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

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

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.


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)


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)


Friday, Oct. 12, 2007

The Thinking Feller: Of all the honors Gore has earned over the course of his career, the title "Nobel Laureate" may be the most fitting. Not since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson has America seen a political figure with such a scientific mind. If there were a Nobel Prize for poetic justice, Al Gore would win that, too.

In 1992, Gore wrote that "Archimedes, who invented the lever, is reported to have said that if only he had 'a place on which to stand' at a sufficient distance from the earth, he could move the world." Like a scientist, Gore has spent his career looking for ways to see the planet from that perspective.

For many politicians, all politics is retail. Some prefer to give the view from 30,000 feet. Al Gore doesn't stop there. The most striking feature of his office in the Senate and the White House was an enormous photograph of Earth, taken from outer space.

Fifteen years ago, in Earth in the Balance, Gore displayed another favorite photograph—a computer-generated mosaic image of Abraham Lincoln. From up close, the photo looks like a random checkerboard of gray squares. Only from a distance does Lincoln's picture become clear.

George W. Bush's presidency is a monument to the perils of shortsightedness. With the Nobel, Gore has finally been rewarded for taking the long view.

Unlike science, politics can be a depressingly monosyllabic business: "Peace is at hand"; "Read my lips"; "Bring him on." One of Gore's first crusades to save the planet went after an unpronounceable villain with a week's worth of syllables: chlorofluorocarbons. That issue didn't win him the Democratic nomination in 1988, although it later earned him a nickname from George H.W. Bush: "Ozone Man." But the effort to protect the ozone layer was a success, and the scientists who discovered the threat from chlorofluorocarbons won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995.

When I joined Gore's Senate staff as a speechwriter in the mid-'80s, I felt like an English major at Caltech. From biotechnology to organ transplants to ARPANET, Gore approached every issue, large and small, with the same ferocious scientific curiosity. Even the liberal-arts assignments were impossibly comprehensive. My first week on the job, he asked for all available information on the decline of the nation-state.

The summer before the '88 primaries, Gore found out that the next debate in Iowa would be held in a hall with no air conditioning, where the temperature onstage would top 100 degrees. Gore asked his health-policy expert to find out whether there was any scientific way to keep candidates from sweating like Richard Nixon under such conditions. In fact, someone had come up with an inhibitor to keep the forehead from sweating, but apparently it had the unfortunate side effect of making sweat pour down the back of the head in buckets, like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. Gore took a pass, and redoubled his efforts to tackle global warming.

Then as now, Gore was obsessed with long-term trends. He championed the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future and introduced a bill to create an Office of Critical Trends Analysis. The bill never passed, so he essentially manned the office himself.

In the politics of the moment, seeing the future often proved as much a burden as a blessing. When Earth in the Balance came out, Gore was attacked for imagining the end of the internal-combustion engine. Now even carmakers are trying to figure out how to prove him right. Gore has been making the same persuasive case on climate change for more than two decades. Only in the last two years did people start to see past the random checkerboard of gray squares.

One of America's greatest scientific minds, Thomas Edison, would have admired Gore's persistence, even if, thanks to Gore, the world will soon abandon the incandescent light bulb Edison invented. Gore spent decades in the political laboratory searching for the right filament to make a light go on in the public mind about global warming. If Edison was right that "genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," the world is lucky Al Gore has never been afraid to sweat buckets for the cause. ... 11:18 P.M. (link)

* Dept. of What Ifs: Today's Washington Post notes the irony that George W. Bush was in Florida when he learned of Gore's triumph. The Post also says "there was no congratulatory phone call" from Bush. He doesn't need to get snippy about it!  But the New York Times adds the most poignant historical irony:

"When his phone failed to ring early Friday morning, Mr. Gore assumed he had been passed over. He and his wife, Tipper, then turned on CNN to see who had been awarded the prize, only to learn it was him."

CNN projects Al Gore the winner! … 10:28 A.M.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

DHS or Beta: Last year, Hollywood producer Joseph Medawar was convicted of conning investors out of $5.5 million for a bogus TV show on the Department of Homeland Security called D.H.S.: The Series. Medawar spent the money but never produced anything, which makes it the most realistic portrayal of DHS yet.

While the con man went to jail, you can still fall for his scam on the D.H.S.: The Series  Web site. Don't miss the fawning press clips, the souvenir mugs, or a cast synopsis that promises a nightclub-singer-turned-DHS-agent, a CIA-agent-turned-deputy-undersecretary, and a character named "Spyder, the Token Arab."

When the White House asked for Hollywood's help after 9/11, this is the war on terror they had in mind. The series trailer is a jumble of action clips and incoherent dialogue, such as, "Hey Johnny, do me a favor and say a prayer"—which sounds like the way Bush talked to Kerry on the 2004 campaign trail.

Unlike Washington, Hollywood couldn't figure out how to sustain a show with 170,000 extras. But as Slate V's brilliant video parody of Justice Scalia on 24 demonstrated last week, viewers are hungry for all the homeland thrills they can get. Luckily, a team of failed Washington insiders has stepped forward with an online, made-for-disaster TV network, just in time for the new fall season.

The venture is called "Homeland Security Television," which promises to be "television for a new generation of homeland security leaders." It's not as exciting as 24, nor as scary as Bin Laden's attempts to make al-Jazeera the network for a new generation of homeland security threateners. But it is the place to go to watch washed-up ex-Bushies star in homeland defense product infomercials.

The most promising new show is a pilot called Introducing Ridge Global, starring former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. The video opens with HS-TV's logo—a spinning, phosphorescent-yellow globe—followed by the logo for the opening credits: a spinning, sepia-toned globe. Say what you will about Ridge, but the man is a master with color.

Big, expensive words race by in Romney-esque proportion—"Demonstrated Leadership," "Strategic Vision," "Global Reach"—then pound the earth in staccato bursts: "Ridge. Global. LLC." The opening scene is straight from the terror-movie textbook: a wide shot of innocent pedestrians on Pennsylvania Avenue, with heart-pounding background music hinting that the nation's capital is about to be destroyed by terrorists. Then Ridge comes on to pitch his new firm, making clear that Washington will instead be destroyed by buck-raking consultants.

The video builds suspense with quick cutaways—the White House, vulnerable refineries, and chemical plants, a Blackberry that may have fallen into the wrong hands, an attractive blonde in one of Jennifer Garner's wigs from Alias. Ridge warns at the outset, "We'd like to go on the journey with you"—and what a ride it is. In place of clichéd spy-show banter, Ridge speaks in authentic swindlers' jargon, promising "pre-existing arrangements with subject-matter experts," help navigating the president's "critical infrastructure protection regimen," and the ability to "tap into both public and private sector leaders in terms of business opportunities."

Tom Ridge isn't just a household name, he's a household item: America's basements and attics are filled with duct tape and plastic sheeting he sold us before. So, RidgeGlobal must be disappointed that the show hasn't found much of an audience. When I stumbled onto it last week, the video had a total of 21 views. Next time, they should hire son-of-a-salesman Tagg Romney, whose video just passed "Sexy Girl Store" to move into eighth place with 145,000 views on Jumpcut.

Ridge isn't the only Homeland Security washout on Homeland Security Television. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has a video pitching "inferencing technology." While Brownie and George Bush might seem better suited for a cautionary video on the use of infer and imply, this video shows a photo of them together, as Brown recounts how he told the president that Katrina would be "the big one."

Remarkably, Brown is pitching his data-mining company's ability to anticipate the unexpected: "It's easy to prepare for the things we know are going to happen, but not the things we don't know are going to happen." In his old job, he failed to prepare for either one—but then, FEMA didn't have inferencing algorithms. They didn't even have buses.

Tom Ridge and Michael Brown shouldn't feel bad if Homeland Security TV is a bust. It's not really their fault. They had the same problem in their old jobs—they were just miscast.

Hollywood knows better. In the network-TV remake, Ridge will be played with a twinkle by William Shatner. The role of Heckuva-Job-Brownie will go to Steve Carell. The inferencing between those two will be something to watch, and we'll all feel safer when we're in on the con. ... 2:36 P.M. (link)

Friday, Oct. 5, 2007

Bad Loan: The slogan of the Idaho Hall of Fame, which Larry Craig will enter next Saturday, is "Idahoans on Loan to the World." Thanks to Craig, Senate Republicans can plainly see that there's a crisis in the subprime sector.

