On the Internet, nobody knows you're a blog.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 7 2007 4:26 PM

Rudy's Reader's Strike

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a blog.

80_thehasbeen

Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007

Ron Paul Ron Paul: The most surprising aspect of the picket lines in Hollywood is not that writers would strike. The writer in each of us goes on strike every day. For most, the surprise is more fundamental: Writers get paid?

In politics, a speechwriter will be lucky to earn as much from an entire campaign of speeches as a consultant pulls down every two weeks to tell the candidate not to use them. On the Web, bloggers have learned what journalists and freelancers have known for generations: There is no such thing as a writer's market. With or without subsidy, words are always in surplus, and it's always a reader's market.

While we all hope Hollywood writers will be pencils up again soon, this could be the big break bloggers have been waiting for. Thanks to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, millions of members of "Stewart Colbert Nation" have become political junkies—and rather than settle for reruns, they are bound to scour the Web looking for material good enough to satisfy their fix.

My advice to satire-starved citizens is to cut out the middleman and go straight to the source. You don't need some costly professional to raise an eyebrow for you; with practice, you can learn to raise your own.

For example, over at the Five Brothers blog, the writers haven't gone on strike. On Monday, Ann Romney posted a recipe for white chili. Add your own Utah Jazz crowd joke, and it's ready to serve.

In case you've missed the latest episodes of Five Brothers, here's a quick recap of the season so far. The Romney boys stopped by Fox & Friends for an interview—and just missed Florence Henderson from The Brady Bunch. Host Alisyn Camerota blogged that the brothers are "all handsome," but inadvertently caused a panic when she wrote that "most of them are spoken for." Devoted Romney followers everywhere had the same question: "most"?

In one particularly touching episode, Tagg 'fessed up that he had once been "young and foolish" enough to think about leaving the GOP, but was glad he stuck with "Dad's message of strength" instead.

Retrospection turned to genuine drama when the Southern California fires forced hard-luck Matt and his family to evacuate. Happily, their home was spared. As usual, Tagg and Ben provided comic relief by going to Fenway to watch the Red Sox the same night.

In the annual Halloween episode, Craigwho looks least like his fatherdressed up as Mitt, married Pocahontas, and raised an adorable lion-child.

With all due respect to the sidelined scribes of Stewart Colbert Nation, you can't write this stuff. Just this week, Tagg went on YouTube and found a British phone salesman to sing opera at Mitt's Inauguration.

Hollywood writers want a share of new media residuals for a reason: Millions of people around the world are watching. Campaign Web sites, by contrast, could use the work. Imagine what it must be like to write the blog at JoinRudy2008.com. While by all accounts, Giuliani's Internet efforts have been a disaster, he's still the Republican front-runner. Yet in a welcome and utterly ill-advised moment of transparency, the Giuliani campaign decided to post the number of views next to every blog post. Giuliani's problem is the polar opposite of Hollywood's: His blog is in the midst of a prolonged reader's strike.

Over the past week, the blog's central daily feature, "Hizzoner's Highlights," averaged 38 views. Given that the size of Giuliani's own campaign staff must be several times that, the number of people willing to read about his day who aren't already on his payroll is zero, or perhaps less. That's despite every effort by Hizzoner's writers to spice up the plot, as in this photo of Giuliani at someone's dinner table in New Hampshire, using their finest silver to water a sapling called "Rudy's Tree."

By late this afternoon, today's supposedly blockbuster announcement of Pat Robertson's endorsement had eight views, while today's highlights had a total of five. And that's on a big day.

The Giuliani reader's strike underscores one of the strangest plot twists in the Republican campaign so far: the inverse relationship between enthusiasm and support. In the polls, almost nobody's for Ron Paul. But on the Internet, where he raised an astonishing $4 million in one day, he's the runaway favorite.

A recent presidential campaign Web site traffic chart compiled by the Internet tracking service Hitwise shows the Democratic side running true to form: HillaryClinton.com the front-runner with 20 percent of the total hits, BarackObama.com in second with 12 percent, JohnEdwards.com in third at 4 percent. On the Republican side, however, the popularity curve is upside-down. Ron Paul, last in the polls, is in first with 20 percent; Huckabee, fourth or fifth in the polls, is in second at 16 percent; Fred Thompson, missing and presumed dead in the real world, comes in third at 6 percent. The Websites for actual front-runners Giuliani, Romney, and McCain are barely above 4 percent, 3 percent, and 2 percent.

