Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Feb. 11 2008 3:39 PM

When Mitt Met Ralph

Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

(Continued from Page 2)

A century from now, that's the story they'll be telling about Hillary Clinton. Just yesterday, the whole mainstream media was in New Hampshire, hanging her out a window by her ankles. This time, the hordes were certain there could be no escape. When yet another Clinton pulled off an impossible feat, a gobsmacked political world gasped as one: She's done it again!

Clinton World has been through our share of near-death experiences, but none as staggering as this one. In '92, Bill Clinton had two weeks to come back from the dead in New Hampshire, and even then he came in second. Hillary Clinton had 96 hours to right herself and stave off a tidal wave of support for Barack Obama. It was a little like telling Lazarus that if he could somehow figure out how to rise from the dead, he'd still have to part the Red Sea.


The story of Hillary Clinton's demise proved not only premature, but one of the most errant headlines since "Dewey Defeats Truman." The Drudge Report led with an "Is Hillary Finished?" siren all Tuesday—even as the night wore on, when it was right next to election results showing her leading. Conservative pundits and mainstream journalists alike rushed to write that the era of both Clintons was over. By Tuesday afternoon, political futures markets were giving 20-1 odds on Hillary winning New Hampshire.

Not that any Clintonites were rushing to put bets down on Intrade. We hoped for a comeback down the road, but we figured to lose New Hampshire by double digits. About all we had going for us was the Clintons' lifelong winning streak whenever the conventional wisdom has completely turned against them.

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.

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!"