Nobody really wants to be installed next to Craig, but two fellow inductees will find next Friday's ceremony especially awkward. Gov. Butch Otter has been waiting six weeks to name Craig's successor. He released a long list of all the Idahoans who've expressed interest in the job and reportedly settled on a replacement just in time for Craig's announcement that he's not resigning. Another inductee, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, desperately wants Craig's seat and will soon announce his attention to run in 2008, even if Otter doesn't nominate him.

Even Boise State coach Chris Petersen, whose Fiesta Bowl-winning razzle-dazzle earned him a place at this year's ceremony, doesn't have a trick play good enough to rescue Craig's busted snap. The Hall of Fame was right to worry that the concept of "real life heroes has been lost"—although when it set out to find inductees with "pages of life experience to inspire our up and coming generations," Craig's pages weren't the ones it had in mind. But it's all about the kids—and tickets are still available!

Senate Republicans can't catch a break: The colleagues they hate to lose are retiring, and the one guy they want to retire isn't budging. John Ensign, who has the unpleasant task of heading the Senate Republican Campaign Committee for 2008, doesn't mince words: "Senator Craig gave us his word. … I wish he would stick to his word." Like most Idahoans, Craig's colleagues take his backtracking personally. If a man's word is his bond, it's time to call the bounty hunter.

Out in Idaho, one citizen has stepped forward to answer the call. Brad Bristol, a nonaligned voter from Nampa, Idaho, just launched an Impeach Craig Web site. As the Idaho Statesmanreports, Bristol was already mad that Craig supported comprehensive immigration reform, and couldn't take it anymore when the senator refused to leave as promised. Bristol hopes his Web site, Idahopower-less.com, can get the job done in 120 days, but admits that Craig is not much for deadlines. Craig's Senate colleagues can rest assured—their signatures will be kept confidential.

The Idaho Post-Registercalls Craig a "serial liar," and nothing the man does can surprise anybody anymore. Even so, folks are scratching their heads about the excuses their allegedly intelligent senator gave yesterday for staying. Craig claimed that the past three weeks showed him he could continue to represent Idaho effectively. He said a replacement couldn't match his seniority or prime committee assignments, neglecting to mention that his colleagues have stripped his seniority and made clear that his only prime assignment will be to appear before the Senate ethics committee.

Craig ended his press release: "When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek reelection. I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves." That's just what Idahoans and Republicans wanted to hear from Larry Craig—another promise. ... 3:05 P.M. (link)


Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007

Ol' Blue Eyes: Now that Minnesota Judge Charles Porter Jr. has rejected Larry Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea, a nation of tabloids is rushing to print with headlines about his demise. But here at the Craig War Room, we take a different view. In his order, Judge Porter actually says the nicest things anyone has said about Craig since the scandal broke back in August.

The judge rebuffs Craig's "illogical" legal arguments and offers Craig's lawyer, Billy Martin, only a backhanded compliment for conceding an obvious point. Judge Porter politely dismisses the ACLU's defense of Craig's rights to free speech and free sex, explaining that the real issue was the disorderly conduct of the defendant's "eyes, hand, and foot."

Yet Craig is used to having his motions denied. By all accounts, his lawyers will take his case to the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. Today's setback is just the first step in a legal strategy of three-taps-and-you're-out.

In the meantime, Craig can bask in all the high praise from the bench. For starters, Judge Porter goes on for 27 pages without telling a single joke at Craig's expense (unless you count a wry statement of fact, "The Defendant did not flush the toilet"). Jay Leno and David Letterman can't restrain themselves for 27 seconds.

Even as he tosses out Craig's arguments, the judge finds a way to toss him compliments as the reason. When Craig's defense team contends their client was rushed, the judge applauds the senator's "calm and methodical" behavior in the pre-plea period. While Craig's lawyers portray a client intimidated by the police, Judge Porter sees "a degree of confidence" in the senator. The judge even brings up Craig's "blue eyes"—twice.

As grounds for rejecting the motion, Judge Porter sets out to prove that Craig's boneheaded, career-ending admission of guilt was, in fact, an "intelligent plea." As a result, the ruling is full of praise for Craig's thinking, calling him "an educated adult" and repeatedly noting how smart he is: "The Defendant, a career politician with a college degree, is of, at least, above-average intelligence." If that's the case, Lake Wobegon may finally have found its senator.

Judge Porter goes out of his way to mention a detail most of us missed: When he sent his guilty plea to the prosecutor, Craig attached a handwritten thank-you for his cooperation.

Any Idaho mother would be proud. The late-night comics may say Larry Craig is a dumb, disorderly peeper. But the judge says he's smart as a hack, with blue eyes and good manners to die for. ... 4:59 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 1, 2007

I Said No, No, No: Newsweek's cover story concludes that "the politician Romney has been chiefly interested in organizing and packaging himself into is a man who seems to have no history, and, as a result, no heart." If only he had a much-loved ad campaign about his past  …

One Romney supporter seems to have a history—the unsinkable Larry Craig. You can always judge a man by his arrest report. As the sergeant who busted Craig recalls: "I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, 'No!' " Now it's happening again. State, party, and country are using every known signal to point Craig toward the exit—but, once again, the senator is dragging his feet and saying, "No!"


Craig can't even leave his houseboat, let alone go to the bathroom, without a press posse present. His solution: He's not going anywhere.

A month ago, Craig promised the people of Idaho that he intended to resign by Sept. 30. As we begin a new fiscal year, he seems to have voted himself a continuing resolution. According to Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman, many leading Republicans in the state now believe that Craig will serve out the remaining 15 months of his term.

Popkey points out that if the Minnesota judge rejects his plea for a new trial, Craig can delay his departure six months by appealing the ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and another nine months by appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court. As Popkey explains, "At that point, assuming his guilty plea stands, Craig can say he fought the good fight. Meantime, he will have remained in office, continued to collect his salary, and boost his pension that's based on years of service." Humiliation is just another word for nothing left to lose.

Thanks to his home state, Craig does have one place to go. Next week, Sen. Craig will be inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame.

Most Idahoans would be a little embarrassed to know we have a Hall of Fame, let alone that Craig will soon be a member. The senator will find himself in an elite group that includes such other famous natives as Chief Joseph and Sacagawea.

Craig may have a tough time measuring up. His mug shot is unlikely to replace Sacagawea's face on the dollar coin. When Chief Joseph surrendered to authorities, he said, "I will fight no more forever." Craig handed them his Senate business card and said, "What do you think of that?"

The Idaho pantheon already has two real Hall of Famers—Harmon Killebrew, a slugger for the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins, and Jerry Kramer, an offensive lineman who's in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame with a different Larry Craig. The list includes William Borah and Frank Church, who used to be the most famous senators from Idaho; Ezra Taft Benson, the late head of the Mormon Church; J.R. Simplot, the billionaire who invented frozen tater tots and French fries; teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan; Olympic medalist Picabo Street; and Academy Award nominee Lana Turner, whose Wikipedia biography quotes her saying, "I liked the boys, and the boys liked me."

Notwithstanding Craig's entry, self-destructive tendencies alone are not enough to ensure induction. Ernest Hemingway shot himself to death in Ketchum, but isn't in the Hall. Fame is no guarantee, either: Napoleon Dynamite may be the best-known figure in Idaho history, but his induction ceremony will have to wait.

As it turns out, Craig is not even the first conservative with a rap sheet to make the list. Ezra Pound, who left Idaho to become a famous poet and Nazi sympathizer, was later charged with treason and sentenced to 12 years at St. Elizabeth's. Pound didn't take as good a mug shot. But if Craig gets another chance, he might want to consider the poet's plea—not guilty by reason of insanity. ... 10:27 A.M. ( link)

Sunday, Sept. 30, 2007

Bring Your Own Dip: With more than 110,000 views, "Way!" may be the most watched Jumpcut video ever without sex or tortilla chips. Maybe next time!