Why does the Republican second-tier have a Second Life on the 'net? We know it's not the writers. Perhaps, in Huckabee's case, it's the prelude to a genuine, real-world breakthrough. Or perhaps, in the face of grim political realities, escape is just more entertaining. ... 4:20 P.M. (link)

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Friday, Nov. 2, 2007

Special Favors: This week,Republican leaders officially gave up hope that Larry Craig will ever leave. A day after Craig passed Mr. Potato Head as the most popular Halloween costume in Idaho history, The Hill reported that the GOP has abandoned the last siege engine it had left against him, by agreeing to let the man keep his earmarks.

Never mind that Craig pled guilty, humiliated himself, and double-crossed his state: As a member of Congress, he is guaranteed the right to keep spending under the Speech, Debate, and Earmark Clause of the Constitution. That means the senator can get back to more conventional hypocrisies, like sponsoring balanced-budget amendments while boasting about bringing home the bacon.

After three decades of pork, what does an appropriator choose as his final special favors? Most of the 22 items on Craig's list are standard fare: $200,000 for a "gravity pressure delivery system"; $4 million for "vacuum sampling pathogen collection"; $1.5 million for "coordination, facilitation, administrative support, and cost-shared weed control."

But in his swan song, Craig has graciously offered to cooperate with the authorities. According to the Taxpayers for Common Sense earmark database, he found $1 million so the Idaho State Police can improve "criminal information sharing." He earmarked another $100,000 for the Idaho Department of Corrections to take part in the National Consortium of Offender Management Systems.

While there's irony in every earmark, these are rich indeed. Craig was banking on the poor quality of criminal information sharing when he pled guilty in August and assumed the people of Idaho would never find out. As he told the Idaho Statesman in April, "I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!"

If anywhere needs an upgrade in "offender management," the Republican caucus might be a good place to start. The right to keep earmarking gives Craig an excuse to pretend nothing ever happened, issuing self-serving press statements like this one: "I'm very pleased with the level of support the Senate has shown for these Idaho projects, which will help our law enforcement agencies improve their efforts to protect our children and share information."

Meanwhile, Craig's colleagues in the Senate are forced to clean up after him. For example, the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill includes a $200,000 earmark for Minneapolis-St. Paul "to create an electronic charging process to allow for electronic signature of court charging documents."

When Craig filled out his guilty plea, he had to mail it in. Now his lawyers are trying to argue that he was deprived of due process because no judge was present to make sure Craig knew what he was doing.

Perhaps the new electronic system can solve that problem, by asking defendants to check a box accepting that their political life is over. Thanks to Craig, guilty parties won't have to wait in line at the Republican convention. … 2:08 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 29, 2007

Cry Me a Lawyer: Last month, I lamented that Larry Craig "has more lawyers than a Boston Legal washroom." I spoke too soon. In the latest sign of Idaho's growing cultural influence, the writers at ABC's Boston Legal have ripped another plot from the headlines and put William Shatner's character, Denny Crane, in Larry Craig's shoes. According to longtime Idaho reporter Randy Stapilus and the Web site Spoilerfix, two undercover cops accuse Denny Crane of soliciting restroom sex in the Nov. 13 episode, "Oral Contracts."

Spoilerfix doesn't reveal any other parallels between Denny Crane and Larry Craig, except for one: No matter the outcome of his case, Crane plans to remain in the job for the rest of the season. You don't have to be Al Gore  to win an Emmy.

Beyond the superficial similarity of the names Denny Crane and Larry Craig, it's easy to see why the show's writers couldn't resist the temptation to exploit the longest running joke of the fall season. Denny Crane is a classic Hollywood conservative, who joins Stephen Colbert, Thurston Howell III, Alex Keaton, and Krusty the Clown on Wikipedia's list of "Fictional United States Republicans." TV conservatives always play the part for laughs; Craig plays it straight, with the same result.

