Up Front

Liberals weren't enthusiastic when the powers that be in Pennsylvania Democratic circles began pushing heavily for Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. to be the party's nominee to run against Rick Santorum.

That Casey is pro-life is one thing. More troubling was the news that Casey opposes embryonic stem-cell research. But then, Casey said in late January that he favored the confirmation of Samuel Alito as Supreme Court justice.

It's time to re-think the premise that Pennsylvania is really the place where the Democrats need to start running social conservatives for office. Despite the Keystone State's famous reputation as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” the past four presidential elections have seen Pennsylvania go for pro-choice Democrats over pro-life Republicans. In the 2002 gubernatorial election, pro-choice Democrat Ed Rendell prevailed easily over a pro-life Republican. Rendell's elected predecessor was a pro-choice Republican, as is Santorum's fellow senator, Arlen Specter. The last time Democrats tried nominating a pro-lifer to run against a pro-life Republican, he lost -- to none other than Santorum himself.

Under the circumstances, further shifts to the right seem hard to justify tactically and raise the possibility -- at once reassuring and troubling -- that what most Democrats saw as a tactical gambit is, to Casey, a matter of conviction.

--Matthew Yglesias

Problem; Solution

The White House is increasingly concerned about Republicans breaking ranks -- Arlen Specter and John Sununu in the Senate, New Mexico's Heather Wilson in the House, and various bureaucrats. Karl Rove, naturally, is a bit miffed at these people. But we hear he has come up with a way to ensure that they get more face time with the administration in an attempt to get them back on the reservation: They'll get to go on hunting trips with Dick Cheney.

Remember This

It wasn't interesting that Virginia Senator George Allen won the 2008 presidential straw poll at the February Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting with 22 percent of the vote. What was interesting was who came in second, and by how much: John McCain got 20 percent of the votes, trailing Allen by just two points. Allen is a longtime wing-nut poster boy. McCain, of course, is a historic bane to the movement. But things do change. While it's worth noting that this hardened assemblage may not have been a representative sample -- 81 percent of the 1,200 respondents were 25 or younger, and 58 percent were male -- it's still a sign that McCain's vigorous suck-up campaign is working. We're sure that the timing of his scabrous attack on Barack Obama, in which he wrote the Illinois Democrat a mocking letter, and which took place just days before the CPAC event, was just a coincidence.

A Man, A Plan …

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden stopped by the office in February to tout his very sensible-seeming tax-reform plan, which would tax wealth at the same rate as wages. But he also told us the following interesting story. He watched the first debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush, he said, and was distressed to hear the leaden language with which Kerry tried to sell his health-care plan -- a plan we always thought was quite good. Wyden says he suggested to his colleague that he not describe the plan's particulars, but dramatize it by talking about how it would benefit a hardware store owner with five employees. Kerry, he says, thanked him and agreed. Wyden continued: “So I turned on the [next] debate,” Wyden said, “and it was nothing but ‘my plan this, my plan that.'” OK, everyone's a good quarterback on Monday morning, and Wyden may not be presidential timbre. But the anecdote does help explain some things.

Red Ink Planet

What happened to Mars? Out rolled the question off one wit's tongue during the buildup to the 2006 State of the Union Address. Somewhat surprisingly, the mission to Mars, which was famously announced prior to the 2004 SOTU but omitted from the speech itself, is actually right on track. The Bush administration's fiscal year 2007 budget request commits us to “having astronauts return to the moon by the end of the next decade followed by future human missions to Mars and beyond.” As it did in last year's budget, this commitment comes at the expense of major cuts in other programs. Such non-priorities include the budget categories labeled “science,” “aeronautics,” and “education” -- that is, the actually useful elements of the NASA budget. So how did a program greeted with immediate derision from all quarters wind up eating the rest of America's space budget? As a Florida Today article explained back in 2004, program advocates were helped by a “quiet, but effective lobbying effort by the aerospace contractors who stand to profit [by] the projects.”