On Friday, CBS announced an initiative called Eyelab to let viewers cut and paste their own CBS promos. A CBS executive tells Ad Week, "The Internet is the world's best laboratory." The producer of CSI – now merely the world's second-, third-, and fourth-best laboratories – predicts that viewer-generated mashups will "no doubt, inspire us with their creativity."

As Chris Albrecht observes over at NewTeeVee.com:

Mashups are now a go-to device when media companies want to connect with the youth. When they want to seem cool. But how cool can mashups be when presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a mashup contest to create his next ad?

He's right: Team Mitt isn't a campaign; it's a media company. They've even branded their own channel, MittTV. Conservatives, beware: If CBS is the new mashup, that makes Mitt Romney the new CBS.

"The problem with corporate mashups is that they can never be as good as independently-produced ones," Albrecht explains. "All the best mashups come from outside of the corporate system." He says "Romney learned that first-hand" when his contest "winner" got trounced by the "popular favorite. … a less-than-flattering video from Slate.com."

As Albrecht notes, "This puts the Romney camp in the awkward position of ignoring the popular vote to side with the safe bet."

The choice is simple: You can buck the corporate establishment and be "Way!" cool. Or you can toe the corporate line and watch a fall season of Creepy Guy on CSI: Salt Lake. ... 12:12 P.M. (link)

Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

Truth, Justice, and the American "Way!": Like Al Gore, I don't want to wake up every morning obsessed with the injustice of a system that let someone else claim victory when I won the popular vote. But since you asked, "Way!" is still the one true democratically elected winner of the Romney ad contest, and is about to cross the 100,000-vote mark on its way to Jumpcut's all-time Top 10 list.

Team Mitt can't count, but most Americans can. The Washington Post pointed out that "Way!" cleaned the Romney campaign's clock online.  Time paired the real winner with the impostor. The headline in Wired said it all: "Romney Campaign Announces Jumpcut Results, but Audience Prefers an Alternative."

At a Politico seminar this week, Romney's director of e-strategy promised, "The winner will be whoever gets the most votes." No wonder voters are cynical. But let me say to all the young people out there who wanted to believe in democracy: Keep the faith. America may have lost Bush v. Gore. But America hasn't seen the last of Reed v. Romney. ... 1:43 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007

And the Runner-Up Is...: With "Way!" running up an FDR-size landslide, Romney ad finalists have been running a Create Your Own Also Ran contest for the role of Alf Landon. This afternoon, the Politburo announced its choice: an ad called "Ready for Action," which was only losing to "Way!" by 61,000 votes.

The campaign press release says the candidate will introduce the ad at a rally tomorrow. The ad will run once a day for a week in five Iowa and New Hampshire markets—which means the Romney campaign will spend about as much to air the ad as it did to produce it.

"Ready for Action" is a disappointing choice, and not just because it collected a paltry 20,000 votes to the 80,000+ votes for "Way!"A more apt title for it would be "Above the Fruited Plain." Stock video clips of flags, mountains, and the Golden Gate Bridge rush to keep up with Romney's favorite political clichés. The words strength, innovation, and experience appear in subliminal blips, then give way to the tag line, "Strong. New. Leadership."

Team Mitt no doubt liked the ad because it so closely resembles the ads from Romney's consultants. "Ready for Action" says nothing about what Romney would do as president. One viewer complained that it doesn't even mention that Romney's running for president:

Remember that the average person seeing the add on network television will have no clue who he is or that there is even an election going on. Network television is targeted to the lowest common denominator which when you look at what they show on network tv these days doesn't say much for the aptitude of our country.

Tagg Romney has yet to acknowledge the true winner of the ad contest. But proving that he has exactly half a sense of humor, today he did graciously thank Slate V for its "Five Brothers" spoof, which he says "is about as close as we are going to get to our own mini-series."

In the very next sentence, he writes, "I loved 'Band of Brothers' and I'm looking forward to [the] Pacific version that's being planned." The boy can't help himself: Only Tagg could watch the Slate video about the Romney brothers' failure to serve, and say it reminded him of how much he likes war movies. ...  5:45 P.M. (link)

Lose Early and Often: Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Romney insiders have dubbed their campaign strategy "win early and often." The strategy for the "Create Your Own Ad!" contest must be just the opposite, because Team Mitt's loss keeps getting bigger every day.

The campaign e-mailed reporters yesterday to say the polls would close at 11:59 p.m. last night, but this morning the lead item on the Romney Web site was an urgent get-out-the-vote plea. Next time, they might want to beg voters to stay home. As so often happens in a change election, the late-breaking undecideds overwhelmingly went the challenger's "Way!".

With all the absentee votes counted and every precinct from Utah to Planet Romney reporting, "Way!" has built a 60,000-vote lead:

"Way!" – 76,500

Ready for Action – 17,800

Mitt's Misspelled Resume – 9,000

The Man, the Mitt, the Legend – 3,600

Romney Girl – 3,500

I Believe – 3,100

Creepy Guy from Salt Lake – 2,900

Romney Innovation – 2,900

The Change America Needs – 2,900

The Right Course – 2,100

Yesterday, it was bad enough that "Way!" had more votes than the Little Romney Nine combined. But what has to worry Mitt strategists most now is that the more voters find out, the worse it gets. The Romney campaign lost late deciders by more than 3-1. In the last 24 hours, "Way!" picked up more than 35,000 votes. The nine Romney finalists gained about 10,000 votes altogether.

In fact, voters are so desperate for an alternative to the handpicked Mittista slate that "Way!" is now one of the 20 most-watched, most-loved videos in Jumpcut history. Every other most-loved video there is left over from last year's "Revenge of the Nerds" contest, so Mitt and I feel right at home.

We're still waiting for the star of the winning ad, Tagg Romney, to step forward and take a bow. In a blog post yesterday, however, he did hint that he considers Ann and the Five Brothers to be the best hope for the campaign's advertising. Under the heading, "Mom and Chevy ads," he runs a deliciously self-serving MSNBC excerpt:

Pat Buchanan: "Everything I've seen of him and his family, I think this is the most extraordinary asset Mitt Romney has. It almost frankly looks almost too picture perfect, an American family. One of those things they used in Chevrolet ads in the 1950s or something."

Those were the days, when Madison Avenue could sell anything Detroit could make, and GM could get even the son of the CEO of American Motors to buy a Chevy wagon, so long as it would hold a caged dog on the roof.

Tagg, we hear your cry for help. If your dad's overpriced consultants won't put you in the campaign ads, all of us here at Way! Productions are ready to keep proving that you're the one voters want to see.

In a painful symbol of the Romney campaign's struggles, Tagg just wrote another post announcing yet another contest:

I've been grounded for a few weeks from a minor mishap I had in New Hampshire. Both of my legs are a little beat up but I should be back on the road soon. I really miss being able to be out there campaigning for my Dad. My brothers will tell you I'm a total klutz so I'm embarrassed to admit how it happened. I will send out a Romney hat to the person who submits the best story on how it all happened. My only hint is that I have a big gash across my right shin and a deep hematoma on my left femur and it involved jumping.

It's clear what happened: Tagg must have inherited the same Romney penchant for self-mutilation that produced the "Create Your Own Ad!" contest. But we're happy to play along and help our star out in the first online contest to Create Your Own Cover Story.

It may look like Tagg Romney tried to end it all by hang gliding off the Mitt Mobile. But there's no way Tagg jumped. He was pushed. ... 1:05 P.M.(link)

Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

Block the Vote: Despite a desperate poll-line stand by the Romney campaign, "Way!" has built a commanding, 23,000-vote lead over its nearest challenger. Team Mitt spent the past 24 hours fending off questions from reporters wanting to know how Romney could possibly win an election when his campaign doesn't even know how to run one.

The total page views at 9 a.m. EST Wednesday for "Way!" and the Romney nine:

Way! – 39,500

Ready for Action – 16,400

Mitt's (Misspelled) Resume – 3,800

The Man, the Mitt, the Legend – 3,000

Romney Girl – 2,800

I Believe – 2,600

Innovation – 2,500

Creepy Guy From Salt Lake – 2,500

The Change America Needs – 2,300

The Right Course – 1,700

A quick, Harvard Business School analysis of the data reveals that "Way!" has more views than all nine official finalists put together.

