every retired coal miner in America to run get-out-the-vote operations from bar stools in Appalachia.

The Untouchables: Ever since its dismal performance before Sept. 11, the FBI has been struggling to find some way to be useful in the war on terror. Bob Novak may be right not to revere J. Edgar Hoover, who knew how to look tough in a dress long before Maggie Thatcher and Peppermint Patty. But at least under Hoover, the FBI always got its man. Under Louis Freeh, the FBI always got its book contract.

But the West Virginia case may be a turning point for the bureau. In two weeks, Iraq will hold parliamentary elections, and our ultimate success there may depend on the level of turnout from Sunni voters. Around 2 million Sunnis cast votes in the referendum on Iraq's constitution. In a war that has cost the U.S. more than $200 billion, that's a whopping $100,000 per vote – a hundred thousand times what we pay in the one of the poorest parts of America.

If the Bush administration wants to do more than stay the course in Iraq, it should stop having the Pentagon pay to plant stories in the Iraqi press, and send in an airlift of FBI agents with bagloads of street money.

That would give Bush and the Republicans a new slogan for 2006: "Crime doesn't pay—but corruption saves!" ... 1:59 P.M. (link)

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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005

Hugged by Reality: In his cleverly titled piece, "The Bush Hugger," John Dickerson points out that John McCain and George Bush have been spending a lot more time together than seemed possible after the bitter 2000 primaries. But the real question is, who's hugging whom?

To be sure, McCain may have something to gain in conservative circles from warmer relations with the White House. No matter how much Bush stumbles with the broader electorate, his White House is still the center of the Republican universe. Presidential aides understand, but never forget, when Republicans like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Rick Santorum run for cover when their boss comes to town. The more unpopular the president becomes, the more grateful his team is for any show of support on any issue. These days, Bush is a very cheap date indeed.

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