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Why Perry, Romney Must Come to CA’s GOP Confab

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Now that Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have signed up to speak to next month’s California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles, it’s time for Mitt Romney and Rick Perry to get in on the action. Here’s why:

1. Get some great free media. Los Angeles offers an enormous opportunity for free media exposure, not only in the city but throughout the Southern California region and, for that matter, nationwide. Speaking to a monster audience of Republicans and news media in Los Angeles (just after the debate at the Reagan Library) guarantees coverage that would cost many millions to buy.

2. California may actually matter. If, by June, the top tier remains Bachmann, Perry and Romney (and assuming that Paul is still in the game), then winning the California GOP presidential primary in June, with proportional representation by congressional district, could net a campaign an enormous cache of delegates – about 170 are at stake – that might prove pivotal in securing the nomination.

3. Don’t insult the troops. This is the largest state Republican Party in the United States. Some 1,000 members – many of them ferociously committed activists – will be attending. If #2 (above) proves to be true, presidential campaigns will need these folks in the field for them in June. But the candidates who don’t show up in Los Angeles will basically be telling this huge contingent of potential campaign volunteers to go fuck themselves.

As California GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro told Calbuzz (a bit more diplomatically): “A huge portion of the Republican volunteers and activists in the state will be there and they should be courted.” Exactly.

Remember, in 2008, Romney ran pretty well in California, pulling 35% of the GOP primary vote compared to John McCain, who took 42%. But Romney only won in three counties – Fresno, Sierra and Shasta. And he would up with just 12 delegates while McCain took 158.

A candidate with volunteers and organization spread around in a variety of congressional districts, might well pick up a lot more delegates.

In 2008, evangelical Christians made up about 1/3 of the electorate and a plurality of them supported Romney over McCain, according to exit polls. But with Bachmann and Perry in the race, that contingent of voters is genuinely up for grabs. Likewise, those who said illegal immigrants should be deported, who voted 2-1 for Romney, might also be in play.

This is an electorate that, over the years, has picked standard-bearers like Bruce Herschensohn, Dan Lungren and Carly Fiorina. To voters like these Perry and Bachmann could be viable options – which ought to suggest to Romney and Perry that they’d better not flip off all those activists.

We’re just sayin.’

It only seems like he’s been around forever: Abel Maldonado turned 44 yesterday (Happy, happy, bro) and while your favorite fossils at Calbuzz are in no position to talk, that certainly seems like an age that’s way too advanced to be characterized as a “young” anything.

Nonetheless, where do we find ole Abel, but halfway down the list of “Republican Young Guns,” the GOP establishment’s top picks for horses to back in open and competitive House races next year.

The sheer silliness of the label aside (and what a fine message to send Our Youth about the overweening importance of firearms in American politics!), the National Republican Congressional Committee elected two-thirds of its 92 designated YGers last fall.

With the GOP thus having succeeded in winning the House, Maldo is one of only 23 GOP contenders handpicked by the NRCC this time out. He’s trying to end the career of veteran Democratic Representative Lois Capps, who’s seen a once-comfortable voter registration edge in her Central Coast district whacked to single digits by redistricting.

Maldo’s Beltway backing makes it all but certain that the equally redistricting-challenged Republican state Senator Sam Blakeslee, who briefly sniffed around a possible congressional bid, won’t be jumping into this race which, as we’ve reported, is drawing national attention.

Among other things, Maldonado is backed by Karl Rove, with whom he has a longstanding relationship; Rove’s support showed up early when one of his secretly-funded independent committees paid for a substantial early TV buy attacking Capps. She’s also the only Californian among the NRCC’s Top 10 Democratic early targets, a distinction that last week generated a barrage of robo-calls into her district; financed by the GOP campaign committee, they blamed her for unemployment, higher gas and grocery prices and widespread home foreclosures.

No word yet on the guy with the umbrella near the grassy knoll.