Team Mitt might want to revise the talking points it gave the Globe yesterday: "This contest demonstrates Romney for President's commitment to using cutting-edge technology to engage voters online and harness the extraordinary enthusiasm of its grassroots supporters." Translation: The Romney campaign hopes to harness more supporters like the Creepy Guy From Salt Lake.

National Journal suggests the "Reed vs. Romney" smackdown—complete with dueling, dorky head shots—has practically wiped the Petraeus-MoveOn controversy off the back pages:

In August, the Boston Globe characterized the contest as 'the latest example of how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the Internet to engage supporters in unprecedented ways.' But it looks like it's also turning out to be the latest example of campaigns not recognizing how little control they have over their own Web efforts.

The Wall Street Journal has more on the vote-blocking scandal, along with a rave review. It calls "Way!" and Slate's own "Five Brothers" "notable" and "snarky."

As the Journal points out, Team Mitt won't let you vote in its ad contest unless you give the campaign your name, address, and e-mail. First they handpicked the candidates and imposed Soviet-style elections. Now they want to destroy the secret ballot. Don't take the bait—it's a trap! They'll use your email address to bilk you for all you're worth, and then they won't count your vote, anyway.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post asked three unaffiliated GOP strategists what they thought of the Romney campaign's new slogan, "Change Begins With Us." One was blown away by its brilliance. The second said the slogan was hard to assess because it didn't mean anything. The third said it was the perfect slogan for an anti-Romney flip-flop ad. That's Mitt Romney's message in a nutshell—all things to all consultants.

In the ad contest, "The Change America Needs" is next to last, right behind the Creepy Guy From Salt Lake. The voters say loud and clear they prefer the "Way!" tag line: "He'll set America straight." But if Team Mitt won't listen, they can always go with the slogan, "Creepy Begins With Us." ... 9:40 A.M. (link)

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back: Just hours after Slate announced "Way!"'s shocking upset victory in the Romney ad contest, Team Mitt realized that defeat is at hand. Moments ago, panicked e-strategists in Boston posted the contest finalists on the campaign Web site and urged supporters to vote for their favorite. Last week the campaign promised 10 finalists, but today it posted only nine instead. We all know which one is missing—the ad that already won  by more than 16,000 votes.

Apparently, Team Mitt can't count—and all of a sudden has no interest in counting, either. Last week, the campaign's director of e-strategy told Wired that the 10 winners would be based on page views and viewer love. But when the nine finalists were announced, only one was among the top nine in page views or love. Three finalists didn't even meet the competition standards for length.

My fellow Romneyacs, don't throw your vote away! Our fearless leader promised us online democracy, not a Soviet-style election run by totalitarian Mittistas.

We can learn a lot from the ads Team Mitt pretended to like better than mine. A spot called "Romney Girl" uses the same baby picture of Tagg as "Way!", with the same "great father" message. "Mitt Romney—The Change America Needs" is a dizzying montage of buzzwords—Strong, New, Leadership, Innovation, Energy, Passion, Leading America Forward, March Forward, Lift Up Our Eyes. An ad called "I Believe" explains Romney's immigration policy: "I believe in God. I believe that homeland security begins with securing our borders."

One of the most surprising finalists is "Salt Lake Success IV," which shows an elderly man in his room reminiscing about volunteering for Mitt at the Olympics. One viewer commented, "This is just a little creepy." Perhaps the most revealing ad is "Mitt Romney's Resume," which shows someone (George W. Bush?) filling out a Harvard Business School application. The first viewer comment came from the Romney campaign, which advised the ad maker, "Please fix the spelling of President on the last shot."

In "The Mitt, the Man, the Legend," a supporter praises Romney as a leader who "wants to see data." Fair enough, governor—analyze this. ... 11:52 A.M. (link)

Monday, Sept. 24, 2007

America's Top Romney: When I entered the Romney campaign's "Create Your Own Ad!" contest, my ad, "Way!", was the last thing Team Mitt wanted anyone to see. They refused to post it on the official contest Web site, even though my entry was dripping with the values of faith, family, and marriage they claim they hold dear.

But now, the votes are in, and there can be no joy in Mittville. Out of all the 100+ ads entered in the contest, "Way!" is the most-watched, most-loved spot by a landslide.

As of midday Monday, "Way!" had more than 19,000 views—a 7,500-view lead* over the next contender. In fact, more people have watched first-place "Way!" than the second- and third-place ads put together. "Way!" also has nearly twice as much viewer love as its nearest competitor. Stunned political analysts say this could be the greatest political upset since Truman knocked another little man off his wedding cake.

The Romney campaign promised to buy TV time for the winning ad and suggested last week that the winner would be chosen on the basis of viewer love and page views. I await my ride in the Mittmobile.

I never expected to be the first Web-driven, walk-on adman in American political history. I'm just glad to have a candidate who can afford the air time. ... 1:58 P.M.(link)

* Update: The overnight returns are in, and it's a rout of staggering proportions. By 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday, "Way!" led its nearest competitor by 14,000 views—a 2-1 margin. "Way!" has more views than the next four ads in the contest put together.

Now that Mother Jones has called the race, the major networks are sure to follow. A Romney concession speech from Faneuil Hall in Boston could come at any time. Suggested excerpts: "It is better to be loved and win than never to be loved at all." ... 9:15 A.M.

Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007

We Have a Winner: Attention, Ryan Seacrest—America's Top Romney has a new No. 1. The most-viewed, most-loved entry in the Romney campaign's ad contest is now our own "Way!" The people have spoken, and the nearest contender is several thousand views behind.

Thanks for helping make Tagg a star—and keep watching until Team Mitt buys us air time in Iowa and New Hampshire. … 10:15 A.M. (link)

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007

Up, Up, and a Way!: Proving that an ad is worth 100 words, the Romney campaign announced yet another contest yesterday. According to the Boston Globe, contestants can win the chance to campaign with Mitt by writing a 100-word essay on " why they want to tag along"—as opposed to why they want Tagg along.

No wonder Team Mitt wants to change the subject—in its "Create Your Own Ad!" contest, the ad they don't want you to see is running away with the popular vote. Mindy Finn, Romney's "director of e-strategy," told Wiredmagazine this week that 10-12 finalists will be chosen on the basis of page views and viewer love. As it happens, my ad "Way!" is ranked seventh in love and second in page views—and within striking distance of the top.

Give the e-strategist what she wants! Watch the ad that your vote can push to the No. 1 spot.

Finn says, "It's been fascinating to see how other people view Governor Romney, and what he should be running for." If the contests go well, he might run for something else. ... 11:23 A.M. (link)

Friday, Sept. 21, 2007

Big Love: The Romney campaign doesn't want my "Way!" ad to win its "Create Your Own Mitt!" contest, but the ban in Boston seems to have backfired. Yesterday afternoon, the ad made its debut back in 109th place. Now it's the second-most-watched ad in the entire Romney contest. Don't miss this chart-busting hit that's rocking Tagg's World!

Meanwhile, the last-ditch effort to save Larry Craig's job has already won its first convert—Larry Craig. Today's headline in the Idaho Statesman: "Craig still not sure he'll resign from Senate." When McClatchy newspapers asked him whether he planned to leave Sept. 30, Craig replied, "I just don't know yet."

Now that those feet are dragging, it's time for the Craig War Room to mount another offensive. Today's talking points place the blame where it belongs—in Minnesota:

*Friendless Skies: Yesterday, a Minnesota prosecutor tried to take away Sen. Craig's only friend, the ACLU. The prosecutor asked the judge to strike the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief on the grounds that friends don't let friends peer through bathroom stalls and call it free speech.

The Craig War Room was more struck by this sentence in the prosecutor's motion:

Anyone who has spent time in an airport also knows that there are very few private locations, much less locations to accommodate sexual interludes with strangers.

Most of us have managed to spend a good chunk of our lifetimes in airports while never once having that thought. When will these sex-crazed, Bill-of-Rights-burning, Caribou Coffee-swilling witch hunters leave our poor traveler alone?

*Slouching Toward Bloomington: The linchpin of the prosecution's case against Craig is that the restroom at the Northstar Crossing was a haven for solicitation. It's just like locals to blame somebody from out of town. They should start by looking closer to home.

