Monday, December 31, 2012

Hillary Clinton's Hospitalization

Only in the ugliness of today’s Washington could a life-threatening medical emergency be seen in terms of a career move.

Hillary Clinton’s hospitalization yesterday for a blood clot after a fainting fall and concussion earlier in the month inspires widespread sympathy and hope but also underscores the political sniping about her physical state in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and the ongoing John McCain-Lindsey Graham political circus over it.

When one of the nation’s most admired figures collapsed after effective and exhausting service as Secretary State, the nasty buzz began about it as a ploy to evade responsibility for a single event late in her four-year tenure.

For less twisted onlookers, the gravity of Mrs. Clinton’s condition was clear when she failed to appear with the President ten days ago when he announced the nomination of John Kerry to succeed her, but in the bizarre, bitter world of GOP survivors of last month’s election, simple decency goes by the boards.

While most observers hope for her quick recovery and a restorative period of rest and hibernation for Hillary Clinton, unhappy new year wishes to those who can only see her health in terms of the 2016 elections.

Update: Beyond the politicizing, however, the medical reporting on Mrs. Clinton’s clot has a troubling evasive aspect, leaving unanswered questions about the possible connection between the concussion and the clot. In coming days and weeks, the prognosis for her long-term health will have to become much clearer. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Year of Wretched Excess

Will 2012 read like a hospital chart of a body politic overheated to delirium just before its Tea Party fever breaks and a long recovery begins?

At the Cliff, it’s hard to separate perspective from wishful thinking, but is there no way left to go but down? The President is optimistic, but then again he usually is.

Where we are now recalls a three-pound doorstop from my brief career as a book publisher in the early 1970s when I oversaw “Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire’s History of the Sixties,” edited by my departed friend Harold Hayes, who had fostered the New Journalism during that turbulent decade.

To dramatize how American society was breaking down and reconstituting itself, Hayes recruited novelists as reporters (Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal) and turned journalists into narrative writers (Tom Wolfe, William F. Buckley, Gay Talese, Nora Ephron).

In that period, one of the magazine’s wry categories of comment about the absurdities of public life was headed Wretched Excess, and it comes to mind now as I savor this century’s quirky equivalent of attempting to dive under the media surface of events and bring up buried treasure of insight, the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2012 (The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves).

As we no-name scribblers plumb the year of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum, of Superstorm Sandy and the Sandy Hook school gun horror, of Generals’ sex scandals and their underlings’ new freedom of sexual orientation, of ferment everywhere in the culture, we may not match the literary quality of those iconic artists, but our intentions are comparable.

The passion and whole-heartedness of those bloggers will reward your attention and perhaps revive some hope for the future.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables in Washington

Movieplexes are alive with crowds wallowing in the newest version of Victor Hugo’s old chestnut, sugar-coating human misery into simpering hope with sentiments like “There is nothing like a dream to create the future” and “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

Meanwhile in DC a road company is still playing out the darkness of the dreary original. John Boehner is the worst Javier in history, passive aggressively stalking Obama’s Jean Valjean over the budgetary loaf of bread while the the rest of us peasants wait around helplessly to see if we all are going to starve.

Whatever happened to the spiritual redemption of “A Christmas Carol?”

The President leaves his family behind in Hawaii to return with only Bo for company, evoking the old saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” to arm-wrestle again at the cliff with a lame-duck Congress that threatens to fly off the edge.

When it comes to Washington theatricality, what’s going on is more of a reversion to the old movie serial, “The Perils of Pauline,” each day ending with impending disaster. The House comes back for the final chapter on Monday, but the rest of us may go off before then on our New Year’s Eve toots.

Then again, we might first want to check in on Spielberg’s Lincoln movie to remember when government, however messy, used to work.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Dark Side of the Day

Into this time of family love, celebrated in song and story for both warmth and dysfunction, enters a new kind of piercing sadness that will go unseen, collateral damage of the Newtown horror uncounted among the casualties.

All sides of today’s debates fall back on clichés about mental illness and mental health with rampant anxiety and ignorance. While arguments rage over deadly weapons, conventional minds close ranks to join in stigmatizing those whose lives do not fit familiar patterns.