In this case, fiction cannot be stranger than truth, but perhaps it will be more revealing. Spoilerfix says Alan Shore (James Spader) will defend Crane, so we'll finally get a glimpse of how a spirited defense might have sounded if Craig hadn't pled guilty. Of course, unlike Craig, Crane has five ex-wives and several co-workers who can vouch for his womanizing. He also has better writers, who won't humiliate him with Craig lines like "Jiminy!" and "Oh, crimey!"

Spoilerfix doesn't say whether Crane's restroom encounter is a one-off deal or will come back to haunt him. The site says that in the next week's episode, Shatner's character tries to join the National Guard, but is rejected. Craig knows the feeling. In 1972, the Guard discharged him after six months for an unspecified "physical disqualification." Ironically, Craig told the Idaho Statesman his ailment was "flat feet."

Not to be outdone, Craig's office announced last week that his if-I-only-had-a-lawyer routine was itself a fiction. Back in September, days after the scandal first broke, the press reported that Craig was hiring Michael Vick's attorney, Billy Martin. But now a Craig spokesman admits that it was the other way around—Michael Vick hired Larry Craig's lawyer. Martin, a renowned criminal defense lawyer, has been working for Craig since February, four months before the senator's arrest. Throughout that same period, Craig also has been paying PR consultant Judy Smith, who has done work for Rep. William Jefferson, Clarence Thomas, and Monica Lewinsky.

Craig's spokesman insists the senator never spoke to Martin about his arrest. Craig did call Martin the day he head-faked his intent to resign, but dialed the wrong number and left a voicemail for "Billy" on the answering machine of a woman named Alice.

Like their client, Martin and Smith haven't exactly been forthcoming. In the brief he wrote on Craig's behalf, asking a judge to withdraw the guilty plea on the grounds that the senator "did not exercise his right to counsel," Martin didn't bother to tell the court that he was already working as Craig's criminal defense counsel at the time. On Sept. 1, Smith wrote a highly misleading press release that declared, "Today, Senator Larry Craig announced that he has retained Washington DC attorney Billy Martin as legal counsel"—even though Craig had actually retained him seven months earlier.

Some have criticized Craig for paying Martin and Smith out of his campaign funds. But I'm all for it. The more he drains that account, the more certain we can be that he'll never run again. And if the past few months are any indication of the kind of press and legal representation Craig gets, even with professional help, he'd better spend it all. ... 1:19 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 22, 2007

Kids Say the Darnedest Things: When Republican presidential candidates flocked to Washington this weekend to pander to evangelical conservatives, none could quite match Phyllis Schlafly, who challenged activists to ask where candidates stand on schools that "promote Islam or homosexuality." The very same day, in a parallel universe, J. K. Rowling told New Yorkers that Harry Potter was Christian allegory and schoolmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay. For the Schlafly wing of the Republican Party, the revised enemies list is now Islam, homosexuality, and a new He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Soon, Republican candidates will be jousting to prove they've been with Slytherin all along. Thompson will boast that he's the real conservative because he never appeared in a single Potter movie. Huckabee will note that his band plays songs with lyrics from C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, not J. K. Rowling. Giuliani will insist that his expedient embrace of the Dumbledore agenda makes him the strongest choice to try to stop Hermione in the end.

When the far right starts demanding book burnings, however, one Republican campaign will have more trouble than usual falling in line. Evangelical conservatives can see for themselves on Tagg Romney's MySpace page: He not only includes the Harry Potterserieson his list of favorite books (along with Battlefield Earth and The Book of Mormon), but he singles it out as "my guilty pleasure."

Tagg doesn't explain why he feels that way. But in his defense, he has lots of company on MySpace. A quick Google search turns up a young woman from the Southeast who shares Tagg's taste in music (Billy Joel), movies (Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan), politicians (Mitt Romney), and books: "Anything politically related with a right-wing slant. John Grisham is brilliant. Harry Potter is my guilty pleasure." She also likes blackjack, "bar hopping," frozen daiquiris, Tom Tancredo, and Ron Paul—but unlike Tagg, she has found the good sense to change the settings on her MySpace page back to private. Tagg can also take comfort from a New Yorker whose MySpace page proudly declares, "OK, my guilty pleasure is Harry Potter. OMG."