Say what you will about Larry Craig—he's not an attractive nuisance. But Northstar Crossing is. Check out the airport's own puff-piece description of what authorities did to the place:

The Minneapolis / St. Paul International Airport completed a revolutionary renovation of its retail venues. The new space, called "Northstar Crossing" in honor of Minnesota being known as the Northstar State, offers unprecedented customer service and convenience, vastly improved public aesthetics, and increased airport profits.

If this is "vastly improved," what were the public aesthetics like before? Perhaps airport executives should have worried more about defending our values than driving up their own profits. Larry Craig's stopover was supposed to be in Minneapolis. He didn't know he'd be changing planes in ancient Rome. ... 2:41 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007

Tagg Line: In the 40 years since The Selling of the Presidency, Joe McGinniss' 1968 account of how a young Roger Ailes made television safe for Richard Nixon, campaign media consultants have been the hacks we love to hate. While the demand for evil genius is not what it used to be, media consulting remains one of the most overhyped, overpaid jobs in America.

But now it can all be yours, thanks to the Romney campaign's "Create Your Own Ad!" contest and do-it-yourself tool kit. In one of history's great ironies, the most consultant-driven, productlike candidate in memory has pulled back the veil to show us how lies are made.

It's too late to enteror Slate V's "Five Brothers" spot would surely win. But the campaign's ad-making software is still available on jumpcut.com, with all the video clips, photos, background music, and special effects you need to make ads that look and sound as phony as the real thing. The Jumpcut software does for media consulting what the Madden video game did for football, removing the mystery, barriers to entry, and expense. If it were a video game, it would be called Shrum 2008no longer do you have to be an expert to create a losing campaign.

Give Romney credit for letting goas a self-described control freak, he's the last guy you'd expect to experiment with growing his own Shrums. But if consultants were free, he'd stand to gain more than anyone. So far, Romney has spent $6 million on TV timethree times as much as any other candidate, and most of it from his own pocket.

Romney isn't the first to go to the dogs for dog-food ads. Frito-Lay used the same trick for Doritos in the Super Bowl. But the Romney campaign makes the experience so simple, it's hard not to get hooked. It's the high-tech equivalent of playing with paper dolls: You start with a photo or video clip of Mitt, dress him up with captions and fancy graphics, then cue the orchestra with background music to inspire animatronic emotion. The only tool missing from the consultant's workshop is a soft female voice that could be programmed to do snide voice-overs about other candidates' lack of principle.

I signed up for the contest with some reluctance. The official contest rules limit entries to Romney supporters (unless they're "corporate entities, labor unions, government contractors, foreign nationals, and minors"). I wasn't planning to support his candidacy, except for entertainment purposesbut perhaps I'd make an ad so convincing it would change my own mind. If nothing else, I could pretend to support him in order to enter the contest, then pull a Romney and insist I've been against him all along.

Signing up to make ads for a candidate I don't believe inat last, I felt like a real consultant. The more video clips I watched, the more excited I became. Romney is a consultant's dream, and not just because he's telegenic and rich. Every time he opens his mouth he sounds like he's playing slogan bingo: strength, values, family, America, freedom. You don't make a Romney ad. He already is an ad.

Yet what is he an ad for? That's the real contest. To "Create Your Own Ad!" you have to "Create Your Own Mitt!" As one campaign strategist told David Broder, "You have to find the message." Romney is a tagline waiting to happen.

In the ads they posted, Romney supporters play along gamely, taking Team Mitt buzzwords and remixing them in equally vapid ways. One top entry, "Hopes and Dreams," shows gauzy footage of the Jefferson Memorial with a voice-over of Romney saying, "I love America, and I believe in the people of America," and touting "innovation," "transformation," "doing," and of course, "hopes and dreams." The ad goes back and forth between the campaign's earlier tag line"Strong. New. Leadership"and  "Strength. Innovation. Leadership."

Another ad that has soared inexplicably to the top of the Romney charts is "Keep It Simple," a no-frills pastiche that declares, "Strength. Courage. Leadership" and ends with a campaign favorite, "True Strength for America's Future." Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign released its own new ad this week, with the daring slogan, "Change begins with us."

For my maiden voyage as a media consultant, I didn't want to parrot someone else's cliché. I wanted to come up with my own. My inspiration came from a revealing aside in a New York Times piece last week, when Tagg Romney revealed that back in the early '90s, he thought about becoming a Democrat. In a classic father-and-son moment, Mitt supposedly told his son that Democrats' real goal was to lead the country toward same-sex marriage. The young man's response was exactly what you'd expect from Tagg's World: "No way!"

Making an ad about Mitt's family gave me new sympathy for his consultants: It isn't easy to tell which Romney boy is which. My consulting career wouldn't last long if Howie Kurtz's fact check in the Post labeled my ad "misleading" because it showed the wrong son.

Once I was pretty sure I'd found the right Romney, I was ready to submit my ad to Team Mitt. With no mention of strength, innovation, or leadership, I didn't expect to win. But the contest guidelines just urge the ads to support the campaign "creatively and responsibly"the same way you'd make a TV spot for Coors Light. My ad was wholesome, accurate, and hokey enough to meet that standard, so perhaps it would slip under the radar. The day after I turned it in, the Romney campaign started running a radio ad on the same theme in Iowa.

My other reason to hope and dream of making the cut was a matter of numbers: The campaign was hurting for entries. Team Mitt promoted the contest for weeks, but by Monday's midnight deadline, a grand total of 137 people had entered. YouTube has hundreds of millions of videos; making a Mitt ad takes an hour, and the winner gets to be the first walk-on consultant in American political history. Yet just 137 "supporters" signed up, and that includes impostors. Team Mitt could have found more consultant wannabes by walking around campaign headquarters in Boston. No wonder Romney has to spend so much on consultants: No one else wants to do it.

Alas, with so few entries to screen, Team Mitt had time to watch mine with raised eyebrow. Once again, I'm in elite company: Of the 137 entrants, only 7 of us have been banned in Boston. The campaign won't post a link to my ad on its list of approved videos, so you can only find it in the Members section on my Mitt page.

But the bright side of entering a contest with just 137 entries is that if you watch my ad, I have an excellent chance of breaking into the Top 100. At post time, even with no help from Team Mitt, I was around 109th.

So, don't miss the ad the Romney campaign doesn't want you to see! It won't win them the race, but it was worth every penny. ... 2:23 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

If He Didn't: From the outset, Larry Craig has violated the two cardinal rules of scandal management. No. 1: Get a lawyer. No. 2: Get a war room!

Craig finally hired a legal team, too late to do much good. But as his embarrassing return to the Senate yesterday demonstrated, the beleaguered senator is still a master of disaster at the public relations it will take to save his public job.

With scarcely a week left on the clock, Craig needs all the help he can get. Until someone else steps forward to run the Craig war room, I'll have to do it myself. Don't call me a hero. It's what any Idahoan would do to help his fellow man.

The Craig War Room is already up and running, and welcomes your contributions. Here are today's talking points:

Wide Stance—or Wide Support? Despite a concerted campaign by the Idaho Statesman and other elements of the elite Eastern media establishment, support for Larry Craig's position continues to grow. On Monday—the 220th birthday of our beloved Constitution—the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Craig's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The amicus sent a clear message to naysayers: See, he does too have friends.

The ACLU brief is chock full of new, convincing arguments that Craig got a bum rap. For starters, toe-tapping isn't a crime—it's free speech. The ACLU says the only thing that's "overbroad" in this case is Minnesota law. It's not a crime in a public place to solicit private sex. Unless the arresting officer is a foot-reader, he has no way of knowing the senator's intent and no right to discourage public-private partnerships.

Card-carrying liberals at the ACLU aren't the only ones who see it this way. Card-carrying liberal-haters at StoptheACLU.com agree. Conservative Jay excerpts the ACLU brief on his StoptheACLU blog and concludes, "Guess what? I think the ACLU are probably right."

He's No O.J.: Even Craig's Marxist-Leninist critics concede that he has never been accused of murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping. O.J. Simpson and Larry Craig couldn't be more different. O.J. claimed he was innocent, then later all but admitted he was guilty. Sen. Craig pleaded guilty and now is willing to admit he was innocent all along.

