George Bush just lost the job he wanted more than this one.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Jan. 18 2008 4:18 PM

The Benchwarmer

George Bush just lost the job he wanted more than this one.

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How'd Hillary do it? The only route she knows—the hard way. She mentioned "grit" in her victory speech, and I suspect that's what voters saw that made them break her way down the stretch. Just as New Hampshire voters learned something about Bill Clinton when his back was to the wall in '92, they watched Hillary Clinton in her darkest hour and decided she has what it takes.

Two moments will draw the most attention. First, the laugh she got at Saturday night's debate when the moderator pressed her about a poll questioning her likability, and she joked, "That hurts my feelings, but I'll try to go on." Second, the tears that welled up in her eyes on Monday as she explained to a New Hampshire woman why she keeps going.

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The connection Bill Clinton made with New Hampshire voters like that helped sustain him throughout his presidency. Whatever else happens in this remarkable race, what Hillary Clinton won Tuesday was much more than a primary. In New Hampshire, she found her voice, and her cause, in the indelible bond she forged with the people who stood by her when she promised to stand up for them. As one of the many pundits who got it wrong might put it, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the last dog shall never die. ... 5:09 A.M. (link)

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007

Powerball: For much of American history, the responsibility of leading the strongest nation on earth gave our presidents power too vast to measure. At the beginning of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt believed the president should "carry a big stick"—and he wasn't trying to sound like Dick Cheney. For the last half-century, a military aide has shadowed the president, carrying launch codes in a nuclear football.

When historians sum up America's standing at the dawn of the 21st century, they might look at page A19 of Monday's Washington Post: The president of the United States, once the mightiest figure on the planet, now carries a power meter.

Michael Abramowitz of the Post reports that almost every weekend, the presidential motorcade takes Bush and eight to 10 mountain-biking buddies to a Secret Service training facility, where he can "ride hard," listen to country music on his iPod, and help the service build more trails. A legislative aide and fellow rider told the Post that Bush takes these 90-minute workouts so seriously, he recently obtained a power meter to measure how much wattage he can produce.

The great paradox of presidential power is that presidents never bother to measure it as long as they still have some, then search in vain for even the smallest trace once it's gone. Bush could have chosen any number of reliable presidential power meters—the Gallup poll, for instance—absolutely free. Instead, he opted for one of the most expensive new fitness toys on the market, costing $1,600 or more. When the Dallas Morning News asked fitness experts what they wanted to give or receive this holiday season, a triathlon coach suggested the power meter: "It's this year's hot gizmo for cyclists."

In the good old days, the president appointed a council on physical fitness. But for Bush, the pursuit of fitness has become the presidency's entire job description. According to the Post, Bush is "obsessed with the metrics of biking," such as the calories burned and miles traveled each weekend. That helps him escape the pressures of the workweek, when he's busy ignoring the metrics of governing.

As any aides who haven't already left try to put the best face on his anemic approval rating, Bush's power meter is a poignant reminder of how much his presidency has atrophied. At the same time, it's a potent symbol of why George W. Bush has been the perfect president for the steroid era.

The Mitchell report doesn't quite name Bush as a party to the steroid scandal, but the trail of evidence runs alarmingly close to his skybox. Mitchell didn't have subpoena power, so the report reads like a National Intelligence Estimate of Major League Baseball: Until the key players are more forthcoming, it's hard to be certain what they were doing and none too reassuring to be told that they've stopped. Guilt by association is not the same as actual guilt. But if friends don't let friends do performance-enhancing drugs, the former Texas Rangers owner has a few too many buddies on Mitchell's list.

Before the Mitchell report, two of the biggest steroid suspects were ex-Rangers from the Bush years, Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro. Canseco wrote the book on drugs in baseball. Palmeiro lied to Congress about it under oath. While most baseball players steer clear of politics, Palmeiro gave Bush's 2004 campaign the maximum of $4,000.

Mitchell added some new names to Bush's friends list. Roger Clemens, the biggest fish in Mitchell's dragnet, is a longtime Bushie. A Clemens profile last year in USA Today said "he has a standing invitation to dine at the White House." Clemens is so close to the Bushes, he built a horseshoe pit at his house for George H.W. Bush. Andy Pettitte, who has now admitted using human growth hormone, once joined Clemens in a video tribute called "Happy 80th Birthday, 41." When George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in Cincinnati last year, Kent Mercker (also accused of buying growth hormone) showed his support by waving a Bush-Cheney hat.