In a long lifetime, this is a category of human beings that includes almost all those I have respected and most I have loved deeply-—men and women who respond to life with deep feeling, who think their own thoughts, follow their own drummers and fail to fit into socially pre-fabricated patterns that hide their inner depths.

In a headlong rush toward “safety,” such remarkable people may well be hurt  as sacrifices to an illusion that rejects their loving natures and exceptional humanity for better-safe-than-sorry platitudes.

To whomever may be added to that list of innocent victims, a gift of love and understanding from those who can see them as they really are and love them even more for the qualities that make them so intensely human.

Without them, we will all live in a world of faceless robots, some of whom may not be as safe as they seem to be and certainly not as life-enhancing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Take Heaven, Take Peace. Take Joy"

I can’t gift-wrap this, but it’s the closest thing to a Christmas treasure I have to share. Decades ago, I published it twice in different magazines.

Eric Sevareid was a gifted writer who spent most of his life as a radio and TV journalist working with Edward R. Murrow during World War II as part of “a band of brothers” and later at CBS-TV in its glory days. He was a hero and a role model to me.

Herewith, excerpts from Sevareid’s essay:

"Christmas offers us peace in one hand but in the other it carries a sword. The peace it offers is the love we felt in childhood and may still feel again if we have lived our lives as we were instructed in our early days. The sword is our conscience, glittering as sharply as the icicles on the Christmas tree.

"Christmas is an anticipation for the children; it is memory for most adults. It fastens the grip of truth upon us and will not let us go. Implacably it demands of us that we regard our work and what we have made of our lives, our country and our world.

"By the glow of the soft lights, by the sound of child voices in song, piercing us with an almost unendurable purity, we are obliged to remember that our first and only commandment was to love, and we have not truly obeyed; that men were so commanded not to improve them, but to save them from themselves, and we have not truly understood.

"Of course, we say as the moment of truth approaches, 'Christmas is really for the children.' Suffer the little children to take this burden from us.

"Perhaps, were we to know the realities of our own deepest motivations, we would conclude that this is why we have made of the Christmas occasion an immensely complicated business. It is the sheer busyness of Christmas, not so much its commercialization, that has changed its forms and rituals. Perhaps we have lost not only the art of simplicity but the desire for it as well. But not, I think, in our deepest beings. And as long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, then Christmas is.

"The sophisticated may belittle the almost assembly-line transaction of the printed Christmas cards that swamp our parlors in piles and windows. It is impersonal, yes, as compared with the old-fashioned family trek down the street for greetings at the door. But each little square or rectangular printed card is a signal of human recognition, a reassurance that we live in part, at least, of their consciousness, however small a part, and so are not alone...

"We cannot live, in our families, in our nations or in the world, if we cannot open our hearts. I do not know how this compressed, elbowing and suspicious world is to go on in peace if this cannot be done. I see no ultimate security in any 'balance of power' or 'balance of terror' peace. We know instinctively that in the end only a peace through a balance of kindness will preserve us...

"There are a few words I read every time the Christmas season comes around...[perhaps] written by Fra Giovanni in the year 1513...which sometimes I think of as the most perfect passage in our language...

"'There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give you, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven. No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy. And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.'"

From Sevareid, long gone now, and me, wishes to all for a day of heaven, peace and joy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Guns

On Sunday talk shows, three major networks give equal time to unhinged advocates of the gun death lobby and their distraught opponents.

Fairness may be satisfied, but sanity is gone. 

In the face of total irrationality, anchors are reduced to helpless Yes-butting as two highly paid honchos of the NRA and ever-reliable Grover Norquist speak in tongues about armed-to-the-teeth schools while fellow travelers in lunacy like Lindsey Graham and Peggy Noonan torture the English language to abet them.

Those who remember that “Thou shalt not kill” is a Commandment are dazed and despairing.

Nothing left to do before carolers arrive to sing “Silent Night” but gift-wrap the cartridges and stuff the stockings with them.

Friday, December 21, 2012

World Ends Today, Details After This Message

The Mayan Calendar’s forecast will come and go, but there is another sense of finality in the air. After today, Americans take a brief break from conflict and chaos to try evoking the spirit of the season.