Mark Fuhrman, the racist cop in the Simpson case, retired to Idaho to get away from O.J. and become the senator's constituent. Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote a whole book saying O.J. did it, sounds like his next book might be on how Larry Craig didn't. Toobin told Time readers this week, "If Craig had challenged the case, it sounds like he might have had a real chance of winning at trial."

Even the Bush Administration Agrees: The Cops Set Him Up—and He's Not Gay! A blockbuster report from the COPS Office of the Bush Justice Department backs up Sen. Craig's entire story. The report, Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places, evaluates 19 different methods of policing public sex. Minneapolis's approach—"using undercover decoys"—ranks dead last, along with "harassing and intimidating suspects." According to the distinguished criminologist who wrote the report, decoys have "limited effectiveness," while "the social consequences may be devastating," and "officers may be reluctant to take on such assignments."

The report instead recommends several more effective approaches, such as better restroom design, warning signs, "the illusion of surveillance," improving lighting, "cutting back bushes and other vegetation," and contracting out enforcement to private security firms so police departments don't get blamed.

The Justice Department notes that restroom sex has been thoroughly studied—in contrast to other behaviors like nudism and lovers' lanes, which require further research. Craig is willing to stick around and vote to confirm Bush's nominee as attorney general if he pledges to take up this far more promising agenda.

But the most important finding of the Justice report is that even if he were guilty as pleaded, Larry Craig is telling the truth—he's not gay. On this point, the report is crystal clear:

It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.

That's not the Craig War Room talking—it's the United States government. After all, if you can't trust the Bush Justice Department, who can you trust? ... 1:59 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Put to Bed: For centuries, the criminal defense bar has snickered that any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. With his fateful guilty plea last month, Larry Craig proved that the old adage holds true for nonlawyers as well. Solicitation may be a victimless crime, but in a case of self-immolation, it's hard to tell where perp ends and victim begins.

Now Craig has more lawyers than a Boston Legal washroom. But so far, the only defense they've given him is that he waited so long to hire them. In his original guilty plea, he clearly waived the right to counsel. On the line of the form that states, "I am/am not represented by an attorney," Craig circled " am not." Of course, Craig's lawyers might argue, circling the am-not boxdoesn't mean you understand it.

Craig is desperately trying to play the victim, but he can tell it to the judge. His constituents are determined to blame him, anyway. The Lewiston Tribune runs an online poll on lifestyle and public policy questions. This month, readers' favorite fair food is elephant ears; they love Wal-Mart; and by 3-1, they believe citizens should have the right to carry guns in public buildings. On the question of whom to blame for the Craig scandal, a few say "Democratic conspirators" or the media, but readers are 12 times more likely to blame the Craig scandal on Larry Craig than on "overzealous policing."

In their latest motion, Craig's legal team attributes his guilty plea to panic over what the press would do if they found out. Today, the Idaho Statesman released audiotape excerpts from a May interview in which Craig insisted that he learned long ago not to panic about the media.

Twenty-five years ago, Craig panicked when a reporter asked him about possible ties to the congressional page scandal. The first-term congressman called an impromptu press conference denying any involvement—giving a national press corps that had never heard of the guy its first chance to link him to scandal.

When Statesman reporter Dan Popkey asked him in May about the 1982 fiasco, Craig said, "A little naivete on my part from being a freshman legislator. I wouldn't handle it that way today, Dan. It's pretty obvious where you're sitting right now I don't handle things that way."

Alas, from where Craig has been sitting lately, it's pretty obvious that he learned a different lesson from 1982—the perils of voluntary disclosure. Craig's problem isn't quarter-century bouts of panic; it's consistently poor political judgment. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a cat won't sit on a hot toilet seat twice, but it won't sit on a cold one, either. In 1982, Craig was embarrassed by his own premature disclosure. This time, he was so eager to cover up, he copped to the crime.

Republicans are lucky that Craig's career is set to expire with the fiscal year on Sept. 30, because even from the political grave, the man has an uncanny knack for saying things that beg to be taken out of context. He told the Statesman he would talk to them about rumors of his homosexuality because "I want this issue put to bed."

In the same interview, Craig denounced his accusers with some of the more prophetic words of his career: "It's a bunch of false crap!" That's what he was arrested for. Now it's his defense. ... 5:15 P.M. (link)

Monday, Sept. 10, 2007

Huckleberry Hound: For the past few weeks, the entire political world has watched the people of Idaho come to terms with a Republican who opposes gay rights but pleads guilty to toe-tapping in the men's room. But no one was watching last month when the state had a very different rest stop—a visit by Rudy Giuliani, Republicans' most openly straight and pro-gay-rights contender.

Giuliani came out to Idaho a few days before Larry Craig did. He's the first presidential candidate to visit my hometown of Coeur d'Alene since Ronald Reagan, but the anticipation hasn't exactly been killing us. If Giuliani is in a national hero, somebody forgot to tell the folks back home. His ticker tape parade consisted of a dozen people holding signs endorsing Ron Paul for president  (subscription required).

Reagan's 1980 visit punctuated the Republican takeover of North Idaho, which had been a Democratic stronghold half a century ago and a Socialist hotbed half a century before that. Giuliani's arrival marked another rite of passage. My hometown used to mimic Twin Peaks, not Sun Valley. Now so many rich people summer there, candidates come from Manhattan to meet our millionaires.

Like most out-of-towners, Giuliani drove right past the Paul Bunyan Pak-Out, the only place in America you can get a huckleberry shake underneath a giant statue of the folk legend. He headed instead for one of the multimillion-dollar homes along Coeur d'Alene Lake, whose floating green is a legend of the nouveau riche.

At a brief press conference before the fund-raiser, Giuliani pressed his claim that he's the one Republican with a 50-state strategy. "When you think about it, every state could tip the balance," he told reporters. "That's what happened four years ago in Ohio." Outsiders often mix up the names Ohio and Idaho—just last week, MSNBC's Dan Abrams kicked off a show about Craig's resignation by saying, "The most likely scenario by far is that by October, there will be a new senator from Ohio." But until now, nobody ever mixed up the two states' politics. Republicans have carried Idaho 10 times in a row, usually by 30-40 points. The GOP might think twice about Giuliani if he needs Idaho to tip the balance.

Ironically, with his record on abortion, guns, and immigration, Giuliani might be the one Republican nominee who could put Idaho in play—for a right-wing third-party candidate. Ross Perot came within a point of finishing second in 1992. Against the right conservative, Giuliani might be in danger of running third.

On his visit, Giuliani sounded a bit out of place, promising that he wouldn't "succumb to the pessimism, defeatism, and a kind of diminishment that the Democrats will bring." That's not how we talk in Idaho—and if we did, we'd use the preferred form, diminution.

On his way to Idaho, Hizzoner stopped in Iowa (no relation). He told Iowans their concerns reminded him of voters from Staten Island: "It's the closest thing that New York City has to—I wouldn't call it rural, but suburbs."

Giuliani held his Idaho fund-raiser on Kidd Island Bay, which is the closest thing Coeur d'Alene has to, well, islands. The lakeshore homes near Kidd Island Bay command top dollar. But Kidd Island itself is about 20 feet across, maybe half that during the spring runoff. After World War II, a returning soldier tried to settle on Kidd Island under an obscure provision that allowed veterans to claim islands as their property. He and his wife built a stone retaining wall around the island and lived there awhile, although she complained that a neighbor on land was staring at her through binoculars. The couple had to leave after another landowner convinced a court to rule that if the water level were lower, the place would no longer be an island.

Today, Kidd Island Bay is filling up with sediment from all the subdivisions. But happily, no one has figured out how to put a house on Kidd Island. In the old days, the few brave souls who lived on the bay could skate across the lake to the town movie theater. The theater is gone now, and the lake doesn't freeze like it used to, so everyone has a satellite dish.

As a Camp Fire Girl, my wife used to earn beads by making the half-mile swim to Kidd Island and back from Camp Neewahlu. The camp closed a few years ago. The Camp Fire Girls sold it for $2 million to former NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz, confirming everybody's suspicion that no matter what Giuliani says, anybody who cared that much about crime would leave New York City and move to Idaho.