The Bush campaign called top fund-raisers "Rangers," but contributors included Mets, Orioles, and Yankees as well. Palmeiro was not alone: Mike Stanton, who gave $3,200 to clubhouse drug dealer Kirk Radomski in 2003, gave $750 to the Republican National Committee the following year. John Giambi—the proud father of Jason and Jeremy, who've both admitted using steroids—was an early supporter of Bush's 2000 campaign. The Mitchell report reproduces two checks Mo Vaughn wrote Radomski for $5,400. Last year, Vaughn gave $5,000 to a conservative PAC that has given to George Allen, Larry Craig, and the Bush campaign.

Jose Canseco claims the Mitchell report is incomplete because it left out Alex Rodriguez. While A-Rod denies using steroids, he did give Bush $2,000. By contrast, Hank Aaron, who played his entire career without an asterisk, has contributed to staunch opponents of Bush like Max Cleland and Hillary Clinton.

Two years ago, Bush defended his friend Palmeiro when he tested positive after testifying negative. Last week, Bush sought to deflect attention from friends listed in the Mitchell report: "I think it's best that all of us not jump to any conclusions on individual players named."

But the most damning evidence of Bush's complicity in baseball's era of denial is his own role in the trade that helped start it all. In the summer of '92, as it became apparent that his father would lose the White House, Bush was desperate to get the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time in the 30-year history of the franchise. He had his eye on Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire's gargantuan Bash Brother with the Oakland A's, who had led the majors in home runs the year before.

Meanwhile, out in Oakland, A's manager Tony LaRussa and coach Dave McKay were already convinced Canseco was taking steroids. According to the Mitchell report, A's general manager (and later MLB exec) Sandy Alderson considered testing him. While Alderson claims that Canseco's trade to Texas was "not out of any concern relating to his alleged involvement with steroids," the evidence in the Mitchell report hints otherwise.

The great unanswered question is one Mitchell doesn't ask: If it's possible the A's knew enough to trade Canseco because of steroids, did Bush go after Canseco for the same reason? He already had three players who would turn up in the Mitchell report for later allegations of drug use—Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, and Kevin Brown. Without drug testing in place, it was almost impossible to get caught, and baseball was years from cracking down. To a highly competitive, power-hitter-hungry baseball executive like Bush, Canseco might have seemed a risk worth taking.

That would make A-Rod the second biggest omission from the Mitchell report. The biggest is George Bush's own explanation for pursuing a have-needle-will-travel slugger in the first place. Here's what Bush told the New York Times at the time about why he traded for Jose Canseco:

"We needed to change the chemistry. …"

Stop the presses! When he's done reading his power meter, the president would like to make a confession. ... 9:24 A.M. (link)

Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

** Urgent Travel Advisory **: Panic struck the nation's airways again today, as yet another major hub has been added to TSA's Not Safe To Stopover list. Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver were bad enough, but now Chicago O'Hare—the second-largest airport on the planet—is off limits. An alert Slate reader writes:

"I recently had a Larry Craig sighting at ORD. Nowhere is safe!"

United Airlines shares are expected to plunge in after-hours trading ... 5:01 P.M.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Travels Without Larry: With the holidays fast approaching, Americans are already bracing for the high anxieties of holiday travel: missed flights, lost luggage, weather delays, and explaining to the children why that TSA agent gets to open all their presents. But this weekend's latest expose in the Idaho Statesman gives millions traveling through the nation's crowded airports a whole new worry: how to get home for the holidays without being solicited by Larry Craig.

For the savvy traveler, avoiding Craig used to be a snap. Voters in Idaho and elsewhere were horrified when he pleaded guilty to solicitation in the Minneapolis airport and disgusted when he stayed in office anyway. But most travelers agreed that he couldn't have picked a better airport for us to dodge. In May—a few days before Craig's arrest—U.S. News ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul the fifth most miserable airport in America, out of 47. No one shed any tears about swearing off Northwest Airlines, and its route between Minneapolis and Washington National gets mediocre ratings.

But on Sunday, the Statesman threw a wrench into travelers' plans with the chilling account of a man who claimed that in 2006—using the identical gestures that got himself arrested in Minneapolis—Craig solicited sex in the men's room of the Denver airport. Denver is the fifth-most-traveled airport in America and the 10th busiest in the world. It handled 47 million passengers in 2006, and is growing 9 percent a year, the fourth-fastest growth rate on earth.