As the son of one of the most calculated politicians in America, and grandson of a politician whose career ended after an unguarded comment, Tagg Romney should know better—and his enduring charm is that he doesn't. In a bland, NBD field, we can always count on him to come through with OMG moments. The other Four Brothers are cautious, like their father. Ben Romney reveals nothing on his MySpace page; like Mitt, he lists his height as 0'0", just to be safe.

But Tagg doesn't try to hide behind name, rank, and serial number. You don't get those for serving on the Romney campaign. Tagg's not afraid to stick up for movies like Fletch and the Rocky sequels, or embrace an eclectic group of heroes: "Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Larry Bird."

Mitt made his wishes clear to the boys. In an ad called "Ocean," he warned of the moral cesspool in which our children swim, a slough of perversion from movies to video games to computers. Matt and Ben Romney, second and fourth in line, wrote blog posts echoing their father's point. First-born Tagg tries to play along, but you can almost see the thought bubble over his head saying, "Come on in—the water's fine."

Nowadays, parents do their best to teach children the first rule of growing up in the age of the Internet: What happens on Facebook doesn't stay on Facebook, and what you put on your MySpace page could haunt you for life. But there's one thing technology can't change about adolescents: they never learn. Now it's Mitt's turn to say, "No way!" ... 5:02 P.M. (link)

* Update: Romneys or Roommates? The New York Times reviews a new MySpace TV series about "character-building exhibitionism." ... 12:10 A.M.

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007

Hour of Lauer: Of the many unsolved mysteries in the case of Larry Craig, the greatest is simply, why won't he leave? He has no support left back home. He stands no chance in court. His entire party taps its feet, in vain, for him to go.

Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman may have found the answer. According to Popkey, Craig isn't sticking around to clear his name or save his Senate seat. He's out to salvage his hopes of a lucrative lobbying career. The public relations blitz is meant to plant reasonable doubt with the only jury Craig still cares about: K Street.

As Popkey points out, Craig is all too familiar with the case of Bob Packwood, the last Republican senator from the Pacific Northwest to be driven from office by scandal. Craig served on the ethics committee when it investigated Packwood. He voted to expel his friend but hugged Packwood afterwards and sobbed as he went into the Senate cloakroom.

Packwood's political career was over as soon as the lurid details of his sexual harassment hit the press. But rather than spare himself and his party further embarrassment, Packwood fought the charges for three years, leaving only when the Senate ethics committee voted unanimously for expulsion.

Packwood's consolation prize for three decades of fondling and unwanted advances: a $1.5-million-a-year lobbying practice that sold clients on the other contacts he had made in Congress.

Popkey says that in August, before the restroom scandal became public, Craig acknowledged he could make more than $600,000 a year as a lobbyist:

"You step out of the House or Senate, if you have seniority, you've developed areas of expertise," Craig said. "Quite a bit can be made, there's no doubt about that, whether you're representing Idaho interests or national interests."

Craig has stepped out, all right. As Popkey concludes, there's no longer any doubt whose interests he's representing.

Television critics everywhere have been wondering why Craig would put his wife and country through the humiliation of talking with Matt Lauer about whether he was gay or perhaps bisexual. Craig's latest double-entendre: "It's no to both."

Luckily, the country was spared, as only the critics were watching. We averted our eyes with good reason. Say what you will about Larry Craig, he's one politician willing to tell people things they don't want to hear. For example, he told KTVB in Boise, "I've got a bit of a streak of civil libertarianism right down my middle." America may love a comeback, but Craig's ratings flop suggests that some figures are beyond redemption.

Yet in many respects, the financial redemption Craig is apparently seeking is a more profound scandal than the crime his guilty plea was meant to cover up. The door he's peering through now is the revolving one.

In this, for once, Craig is not alone. A lobbying career is no longer a safety net for defeated members of Congress. For most congressmen, it's now the cornerstone of their retirement plan. After 27 years in Congress, Craig is out to prove there are no penalties for early withdrawal.