In Washington, politicians scamper home for the holidays away from the fiscal cliff and debates about gun control as normal people finish gift-buying and travel back to families they left behind.

After a year of so much trauma, does good will stand a chance? Can “It’s a Wonderful Life” and umpteen versions of “A Christmas Carol” lift our spirits?

We can try. I’ll be rinsing John Boehner from my mind by watching favorite Scrooge Albert Finney in the 1970 musical version. I’ll try to blot out the NRA’s mealy-mouthed press conference by basking in the old-age blessings of children and grandchildren.

Weekend TV screens will fill up with football and basketball to replace the contact sports in DC, and there will be Norman Rockwell serenity in the air.

Whatever happens in the new Congress after the turn of the year, a pleasurable return to the past will arrive with the new season of Downton Abbey on January 6 to take us back to the time of E. M. Forster, who counseled us a century ago:

“Only connect. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”

We won’t be able to avoid all the fragments, but we can do our damnedest to piece together a better year than the one we’re leaving behind.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blasts From My Past

During my teens and early twenties, I fired bullets at people who were shooting at me.

It was not pleasant but, after V-E Day in Germany, when our food was being sold in British and French black markets, I was persuaded to go deer-hunting not for sport but out of hunger. In early morning, sighting a brown hide and preparing to fire, I realized I was about to bag a cow.

That ended my hunting career, but I brought home a souvenir pistol I had taken from a German officer. Years later, when my teen-age son found it in a closet, I disassembled the gun and walked a mile in Manhattan dropping parts in trash bins to make sure it would never be put together again.

In a half-century since, I have owned no guns and the Second Amendment has been of only academic interest, reawakened by a sense of wonder at how bearing arms against targets that don't shoot back has become a sacred right in America.

Now after Newtown,  the President vows to make gun control “a central issue” next year but only after paying homage to Americans’ right to own those deadly weapons while gun sales surge and, in a St. Louis suburb, a discussion on the subject ends with one man firing shots at another.

A New York Times editorial notes that in yesterday’s announcement the President talked about a “culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence,” saying that any actions should begin “inside the home and inside our hearts.”

Perhaps. But the editorial concludes: “It is tempting to blame abstractions, and to give in to fatalism, knowing that America is a land of hundreds of millions of guns and of a rabid, well-financed lobby that shrouds its unreason in appeals to individual liberty and freedom from government.

“But the path to sanity needs to start somewhere.”

To quote a line uttered by a judge in one of Paul Newman's last movies, "If you arm one moron, you've got to arm them all."

Is the antithesis unthinkable? Or have I been living in danger all this time after disposing of my deadly comforter? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The President Wills Himself Invisible

Time’s newly anointed “Man  of  the Year” spends a news-conference hour asking adversaries to take him out of equations, telling Tea Party members to overlook Obama animosity to make a fiscal cliff deal and NRA members “who are mothers and fathers” to join in avoiding future Newtown massacres.

Time says “We are in the midst of historic cultural and demographic changes, and Obama is both the symbol and in some ways the architect of this new America." Yet effacing himself seems to be the President’s primary strategy.

Can it work? As Tea Party Republicans face abandoning Boehner’s Plan B and Joe Biden strives for common ground on curbing assault weapons, clearing the air of anti-Obama rhetoric won’t be easy.

The Speaker will have to climb down from his own petard, and the president of the gun death lobby will have to make members forget that only this summer he refused even to talk to the White House "Why should I or the NRA” he huffed, “go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?"

Today the President promises, “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to guns.”

To get that done, he might want to start with his own opposition in Washington. That won’t eliminate Obama hatred as an obstacle in Congress, but the GOP crazies could benefit from the therapy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Same Old Shootouts in DC

A week before Christmas and days after Newtown, Washington’s familiar faces are back with the old fiscal cliff reality show, along with a side-tent flim-flam over gun control.

Both ooze the sincerity of carnival pitchmen marking down prices of their elixirs before the suckers head home for the holidays.

Boehner is touting a Plan B on tax rates while the President offers to trim $1.22 trillion in spending  over ten years, much of it from “a new measure of inflation that slows the growth of government benefits, especially Social Security” along with “$290 billion in savings from lower interest costs on a reduced national debt.”