A traveler with no family in Minnesota or the Dakotas could go a lifetime without a layover in Minneapolis. But taking Denver off the grid is the 21st-century equivalent of pulling the golden stake out of the transcontinental railroad. Without Denver, westbound travelers face a Hobson's choice of either the inevitable delays and impossible crowds of weather-prone O'Hare, or the inconvenience of flying almost to Mexico to transfer through Dallas-Fort Worth.

The eyewitness account in the Statesman ranks with Home Alone and Plains, Trains, and Automobiles on any all-time list of travel horror stories. A 46-year-old gay man was flying from Boise to Washington, and found himself with the same itinerary as Craig and his wife, Suzanne. The Statesman recounts his story in cinematic detail:

During the layover in Denver, the man said he was in a men's restroom stall when a hand came under the divider and reached toward him. The hand was palm up, as the officer in Minnesota also described, and slid toward him for two or three seconds. The man said he noticed unpolished, dark, lace-up shoes worn by the man in the next stall. He did not respond to the gesture.

"I freaked out," said the man, who was traveling with his long-time partner. "I finished my business and left."

The man said he then waited outside the men's restroom on a bench. Shortly after, a man wearing the shoes he saw in the adjacent stall exited. The man was Larry Craig.

"Those shoes came out, and I looked up, and it was like, 'Oh, my God.'"

Many of the eight men quoted in the Statesman—whom CBS dubbed "Eight Men Out"—gave accounts so graphic, the newspaper had to post warnings about explicit descriptions in the audio clips on the Web site. Reporter Dan Popkey admitted to Editor & Publisher, "I don't like writing about anal sex for people who don't want to read about it over their corn flakes."

While not as graphic, the tale of the hapless traveler is potentially the most damaging, suggesting that even under his wife's nose, Craig could be a serial airport stalker. Coupled with earlier allegations that Craig had sex in the restrooms at Union Station, the Denver airport revelation underscores a growing fear that TSA may have missed the greatest threat to our transportation system: the danger of being asked for sex by Larry Craig.

Careful travelers need to take matters into their own hands. In that spirit, here's a handy Travelers' Guide to Avoiding Larry Craig this holiday season:

Tip No. 1: Drive wherever possible. Holiday travelers in and around Washington, D.C., need to beware: Craig has most of the exits covered. With Union Station just two blocks from Senate office buildings, train travel is out. Craig lives on a houseboat in the Potomac, so the waterways are blocked, too. Reagan National, the nearest airport, is practically a second home for members of Congress from faraway places. While driving poses its own hazards, especially in the winter, the risk of a Craig sighting is zero.

Possible downsides: This time of year, the 2,300-mile drive to Boise could take a week; for best results, avoid the Garden State Parkway.

Tip No. 2: If you must fly, don't drink. If you've already booked tickets through Minneapolis or Denver and can't get your money back, don't despair. Veteran travelers will remember that in the early days after 9/11, the FAA banned passengers from leaving their seats within 30 minutes of takeoff or landing in D.C. Based on that experience, some experts believe it is theoretically possible to complete the entire seven-hour journey from one coast to the other, including stopover, without ever going near a single bathroom. Unpleasant as that sounds, the alternative is worse.

Note for future travel: Now that Craig stands accused in Denver as well as Minneapolis, cancel your trip to watch both parties honor him at their 2008 conventions.

Tip No. 3: There's no place like home. Travel is not for everyone. Thanks to modern technology, such as a video camera on your laptop, you can see your family as much as you like with absolutely no chance of running into Larry Craig. A travel advisory is in effect for residents of Idaho and D.C. Ironically, Boise may be the safest place to be: Craig told the Statesman earlier this year that if he ever went cruising, he wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho.

Tip No. 4: If you decide to travel, some risks are better than others. All holiday travel is a gamble, but with careful planning, you can reduce the odds of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately, new airline reservation search engines like Kayak and Orbitz allow you to sort flights not just by price, but by another important factor: length of stopover.

For instance, at first glance, United's best deals from D.C. to Boise involve changing planes at O'Hare—which has no reported Craig sightings, despite being the second-busiest airport in the world. But look again: Saving a few hundred dollars doesn't sound like such a good deal when it means a layover that could stretch to three hours. Consider a lower-risk option—Delta through Salt Lake.

Best bet: Give yourself some peace of mind this holiday season, and pay a little more for a shorter layover. Your luggage maynot make it, but no one will ever have to read about it in the Statesman. ... 6:48 P.M. (link)

Friday, Nov. 30, 2007

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Mike Huckabee

No Weigh: With Mike Huckabee suddenly a serious threat to win the Republican nomination, it's time to ask a pressing question: Do we really want another president whose biggest fear is getting fat?