Even in the wake of Jack Abramoff and the last wave of Republican scandals, the new ethics law only extended the cooling-off period for former members of Congress from one year to two. To get a foot in the revolving door, real reform would prohibit senior government officials and former members from lobbying for five years or more.

For weeks, Republicans have complained bitterly about the price their party is paying for Craig's galling selfishness. If Popkey is right, they might try turning it to their advantage. When a corporate executive refuses to leave after his personal life becomes a public-relations disaster, the board often offers a buyout. A desperate GOP could try the same tack when scandal-ridden members won't go: fill their saddlebags with money if they'll leave town by sunset. The corporate world calls that a "golden handshake." In the Craig case, golden hand signals just might do the trick. ... 4:40 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 15, 2007

Infamous:Who says Idahoans don't have a sense of humor? At the Idaho Hall of Fame ceremonies in Boise on Saturday night, emcee David Leroy even got inductee Larry Craig to crack a smile. Leroy, a former attorney general, filled his speech with all the cultural references you'd expect from an Idaho Republican at a Craig event: Truman Capote, Brad Pitt, "hot ticket," and "bitch."

Leroy's theme was the price of fame. The Hall of Fame audience of 220 paid $50 a plate. As Leroy pointed out, "As the cameras outside testify, this banquet is a hot ticket." Ever the good sport, Leroy read the crowd quotes from famous people about fame: Jean Jacques Rousseau ("Fame is but the breath of the people and that is often unwholesome"); Brad Pitt ("Fame is a bitch, man"); and Truman Capote ("Fame is only good for one thing — they will cash your check in a small town.").

I don't know about Rousseau, and Brad Pitt can speak for himself. But I don't care what the Idaho Statesman says -- Truman Capote was not gay!

Even Craig made a quip, telling the audience: "My fame of the last month, I would liken to the definition Brad Pitt gave it." Late-night comics agree: Larry Craig is the joke that won't stop running.

Craig was a controversial choice, but Hall of Fame board member Michael Ritz told the Associated Press that the board felt honor-bound to let him in. "We thought, 'It's kind of going back on your word,'" Ritz explained. "Once a person has been sent a letter and voted into the Hall of Fame, it would be kind of like breaking a promise." That, of course, is something Larry Craig would never do.

If you missed the Boise ceremony, stay tuned: Craig wants a national audience, too. In an interview with Matt Lauer that will air on NBC Tuesday night, Craig lashed out at Mitt Romney for dumping him the day the arrest story broke: "He not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again." Apparently, there's no "I Brake for Bad Boys" bumper sticker on the Mitt Mobile.

For days, Romney has been fending off charges from John McCain and Rudy Giuliani that he can't be trusted. Now Mitt's constancy is under fire from Craig, the Republicans' leading authority on saying one thing and doing another.

Last week, Republicans were stunned to find out that Craig won't go. This week's revelation is worse: Craig won't go quietly. In the early days of the scandal, he acted like a man who would neither fight nor switch. As he told Lauer, now he has launched a public relations blitz to show the world, "I'm a fighter." Craig isn't just haunting Republicans from the political grave; he's inviting them to come join him.

When the Craig War Room started up last month, the political world scoffed that it was too late. But look now: after only a few weeks of damage control, damage is everywhere.

Sen. Craig has long advocated that the best way to prevent forest fires is to start brush fires. He's at it again. Most of us cringed back in June when Craig's response to hundreds of people in Lake Tahoe who lost their homes to wildfire was, "I don't know if I want to smile, or I want to cry." This time, we feel the same way.

The most disturbing news in the Lauer interview is that Craig's wife didn't learn of his arrest until she heard about it on TV. His latest apology isn't going to make her feel much better:

"I should have told my wife. I should have told my kids. And most importantly, I should have told counsel."

Forget "women and children first" – that's how they did damage control on the Titanic. These days, crisis has forced embattled Republicans to adopt a new definition of family values: first, tell all the lawyers.

Mitt Romney said the same thing in last week's debate: "You sit down with your attorneys and [have them] tell you what you have to do." When Romney and Craig agree on so much, it's a shame to see them fighting. ... 3:22 P.M. (link)

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