Somewhere in this never-neverland is a formula to give both sides the illusion of compromise while preserving the ground for manufactured future debt-ceiling crises to keep the old show from closing down after the new year.

So it seems to be with gun control as well, much harrumphing in the face of national shock and sorrow but no real commitment to change.

Even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post editorializes: “Weapons designed expressly to kill human beings, and then modified (wink wink) to meet the federal machine-gun ban, have no legitimate place in American society. Time to get rid of them.”

But who will put the bell on that NRA cat? As petitions against violent video games mount, there is a “rising chorus, but not quite consensus, on guns” in Congress.

How many members will be singing peace-on-earth carols this week, only to retreat behind a gun-lobby shield when Christmas is over?

Whatever gifts politicians are wrapping for us now, it would be prudent to save the receipts and find out after the holidays how much they are really worth. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Consoler-in-Chief Goes Beyond

“In the coming weeks,” says the President at the Newtown Memorial, “I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens--from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators--in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.

“Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? 

"Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Cutting through the shock and sadness of yet another gun disaster, this time Barack Obama goes beyond his role as Consoler-in-Chief and promises that, even if “the politics are too hard,” he will take on the gun lobby and their creatures in Congress.

What he will have to overcome is blinding moral ignorance such as that of a GOP House lawmaker who now burbles about the school principal, “I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and...takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

Why stop there? Why not arm the six-year-olds as well? Why not turn all our schools into OK Corrals where a new generation can learn to be Wyatt Earps rather than law-abiding citizens?

But, as the President reminds us, those twenty children in Newtown had other names and he solemnizes them:

“Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison...”

Not a Wyatt Earp in the lot.
Update: One pro-gun senator reconsiders, portending sleepless nights for NRA lobbyists, no doubt with firearms at the ready.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Children's Sacred Right to Life

How can a God who values embryos in the womb deliver 20 innocent young lives to the twitch of a trigger finger?

One unblessed by guidance from a Higher Power but respectful of those who are asks with acute anguish: In shock and mourning, can we reach out to one another?  

Those who defend prenatal Right to Life surely can’t believe it stops at birth. Yet, as Barack Obama once indiscreetly observed, so many Americans in bitterness “cling to guns and religion.” How can assault weapons be compatible with Life?   

Now, the aftermath of Newtown torments us with how much harder it is to save lives than take them, to cherish rather than destroy human beings. Momentary pressure of a wanton finger undoes years of love, care, training and hard work that went into nurturing young lives in homes, schools and hospitals, leaving those with reverence for them bereft and helpless.

In awe we are all stunned by a sense of human frailty at what we can’t understand or control. As the numbness begins to wear off, apostles of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” profession of piety without paying the personal price it demands, are slithering out with rationalizations: more religion, more guns in schools will ease our pain.

Yet most of us, believers or not, surely know better. Celebrating human goodness this season, we can start with what we share, a deep sense that we live in a world of unfathomable shadows beyond what we can explain in words.

For those of faith, Gary Wills offers a reminder of the sacrifices to Moloch, the pagan God of Satan’s war on humankind  in Milton’s “Paradise Lost:”

First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,/Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud/Their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire/To his grim idol.

If we join in rejecting false Gods for universal belief in innocent Right to Life, how far could that concord take us when grief and the holidays begin to fade?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holden Caulfield Days to Come

More than Columbine, fewer than Virginia Tech. Once again the national mind and heart are riddled with unspeakable statistics, this time most of them school children under ten.

All other anxieties disappear—-the fiscal cliff, Middle East violence, even holy days of human caring—-into the maw of madness always waiting under life’s surface to engulf us all. The President weeps, as do we all.

This time it strikes pastoral Newtown Ct., a few miles from where I live out my own days, decades longer than those granted most of today’s victims, not far from where my own grandchildren attend high school.

How numb will we all be and for how long over all those sacrificed in this new horror, how mesmerized by the details, how overwhelmed by our own helplessness?

Inevitably, facts will emerge, tears will be shed at memorials, grief will give way to outrage and fade again into resignation about controlling the weapons that struck us all today,

As the familiar rituals start, there is no consolation. For these days and hours, we can only be dazed by echoes of Holden Caulfield’s Catcher in the Rye:

“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.”