How Obama’s playing in Santa Cruz: Longtime Calbuzzer Cliff Barney forwards this video report from a sylvan caucus of progressive activists in Santa Cruz last month that’s notable for at least two reasons: 1) the up-close-and-personal expressions of disappointment, anger and betrayal among lefties who feel Obama sold them out to Wall Street after they, as one puts it, “worked our hearts out” for him in 2008; 2) the bottom line reality that, despite their fond hope, there’ll be no primary challenge against the president, so they have nowhere else to go in 2012, a point that Obama adviser David Axelrod smugly made in response to a question from filmmaker Michael Moore on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Maybe so, but after listening to these folks, it’s hard to imagine that either of two keys to Obama’s victory — voter intensity and the expansion of the electorate – are going to be easy to game this time. And that should be a scary thought to Axelrod and his fellow geniuses.

He didn’t really say that, did he? Much of the unhappiness with Obama on the left has to do with specific policies – single payer health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, offshore oil drilling. What’s more troubling for the less ideologically inclined are the political wimpiness, conflict aversion and flat-out weakness of the guy.

On that point, we found these quotes, filed by Maureen Dowd while trailing Obama around the Midwest for a couple days, more than a little telling:

In Cannon Falls, Minn., the president compared negotiating with House Republicans to negotiating with his wife.

“In my house,” Obama noted, “if I said, ‘You know, Michelle, honey, we got to cut back, so we’re going to have you stop shopping completely. You can’t buy shoes; you can’t buy dresses; but I’m keeping my golf clubs.’ You know, that wouldn’t go over so well.”

In Decorah, he said: “Everybody cannot get 100 percent of what they want. Now, for those of you who are married, there is an analogy here. I basically let Michelle have 90 percent of what she wants. But, at a certain point, I have to draw the line and say, ‘Give me my little 10 percent.’ ”

Really? No wonder the GOP keeps cleaning his clock.

Why Flash Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong on Redistricting

Friday, August 19th, 2011

For California’s crybaby Republicans, the only fair redistricting plan would be one that sustains their phantasmagorical belief in their own ascendancy, popularity and influence.

After endlessly complaining about the unfairness of life under Democrat-run gerrymanders, the GOP in 2008 enthusiastically latched onto baby daddy ex-Governor Schwarzmuscle’s campaign for an independent body to redraw the state’s political maps. Under terms of the successful measure, Republicans were granted equal representation with Democrats on the new 14-member redistricting commission.

Now, despite being favored by the commission’s partisan false equivalence, which skewed the numbers of the state’s actual voter registration, GOP types  wail to the heavens that the just-released plan, based on the process that they endorsed, is discriminatory, dishonest  and (sniff) just not fair, darn it.

Exhibit A: The hissy fit pitched by our pal Jon Fleischman this week over at Flashreport, where he thundered about the over-arching, Save the Republicans Republic importance of staging a referendum campaign to undo the commission’s work on state senate districts, a don’t miss column that makes Flash the hands-down winner of the Jayson Blair Little Pulitzer Award for Organic Delusional Syndrome Reporting.


Past is prologue: Put aside the fact that when Prop. 11, which created the new redistricting system, was on the ballot, Fleischman couldn’t gush enough about it.

On second thought, don’t put it aside.

On Oct. 23, 2008, less than two weeks before the election, the Flash rallied Republican support for the measure, writing that supporting the reform initiative was “one of the most important votes that any conservative in this state can cast.”

In a post headlined, “Vote Yes on Prop 11 – Custom Made for GOP Gain,” he  assured his right-wing readers that:

As a conservative leader, I couldn’t have written a measure better designed to increase Republican numbers in the legislature…


That’s right – despite all of the rhetoric of misguided Prop. 11 supporters, who somehow believe that this measure will end partisanship in Sacramento – it will not.  But what it will do is add more Republicans into the mix, giving us more votes to stop spending increases, tax increases and the growth in government that we have seen at the hands of the liberal Democrats who control the institution. 

Since Calbuzz is nothing if not fair and balanced, we note in hindsight defense of Jon that he could not have known that by the time the new districts arrived, they’d be complemented by a new, wide-open primary election system that could doom his fond, YAFer hopes for ever-tighter gridlock triggered by evermore bitter partisan warfare.

But still.

The three fallacies of Jon: Now that the “custom-made for GOP gain” plan has arrived, creating a landscape that includes an increase in the number of competitive legislative districts, Flash has changed his tune and, as Tom Meyer illustrates above, today wants redistricting to be thrown into the courts (not surprisingly, given that all six of the justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans), which is the aim of his referendum.