Lessons From Abroad

Congressional Democrats hoping to use the corruption issue in 2006 took some heart from the Canadian Conservative Party's January victory over the long-time incumbent Liberals, a win driven largely by revelations of financial misdeeds by the entrenched majority. Still, lingering voter doubts about the Conservatives' merits prevented them from securing an absolute majority. On the other hand, the terrorist organization Hamas scored a tremendous upset win against the Fatah movement by combining a “clean hands” platform with support for traditional religious values, a tough posture on national security, and robust economic populism. Scoop Jackson would be proud.

Touchy, Touchy

Prospect readers might recall the fumingly irate letter to the editor that Congressman Brian Baird of Washington sent a few months back in response to Robert Kuttner and Asheesh Siddique's feature story on sell-out Democrats. That piece, Baird wrote, “epitomizes much of why the left loses elections and has stayed in the minority for more than a decade now.” We're far from alone in suffering the wrath of Baird's mighty pen. Roll Call recently noted a minor kerfuffle in Washington state political circles concerning an exchange of letters between Baird and Centralia College student Brian Nelson, who had received Baird's scholarship award and sent a typed letter of thanks to the congressman. Baird sent a helpful letter in return to the kid, pointing out that his note was “quite frankly, not very impressive to say the least.” He continued: “Perhaps you have not been given instruction in how to write formal letters, but let us suggest that you learn … When someone contributes rather generously and selflessly to your benefit, you owe them a sincere and heartfelt expression of gratitude.” Said gratitude ought to be expressed on a “nice card” or letterhead, Baird added helpfully, and handwritten. Even more helpfully, he cc'ed his note to the Centralia College Scholarship Office.


Good news for Ohio Republican Governor Bob Taft! A recent poll put his approval rating at 16 percent. That may sound low, but it's more than double the 6.5 percent he registered in a Toledo Blade survey last November, just a few months after he was convicted of accepting a golf outing, hockey tickets, and a few other baubles. Perhaps it's that Taft doesn't look so bad next to Tom Noe, the coin dealer and prominent GOP Buckeye State fund-raiser, who was indicted on 53 felony counts relating to the “coingate” scam in which he allegedly stole as much as $3 million from a state fund for injured workers. In addition, Noe faces federal charges of illegally funneling $45,400 to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, and two Taft aides face ethics probes. Taft's grandfather, the right-wing (but honest, as far as we know) senator, was known as “Mr. Republican” for the way he represented the party's principles. Given the way things are going in Columbus and on Capitol Hill, the present Taft should be called Mr. Republican, too, as he's representing the current state of GOP ethics just about perfectly.

Harry and Howard

We had a breakfast discussion with Harry Reid not long ago. He made some news when he came out for “some type of public [campaign] financing,” which is something he hadn't said before. But the discussion of his history with campaign finance took us down an unexpected path: “When I first ran for statewide office in Nevada, Howard Hughes was in town and I got a call from his ‘person' -- ‘can you come see me?' And oh, I was happy. And he gave me $10,000 in cash. Now, I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I mean, where do you put it? It's big wads of money.” He hastened to add that it was perfectly legal in Nevada at the time, but he didn't say how long Hughes' fingernails were. Tap

The Question: Should Bush see Brokeback Mountain or Good Night, and Good Luck?

“Duh. Brokeback. It shows the reality of gay love. It may help him understand why his refusal to acknowledge even the existence of gays and lesbians in his public speeches is such an affront.”

--Andrew Sullivan, writer/blogger

Good Night, and Good Luck. Men smoking and drinking and still doing God's work might just make him thirsty and uneasy. And I bet he'd be more attracted to Clooney than Ledger.”

-- Rafael Yglesias, screenwriter, Dark Water

Good Night, and Good Luck. Given the NSA scandal and the Plame affair, the words of Edward R. Murrow would be important for him to hear.”

--Anna Soellner, director of Outreach and Special Events, Center for American Progress