This weekend we are all Holden Caulfields, helpless in our inconsolable shock and grief.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

South Carolina Is a Funny Place

If it gets serious, Stephen Colbert should find out what happened to Al Franken, who gave up intentional comedy for the US Senate four years ago and hasn’t been seen since. Is there a protection program to keep professionals from being embarrassed by natural-born clowns like Mitch McConnell?

A poll favorite to replace hilarious Jim DeMint, Colbert has been tweaking Gov. Nikki Haley to add the part-time job to his resume in exchange for untraceable SuperPAC money, but she refuses to put him on the short list.

Just as well. Colbert has already been overshadowed on his own show by Newt Gingrich, who won the state’s presidential primary with money from Las Vegas showman Sheldon Adelson. 

Could he compete for comedy with Jenny Sanford, whose main qualification is that her former husband ditched her and the governorship to find true love in South America, or with current senior Sen. Lindsey Graham, John McCain’s bozo, for that matter?

The Palmetto state is a funny place, as I can testify from having spent formative years there involuntarily, first in World War II basic training eating the red clay of Spartansburg and later breakfast grits in Charleston’s Citadel, the West Point of the South.

My experience in the former place with another comic figure could serve as a cautionary tale for Colbert.

Zero Mostel had been at City College a decade before me and in the 1940s was getting known in Manhattan night clubs for political satire that would later fail to amuse the House Un-American Activities Committee. The night I looked him up at Camp Croft, he was on his way to becoming the pear-shaped presence that years later would charge around a Broadway stage and turn into a rhinoceros.

Sitting on his bunk, field jacket zipped to the throat, his big head seemed to be resting on a bulging bag of laundry. He was in his late twenties, but his eyes were a thousand years old. When I told him I was from the Bronx, he grabbed me as if I were a pastrami sandwich.

We went into town Saturday night to the USO, where local ladies entertained with doughnuts, coffee and Southern charm, and the troops entertained back however they could. When the hostesses heard Zero was a professional performer, they pushed him to the stage

He slouched up to the microphone with a shy smile and a glint in his eye, gathered his bulk, fixed his face into a scowl and suddenly emitted the roar of a deep Southern demagogue. To this audience of dewy damsels and redneck recruits, he was offering his rendition of Senator Pellagra T. Polltax, a raging parody of the Mississippi racist, Theodore Bilbo.

As Zero flung his arms in all directions and turned up the angry rant about niggers and kikes, I slid down in my seat, looking for an exit.

By the time he finished, I was crouching near the floor. Through the startled silence, I heard the start of a low rumble and sprinted to the stage where Zero was beaming and bowing, grabbed his elbow and shoved him through a door toward the bus that would carry us, untarred and unfeathered, back to camp. On the ride Zero seemed relaxed, a small smile on his face. We never went to the USO again.

South Carolina has changed a good deal since then, but not even Colbert with his classic comedy could possibly outshine what happens there naturally. Give it up, Stephen, and stick with the rest of us who appreciate you to the fullest.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

From the Jaws of Victory

Why can’t the President take yes for an answer? A month after voters affirmed him, why is he signaling so many concessions to a GOP in disarray?

There are sightings of the Barack Obama who botched the first debate with Mitt Romney—-disengaged, distant, bogged down in details of issues rather than passionate about what’s at stake.

All this goes beyond ideology and partisan score-keeping into the realm of temperament and character. Will Obama II revert to more of the law professor than the community organizer?

In his Weekly Address, the President describes himself as ready to work with GOP opponents on “a plan that gives both sides some of what they want. I’m willing to find ways to bring down the cost of health care without hurting seniors and other Americans who depend on it.  And I’m willing to make more entitlement spending cuts on top of the $1 trillion dollars in cuts I signed into law last year.”

With Republican backs to wall at the fiscal cliff, the weekend brings alarming Administration leaks about compromises—-raising Medicare eligibility age to 67, flexibility about the key campaign promise to raise income tax rates of the superrich back to 39.6 percent.

As Boehner and McConnell play their tired old games with no acknowledgement that this year’s flood of partisan money failed to tilt Washington in their favor, why is Obama slipping back into his outdated dance with them?