The lamentation about why the cosmic unfairness of the current lines requires a referendum boils down to three points:

1-The new senate lines could result in Republicans losing their ability to obstruct the possibility of any tax increases, ever, for anything, regardless of how voters might feel about it:

In my opinion, the State Senate maps as drawn virtually guarantee that Republicans in the upper chamber will no longer represent over a third of the total Senate membership, and thus will quickly lose much of their current relevance to the legislative process.

Earth to Flash: With their current anti-everything platform, California Republicans are well on their way to Whigdom. Last time we checked, statewide GOP registration was 30.88%; by what possible stretch should  Republicans feel entitled to one-third of  senate seats, when they can’t even register one-third of California voters?

2-GOP incumbents got really, really screwed.

The bill of particulars in the Fleischman indictment of the new districts includes specific concerns about incumbent GOP senators who suddenly face tough re-election prospects:

Senator Sam Blakeslee is a “redistricting victim” with his current Republican-leaning Central Coast seat vaporizing before his eyes.

Huh. And all along we thought Prop. 11 was supposed to bring about political districts that belong to the voters, not the politicians – you know, “our districts,” not “his district.”

Flash goes on to bemoan the fate of Senator Tony Strickland, a chief political enforcer of way-right, ideology inside the GOP caucus:

In 2008, Strickland was elected to a slightly better district than the one in which he would seek re-election, and he was barely elected with over $5 million spent on his behalf.  And it is worth noting that Strickland was THE target in 2008 — in 2012 he would have to share the spotlight, and the resources, with (other endangered Republicans).

Let’s recall that race: In 2008, “Landslide Tony” was elected by exactly 857 votes out of 415,109 cast.

The bottom-line for his win: his predecessor in the seat, now-U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, succeeded in 2001 in convincing state senate  leaders to give him a few more Republican voters, after the first draft of the districts then circulating made him fear he could lose re-election.

The architects of the 2001 Incumbent Protection Act redistricting plan  accommodated McClintock, adding a little slice of conservative Santa Clarita, in L.A. County, onto the bottom of the Santa Barbara-Ventura county 19th SD.

Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly where then-Assemblyman Strickland eked out his 2008 win over ex-Assembly member Hannah Beth Jackson. (Given his near-death experience against a Democrat only slightly to the right of Fidel Castro, you would think Strickland in office might have made some effort to listen to the concerns of the 50% of the voters who opposed him; instead, he  promptly joined Senate GOP’s Grover-bot thug caucus. But we digress).

In other words, Strickland won the seat precisely because of gerrymandering, and now Flash is beside himself because Taliban Tony will no longer be  protected by gerrymandering.

Again, we’d have to check the clips to be sure, but we’re fairly certain that was the whole point of the commission: crafting districts in which voters select representatives in the place of districts where politicians select the voters.

3-Corporate interests and their lobbyists don’t seem to understand that the new districts could threaten the status quo in Sacramento:

Flash again:

That having been said, we have the curious case that many business-oriented “third house” PACs seem to be quite opposed to the referendum.  In talking to some of them, there is a hesitancy to give (to the referendum) campaign because of the unpredictable outcome.  There is no iron-clad guarantee that the court-drawn Senate lines will be better, and the lobbyists in Sacramento have bosses to do not much like the idea of spending large amounts of money without a guaranteed improvement.

Here’s an alternate theory: Maybe business interests aren’t interested in joining a rear-guard action on redistricting because it’s bad for business.

Maybe their reluctance has less to do with an “unpredictable outcome” of the initiative and more to do with the fact that the fruits of Republican obstructionism over the last decade have been declining schools, more debt, deteriorating infrastructure and a world class university system that’s quickly becoming second-rate.

Maybe businesses actually understand that their economic self interest is better served by a government that’s not too hobbled by partisanship to provide decent public education, public health, public transportation, public recreation and water delivery systems and services.

If we recall our U.S. history, the whole notion of using tax dollars for the government to help build and sustain the private sector goes back to the administration of Abraham Lincoln, who we heard had something to do with starting the Republican party.