Giuliani raised $50-100,000 in Coeur d'Alene. A few days after he left, local Democrats held their annual fund-raiser, the Huckleberry Social, where they auctioned off homemade huckleberry pies, cakes, and ice cream. The hot, dry summer made for lousy huckleberry picking and drove the price of berries above $10 a quart, so Democrats struggled to break even.

Coeur d'Alene probably won't be lucky enough to go another quarter-century without seeing another presidential candidate. A mammoth bloc of $5 million vacation condos just opened by the floating green, which will draw more millionaires the way huckleberries attract grizzlies. Giuliani was just another reminder: It's a nice place to live, and a shame so many rich folks have to visit. ... 4:32 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007

He's Back: Last year, a South African parody of Brokeback Mountain called Bangbroek Mountain offered theatergoers the chance to choose between a happy ending and a sad ending. But one man's happy ending is an entire state's worst nightmare. Of all the things the people of Idaho ever wanted to hear from Larry Craig, the last words on earth would be, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Long before Craig's staff tried to bring him back from the dead yesterday, Jerry Seinfeld was already telling reporters in Las Vegas that the Craig scandal is "one of the greatest things to ever have happened" to comedy. Tuesday's news was a comic revival. Every few years, the long-suffering people of Idaho wonder what our politicians will do for an encore. We're never sure how they'll choose to embarrass us, but in the end, they always come through.

Yet even in Idaho, we're not used to seeing the deceased get up and walk out of their own funeral. At Craig's press conference on Saturday morning, several Boiseans in the crowd cheered when he announced his plans to resign. Imagine our surprise to learn that moments earlier, he had called his lawyer claiming he was being railroaded and plotting to fight the charges. Larry Craig doesn't just know how to tap his toes. He knows how to cross them.

Three months after being arrested for lewd conduct in a restroom, and three days after announcing "my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30th," Craig seems to have decided that in both cases, intent is in the eye of the beholder. All summer, he refused to share his secret with a lawyer. Now he's hiring lawyers everywhere. Today, his legal team asked the Senate ethics committee to drop its investigation into "purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties." He also has hired Minneapolis counsel to try to undo his guilty plea.

Craig's Republican colleagues must be checking the schedule for the next bus they can throw him under. But if Sen. Craig needs a legal defense fund, Idaho Democrats will be happy to contribute. The state's Democrats haven't had a lucky break in 40 years. Last week's flameout seemed to follow the same pattern, as the biggest sex scandal in Idaho history quickly looked to be the shortest.

After a weekend off, Idahoans are back to scratching their heads about their fallen senator. One political expert, Randy Stapilus, points to the long, sorry saga of Bob Packwood, another Republican senator from the Pacific Northwest forced to leave in disgrace. Packwood spent nearly three years fighting sexual harassment charges, until finally resigning after the Senate ethics committee recommended his expulsion. Craig may be the only politician in history to suffer from Packwood envy.

Craig defense attorney Stan Brand warned the ethics committee not to "spawn progeny that even the Committee wouldn't want." The turn of phrase, while curious, was oddly appropriate. For if there has been one constant in Larry Craig's 27-year congressional career, it's that the man hates salmon. Former Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth drew headlines by asking how groceries can sell canned salmon if the fish is endangered. But Craig has always been the one conservatives count on to stop scientists from intervening to save the wild salmon from extinction. He has spoken out so strongly on the issue that when his own number was up, one tribal news service ran the headline, "Sen. Craig, Salmon Opponent, Guilty in Airport Incident."

Craig won't last long enough to beat the salmon. But as his political career swims upstream to die, he might feel like one. ... 4:02 P.M.(link)

Friday, Aug. 31, 2007

Flushed Away: The transcriptof Larry Craig's interview with the arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, contains a career's worth of awkward moments. At one point, Karsnia asked, "Have you been successful in these bathrooms before?" Craig's reply: "I go to that bathroom regularly." The sole bright spot for the senator was when the sergeant asked, "Have you got it on?" Luckily for Craig, Karsnia was talking to his fellow police officer about the tape recorder.

In the end, another exchange may turn out to have been the most prescient. Early in the interview, Karsnia told Craig, "I don't want to get into a pissing match here"—surely the best advice ever shared between two men who've just left the bathroom. Craig answered, "We're not going to," and later added, "I'm not gonna fight you."

During the two months since his fateful layover, Larry Craig has had plenty of chances to stand up for himself in the courts of Minnesota or the court of public opinion. But as he prepares to announce his plans on Saturday, he finds himself trapped, unable to fight or switch.

Few Idahoans' political careers have lasted longer than Craig's, and none has ended more abruptly. Only the legendary Sen. William F. Borah served more years in Congress—and until this week, most assumed Craig would run for re-election so he could one day break Borah's record. At 62, Craig has spent most of his life in public office, since winning a state Senate seat at the age of 29.

But a long public life has proved no match for an embarrassing private one. In five business days, Craig has been abandoned by most of the political allies he made over the course of four decades. He had to resign from the Romney campaign on Monday and his Senate committees on Wednesday. Republican Senate colleagues, from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to John McCain and John Ensign, joined the chorus. Poor Craig can't read the graffiti on the wall through all the handwriting.

On Thursday night, even the most disgraced Republican of our times, Tom DeLay, weighed in: "When you have members that have problems or scandals and they are found guilty, the Republican Party does the right thing and kicks them out." Oh, for the good old days when Republican congressional scandals were just about money.

Across Idaho, newspapers that had regularly endorsed Craig's campaigns demanded his resignation. On Friday morning, the Republican National Committee sent word that it had drafted a letter calling on Craig to resign, but would hold it long enough for him to jump. Officials with the Idaho Republican Party leakedthat Gov. Butch Otter had already chosen Lt. Gov. Jim Risch as Craig's successor. From the Beltway to Boise, Republicans dropped Craig like what he had become—a hot potato.

Idaho Democrats were hoping Craig would fight for his political life a little longer. By making Craig walk the plank and naming a new incumbent to his seat, Republicans believe they can reclaim their generic edge going into the 2008 Senate race.

Friday's papers focused on what the loss of Craig's seatmight cost the state. " Idaho could lose millions," an Idaho Statesman subhed declared, reporting that Craig "sometimes boasted that he brought home $2.5 million a week to Idaho in the form of federal grants." Republicans may be under fire for anti-gay hypocrisy, but their anti-government hypocrisy is still going strong.

Idahoans will happily accept the loss of Craig's clout if it means the loss of Craig's cloud. That way, residents could get back to celebrating Thursday night's season-opening victoryby 24th-ranked Boise State, which has the longest winning streak in the country. After this week, folks are even looking forward to Saturday's mismatch between top-ranked Southern California and the University of Idaho, whose coach wrote "113" on the chalkboard to motivate a team ranked 113th out of 121 Division 1-A football schools. Most Idahoans feel the way the Vandal defense will feel when the Trojans are through Saturday—not sure what all that was about, but glad to have it over.

At the very end of their interview, Sgt. Karsnia told Craig, "Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes." Republicans couldn't have said it better. ... 5:55 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

The Answer Is No:The national headquarters for fighting wildfires is in Boise, Idaho. But as they watch Larry Craig's political future go up in smoke, Idahoans have decided to let this one burn out of control. On Tuesday, an editorial in the Idaho Statesman warned against a rush to judgment. Two days later, the newspaper became the third major daily in the state to decide enough was enough. Conservative bloggers have also  joined the call for Craig's resignation, and online polls up and down the state are running overwhelmingly against him.

Most Idahoans feel a mixture of disgust with Craig and sadness for his family. Yet at the same time, we have our own reputation to think of. Idaho may not have nearly as much baggage as the national Republican leaders who've been so quick to distance themselves from Craig. But a series of embarrassing politicians—and high-profile interlopers like the Aryan Nations and Mark Fuhrman—has left Idahoans pretty tired of being laughed at.

So, after a few days under Craig's cloud, many Idahoans seem to have concluded that rather than get laughed at for defending the guy, they'd rather be the ones leading the laughter. The Statesman editorial demanding Craig's resignation declared, "We cannot afford, as a state with but four congressional representatives, to have a senator who merely provides fodder for bloggers and late-night talk show hosts." Then the same edition of the paper gave readers a roundup of the latest Craig jokes from Leno and Letterman.

