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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While most Republicans are hiding from the ethics scandals, McCain has been turning up the heat. Whatever else comes of his Senate investigation into the Abramoff affair, no one will think McCain is crossing his fingers when he pledges to restore integrity to Washington.

The Dark Side: As in 2000, McCain still has to endure the Republican ordeal by primary. That torture is like the medieval ordeal by water, when they tied the accused's hands, threw him in a pond, then condemned him to die if he floated or let him drown if he sank. McCain will need the skill of Houdini to tell the truth and survive.

If McCain somehow wins his party's nomination, Democrats will try to taint him with the far right's worst positions and Bush's worst mistakes. But in the meantime, Democratic hopefuls should steal a page from McCain about how to stay afloat themselves: If you want Bush's job, tell the country what you'll do differently if you get it.

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McCain told the Journal, "I want to reform education, reform Medicare and Social Security, reform lobbying and campaigns. Reform immigration. Reform. Reform. Reform." Considering how much welfare reform helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992 and education reform launched George Bush in 2000, Democrats might want to take back the reform mantle before John McCain leaves both parties hugging the status quo. ... 1:07 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Nov. 29, 2005

Recipe for Disaster: On a cold, rainy Tuesday, George Bush ushered in the bleakest Thanksgiving of his presidency by pardoning a couple of turkeys. He christened them with names the public chose in an online poll: "Marshmallow" and "Yam." Yam didn't even bother to show up.

Jaded observers can see whatever they want to in these events. Most of us saw turkeys. But annual rituals at the White House also serve another purpose. Like family traditions, they're a chance to take stock of how everyone's doing compared to past years. That's what makes traditions so poignant: Nothing changes except the mood.

At this particular ritual, the president makes the same joke every year, declaring the naming contest a "neck and neck race." (Two years ago, he alarmed the traditional-values crowd by saying "neck-to-neck.") Every year, the vice president stands mute at his side, looking bemused and hungry, like a cross between Ed McMahon and the evil Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. Every year, the president takes a moment to thank our troops, then poses for a photo op that must make the troops thankful that the eagle, not the turkey, is the bird they're fighting for.

The mood, however, is different every year. Two years ago, Bush joked about the turkeys' luxurious rooms at the Hotel Washington and how much the runner-up turkey's role resembled the vice president's. Last year's ceremony was positively jubilant. Still riding high after his re-election victory, Bush congratulated the winning turkey for "a race well run." He gave most of the credit to two 527s: "Barnyard Animals for Truth" and "Fahrenheit 375 Degrees at 10 Minutes Per Pound" then saved his biggest joke for last: "Now it's a time for healing."

This year, rain drove the event from the Rose Garden into the dreary auditorium of the Old Executive Office Building, which looks better suited for a school play or a 4-H auction. Bush labored through the ceremony, stammering, "This is what we call—the White House is called the people's house, and we're going to call Marshmallow and Yam the people's turkey ...s."

Ballot Stuffing: Even the results of the online poll were disappointing. Turnout fell 35 percent. Either those 527s really matter, or turkey namers are as depressed as the rest of Bush's base. In past years, the White House got the winners it wanted: In 2004, "Biscuits and Gravy" beat "Patience and Fortitude" (which couldn't have survived the primaries this year); "Stars and Stripes" whipped "Pumpkin and Cranberry" the year before that.