The Republican-dominated Congress passed a series of measures that transformed the nation’s economic landscape for all time. The weakness of the northern Democratic minority and the defection of southern lawmakers enabled Republicans to enact a legislative agenda that significantly expanded the role and financial reach of the government and helped to create a national economy that dwarfed its predecessor both in scale and in wealth.

You could look it up.

Romney Rises as Fox Stirs the GOP Presidential Pot

Friday, August 12th, 2011

You gotta hand it to Fox News: these guys know how to put on a show.

The panel of “reporters” at last night’s Republican presidential debate, particularly Chris Wallace, hurled one tough question after another at the eight candidates on the stage (for two hours – two hours!) in Ames, Iowa while the bellows, boos and howls of the live audience made it sound like a WWE steel cage match. None of that wimpy “please hold your applause” stuff for Roger Ailes.

In the end, however, all the excitement boiled down to little more than most of the candidates shouting “pay attention to me” while cynically pushing every right-wing hot button they could summon.

Of the eight wannabes on the stage, only front-runner Mitt (“corporations are people, too”) Romney and the embattled Newt Gingrich remotely resembled a national leader, someone with enough bearing, stature and chops to imagine (however terrifyingly) them becoming a major party nominee.

Romney was the winner of the evening, simply because none of the others laid a glove on him (Tim Pawlenty’s limp slaps aside), and he was glib and adept, if sometimes patronizing, in bashing President Obama as “over his head” in dealing with the economy, while ticking off crisp talking points about his own free market ideas to fix everything in a jiffy. He did have the strangest line of the night, however, when he said he won’t eat Barack Obama’s dog food. Huh?

Gingrich shone largely because expectations for him were so low, after his campaign imploded a few months ago and he reported being $1 million in debt in his latest filing. His sharp attack on the media, in the person of Wallace, was great theater, his rant about the “super congress” budget committee was terrific and his world-weary tone of a veteran big leaguer contrasted with the white-rat-on-speed squeals and yapping of his second-tier rivals.

Our personal favorite performer was Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose isolationist ravings about the war-mongering idiocy of our foreign policy made a shocking amount of sense, despite his endless harping on the need to return to the gold standard, and his uncanny resemblance to crazy Uncle Bob telling everyone in a too-loud voice at Thanksgiving dinner that they need to apply DMSO to whatever ache, pain or life-threatening illness that’s bothering them.

Michele Bachmann — whose brief disappearance from the stage left us wondering if she had to a) take an aspirin b) powder her nose or c) grab some lines from Ed Rollins — all but promised that she would nuke Iran to keep them for becoming a nuclear power but handled the question of whether she’d be submissive to her husband with a certain amount of poise. Her attacks on Tim Pawlenty were sharp and nasty, which was fun, but when he said she’d never accomplished anything in Congress her only direct response was to tout her pushing a bill for freedom of choice in light bulbs. Pro-choice on light bulbs. Really?

Pawlenty (who offered to cook us dinner and cut our grass) and Jon Huntsman were feckless washouts, while Rick Santorum — who had to bite and scratch to get any attention at all — looked and sounded like a back-bench legislator (surprise!). He did get in one nice if oblique shot at Bachmann when he noted that of course the debt ceiling had to be raised  to keep the U.S. from becoming a deadbeat nation — leadership not showmanship, he said. Herman Cain is just plain screwy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to enter the race this weekend during the Iowa Straw Poll in which he’s not participating, appeared only in a question from the reporters and none of the actual contenders were willing to brush him back, save one sideways mention by Huntsman that the GOP needs all the prayers it can get.

The actual content on the candidates’ remarks, in the end, doesn’t mean as much as whether they impress viewers as someone they could imagine being Leader of the Free World. Which is why Romney — no matter his conflicted stand on the 10th Amendment — came away the winner.

Those seeking a play-by-play replay of the evening are advised to check out Gawker’s live blog. Not that any of this matters much since the Ames straw poll (for which Thursday night’s debate was a precursor) and, for that matter, the Iowa caucuses themselves, have little to do with a) who gets nominated and b) who becomes president.  But it keeps our brothers and sisters in the news media busy spinning crapchurn for months on company expense accounts.

Note to Fox: Lose the annoying game-show warning dinger.