Up north, the state's self-proclaimed "Singing Columnist," Doug Clark, has skewered Craig with his own toe-tapping parody song and video. Clark has spent most of his career as an editor and columnist at two of the most conservative papers in America, the Coeur d'Alene Press and the Spokesman-Review. But far from shedding any tears, his video parody is karaoke-bar gleeful.

Set to the tune of Tony Orlando's "Knock Three Times," the lyrics include:

Tap three times with your loafer if you want me.

Twice on the tank – if the answer is no….

(Tap. Tap. Tap.)

Means you'll meet me in the stall-way.

Twice on the tank means you just gotta go. ...

and later:

(Tap. Tap. Tap.)

He's unbuckling his beltway.

White and far right means you're from Idaho. 

Singing Tony Orlando parodies may not seem like a great leap forward for Idaho's reputation. But a state where the license plates say "Famous Potatoes" isn't asking for much. Besides, we don't feel much like singing the state song  right now, especially the verse, "There's truly one state in this great land of ours/ Where ideals can be realized/ The pioneers made it so for you and me/ A legacy we'll always prize."

So, Tony-Orlando-and-john is a start. And by Jiminy, our message is clear: You won't have Idaho to kick around anymore. ... 4:52 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Don't Go Near the Men's Room: The front page of Larry Craig's hometown paper, the Treasure Valley Journal, shows an ominous full-page photoof a town car surrounded by a SWAT team of gun-toting police. Luckily for Craig, it's a monthly that has been on the stands awhile, with a photo from this summer's community relations night for the Eagle, Idaho, police.

In just about every other Idaho newspaper this morning, the guns are all pointed at Craig. My hometown paper, the Coeur d'Alene Press—one of the most Republican newspapers in the state—called on Craig to resign in a scathing editorial titled, " Trust violated, there is no future, Senator." The Press said it had reached that conclusion not as a moral judgment on the allegations against Craig, nor because of "his tepid stance in the Iraq War or his unpopular support of President Bush's proposed immigration reform," but because "the people of Idaho cannot trust their most powerful representative in the nation's capital."

But another story on the front page of the Press poses an even bigger hurdle for Craig: Now Idahoans might start blaming him every time they need to find a bathroom.

The Press warns residents about a notorious rest stop that police have been watching for years. Here's the lede:

"People are scrutinizing public restrooms in light of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's arrest and conviction in Minneapolis this summer. And close to home, it's not a pretty sight. Motorists taking a break at the Huetter rest stop between Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls might want to think twice before venturing near the men's restroom."

In the accompanying photo, the rest stop looks harmless enough. But the caption makes it sound like it should come with its own SWAT team: "The Huetter rest stop along Interstate 90 has had its share of problems with sexual deviants and an anonymous source tells The Press it's still happening."

Twenty years ago, the school superintendent from nearby Post Falls had to resign after being arrested in a rest stop sting operation. Citing a confidential source, the paper says "people would be shocked to learn" that the rest stop is a "hub" for "deviant sexual behavior in North Idaho." The same source goes on to warn that perpetrators frequent several rest stops throughout the region.

D.F. Oliveria, a blogger at a nearby paper, asked readers today, "Do you feel safe using public restrooms?" The first respondent says sensibly, "Not for sex!"

The Idaho Statesman, which Craig blamed for his guilty plea, has yet to call for the senator's resignation. [Update: Now it has.] One Idaho cartoonist showed Craig shouting, "I am not gay. The Idaho Statesman is gay."

But across the state, man-on-the-street interviews were gloomy for the man-in-the-men's-room. Most residents told reporters that Craig's days are numbered. The most encouraging comment came from a Nampa businessman who told the Idaho Press-Tribune, "If the Catholic Church can survive what they've been through, Larry Craig'll be fine."

An overnight poll taken Tuesday showed most Idahoans believe Craig should resign. The margin was 55 percent to 34 percent, which is about how much Democrats usually lose by. The restroom panic will only add to the feeling that Craig's gotta go, so everyone else can. ... 3:24 P.M. (link)

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007

Jiminy God!: My first job after college was helping my friend Larry LaRocco run for Congress against a first-termer named Larry Craig. When Craig held a surprise press conference implicating himself in an emerging House page scandalby denying any involvement, our deputy campaign manager turned to LaRocco and said, "Congratulations, Congressman." We saw the press's death march around Craig and assumed Idahoans would jump to the same conclusion.

House Republicans lost 27 seats that year. But Larry Craig kept his and hasn't had a tough race since.

If Missouri is the Show-Me State, Idaho is the Don't-Show-Me State. Voters have been content to know that Craig is Republican; anything else would be too much information. If you want to know why we chose to live in our own private Idaho, this case seems like a pretty good reason.

Craig will have a much harder time keeping his job this time, after pleading guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis men's room. Senate Republican leaders have called for an ethics investigation. Idaho's top political prognosticator, Randy Stapilus, predicts that Craig will resign or decline to run again.

Other states expect a lot from government and from their elected leaders. As a result, Idaho often seems like the Lake Wobegon of American politics, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the politicians are below average.

But in many ways, the Craig affair is a perfect storm of the suspicions that make Idahoans so conflicted about politics in the first place. As a rule, we don't trust government, we don't trust politicians, and we've always had our doubts about public restrooms.

The Craig case puts many of Idaho's most cherished beliefs to the test. Next to Alaska, Idaho is probably the most libertarian state in the country. Not everyone agreed with the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth that the federal government was tracking Americans with black helicopters. But Idahoans weren't looking for much else from their congressman, so while the rest of the country laughed at Chenoweth, Idaho's attitude was, "Better safe than sorry."

After the FBI wounded Aryan sympathizer and alleged illegal guns dealer Randy Weaver (and killed his wife) in a 1992 raid, an Idaho jury acquitted him and dismissed the gun charges as entrapment. In 1984, Idaho Rep. George Hansen was sentenced to prison for falsifying his financial disclosure forms and came within 68 votes of winning re-election.

As a senior in high school, I spent three months as a page in the Idaho State Senate. Female pages complained about a legislator of Strom Thurmond vintage, but young State Sen. Craig never gave us trouble. The legislature's main achievements that year were laws banning state police from using radar or requiring motorcycle helmets.

If it weren't for the guilty plea, it's hard to say what verdict an Idaho jury would give in the Craig case. Idahoans approved a same-sex marriage amendment that puts government in the bedroom. But any state that has trouble with radar and motorcycle helmets could have qualms about putting government in the bathroom.

In Washington, D.C., where I've spent the past two decades, everyone lives and breathes politics. In Idaho, people are so used to fresh air, they choke on political news, even in small doses. Yesterday D.F. Oliveria, a journalist and popular blogger in my hometown, ran an online poll asking whether Craig could survive the scandal. In the first 24 hours, a grand total of 6 Idahoans responded.

When a gay blogger ran anonymous allegations against Craig last fall, the Idaho Statesman, the biggest newspaper in the state, declined to run the rumors. The Statesman decided to conduct its own investigation—and didn't even print the results of its investigation until after Roll Call broke the story of Craig's arrest.

The newspaper interviewed more than 300 people who've known Craig—neighbors, childhood friends, and 41 of his University of Idaho fraternity brothers. In May, a few weeks before the Minneapolis arrest, the Statesman interviewed Craig and his wife, and played a tape from the man who made the online allegations.

The report is exhaustive, interesting, and inconclusive. Read it for yourself, and the one thing you can be sure of is that Larry Craig's favorite epithet is "Jiminy!" He told the Statesman, "I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!" After his wife listened to the tape and told the newspaper she was incensed it would "consider such a piece of trash as a credible source," Craig let loose with, "Jiminy God!"

At a press conference Tuesday, Craig blamed his guilty plea on the pressure he felt from what he called the Statesman's eight-month-long "witch hunt." Craig might have been better off claiming his layover was entrapment by the common enemy so many Idaho flyers love to hate, Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines.

Garrison Keillor once said that folks in Lake Wobegon believe in forgiving their neighbor, but first they want to hear details. Idahoans are in no mood to forgive Craig. But—Jiminy God!—we've heard enough details. ... 6:37 P.M. ( link)