What many voted for this year was an end to being stuffed like holiday turkeys with Washington rhetoric and a return to something more like traditionally tough legislative negotiation about the future.

It’s disheartening to see Barack Obama of all people approaching us with a carving knife this early in the season.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Scurry, Scurry From a Sinking Ship

The SS Tea Party can now be rechristened Titanic Two with one of the largest Republican rodents of all jumping overboard after the vessel’s collision last month with the Obama iceberg.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint leaves the sinking ship for a warm berth with the Heritage Foundation while bragging about his accomplishment of "stocking the Senate with solid conservatives," with no mention of Democrats like Elizabeth Warren who arrived on Obama’s coattails.

DeMint bequeaths the victims (er, “leaders”) to Mitch McConnell who is still standing on the bridge while an Ashley Judd wave rises to engulf him in 2014.

Man the lifeboats, at least those the former leaders have left behind.

Beauty and the Senate Beast (No Fairy Tale)

If Ashley Judd unseats the Senate Minority leader in 2014, could Ugly Americans sue for prejudice? Not if handsome is as handsome does.

Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr., on government payrolls all his life, is now the tenth richest Senate member, with a reported fortune somewhere between $9,839,049 and $44,587,000 in 2010.

In four years he has transformed the Upper House into a minority-deadlocked filibuster machine devoted to “the single most important thing we want to achieve...President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Failing that, McConnell is still ferociously blockading government at the fiscal cliff, even as rational Republicans begin to abandon his lost cause.

McConnell’s time as a D.C. tyrant is clearly running out, but would a movie star (pace Ronald Reagan) make a suitable replacement? The surprising answer is that, compared to the Gipper when he entered elected politics, Ashley Judd looks like Winston Churchill.

Two years ago, she earned a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government after enrolling “to immerse myself in some very serious, earnest, practical learning with people who have literally dedicated all they have to public service.”

Her enrollment followed years of political activism, which included speeches to the UN General Assembly about sex-trafficking and to the National Press Club about strip-mining in her home state of Kentucky as well as serving on the board of PSI, a global health organization, on such issues as maternal health, family planning and malaria prevention.

If she decides to challenge McConnell (and it looks like she will), Ashley Judd will have to beat back campaign charges that she is just another Hollywood figure trying to capitalize on fame. But her history would contradict that, and her Kentucky roots run deep.

As the daughter of country singer Naomi Judd and sister of Wynonna, the would-be senator has been enthusiastically involved in the local culture all her life. No one could accuse her of being a carpetbagger or an Ashley-come-lately.

And there would always be the added bonus of seeing her face on cable news to replace the woeful countenance of Mitch McConnell spinning his anti-Obama webs.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Rubio/Ryan Screen Test for 2016

A month after Obamageddon, survivors of the ruins start makeovers for another presidential faceoff. The test runs suggest Paul Ryan will need more cosmetic help than Marco Rubio to play GOP champion of the middle class in 2016.

Trading quips about “good diners” in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the young front runners address a tribute dinner to Jack Kemp, a former quarterback who is now joining the former actor Ronald Reagan in the moderate Republican pantheon.

For Rubio, rebranding requires less of a stretch than it does for Ryan.

The son of Cuban exiles has next generation written all over him. A Catholic, married to a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and father of four, he has been called “The First Catholic Protestant Senator” for ties to both his own church and evangelicals. As Romney’s running mate, the ticket would very likely have won Florida and done better with Latinos elsewhere in a closer contest last month.

In an August convention speech, Rubio hit all the themes he will have to develop in the next four years, last night adding an anecdote about catering employees who afterward welcomed him as one of their own.

Ryan, to use Sarah Palin’s immortal image, will need much more lipstick for the pit bull he played this year and still resembles in the current fiscal cliff battle in Congress.

“The American people have again chosen divided government and it’s up to us to make this divided government work,” he now tells GOP diners. “We’ve got to set aside partisan considerations in favor of one overriding concern: How can we work together to repair the economy? How can we provide real security and upward mobility for all Americans--especially those in need?”

Say what? Unless future voters suffer from complete amnesia, that new Paul Ryan will be a hard sell.

Any word yet from Jeb Bush?