Press Clips: This week’s Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry goes to the inestimable Timm Herdt, for his hiding-in-plain sight perceptual scoop highlighting the absurdity of California’s Leviathan-sized legislative districts.

The point, of course, was made first and ably by Joe Mathews and Mark Paul, but kinda’ got buried in the big picture coverage of their “California Crackup”opus. But Herdt, who properly credits the dynamic duo, is right on the money with his timing, as what-about-me cries of anguish about the new legislative maps produced in the zero-sum redistricting process pierce the skies of California. For good measure, Herdt’s fine- writing-done-cheap piece provides just-right small, telling details to describe the nuttiness of the out-of-scale sprawl that shapes the current system:

The size of the Legislature — 80 Assembly members, 40 senators — was established in 1879. At the time, there were fewer than 1 million people living here.

Today, there are 37.3 million. That means that an Assembly district must contain about 465,000 people and each Senate district about 931,000…

How big is a Senate district? Five of the 50 states have fewer people. The districts are 10 times larger than the national average, three times bigger than those in the second-place state, Texas.

And while we’re on the subject, kudos to the indomitable Allan Hoffenblum for fleshing out the landscape and the lineups of the proposed new districts in an ongoing series over at Fox and Hounds.

The big story: The mighty roar of hemming, hawing and harrumphing that arose from D.C. precincts populated by Beltway Media Wizards this week came in response to an unusual, 3,000 word, pop psych op-ed in the Sunday NYT by a lefty egghead who proclaimed the end of his mad crush on Obama because the president doesn’t tell good bedtime stories.

Drew Westen, a psych professor at Emory and a disillusioned Obamabot, triggered a new  narrative among the journalistic pack – Lefties turn on Obama! – with an unrequited love tale of how The Great Man broke the hearts of his supporters and brought the world economy to the brink of disaster by failing to, well, trigger a new narrative:

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and “news stories” that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out “the facts of the case.”

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

You get the idea.

We’ve not been shy about bashing the issue framing, political strategies  and communications operations of the White House, but Professor Chrome Dome seems to be living in a dream world where presidents get to make all the rules, people actually play attention to the pronouncements of politicians and Republicans actually want the government to work.

Amid all the breast-beating about the Westen piece on the left, and the huzzahs sounding in the studios of Fox News, some insightful members of the Pajamahadeen did nice work in tearing apart the guy’s argument with some Actual Facts, most notably xpostfactoid:

Westen is a good storyteller. There is real force to many of his charges. But modeling what he says Obama should have done, he  tells a simplified morality tale — highly selective, with a clear villain, and in some points demonstrably false. He makes copious use of political cliches about messaging that fail to take into account the degree to which economic conditions shape audience reception of a politician’s message. Founded on the alleged timidity of the 2009 stimulus, his story fails to engage the question of whether Obama could have got a larger stimulus through Congress. And in the end, it devolves into an ad hominem attack with recourse to cheap psychologizing (notwithstanding Westen’s protestations of scientific detachment) and unfounded impugning of motive.

Calbuzz sez check it out.

ICYMI: The rumors are true: Mitt Romney really did say that corporations are people.


Press Clips: Must Reads for the End of the World

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Today’s post is dedicated to Vincent A. Musetto, the old-school copy editor who crafted the greatest headline in the history of the world, “Headless Body in Topless Bar.”

After 40 years at the New York Post, Musetto got what the paper called  “an affectionate send-off by his colleagues,” which sounds kinda effete and fuzzy for a Murdoch tab, but maybe they want to soften their image after SERIALLY HACKING THE CELL PHONES OF DEAD KIDS, or something.

Musetto’s farewell celebration not only included toasts to his iconic slammer, but also afforded him a chance to argue that “Topless” was only the second best of his career, behind “Granny Executed in Her Pink Pajamas.”

We started ruminating about headlines while struggling to write one about  the D.C. debt mess (an issue that came home in a personal way last night, when our CFO texted to say he was leaving for Uruguay with two suitcases full of cash and recommending we do the same).

The Post’s own efforts – “Debt Men Talking” and “Congress Has Lost Its Mind” – seemed a tad pedestrian, and our own drafts – “Debt Kooks Doom Planet,”  “Obama to Self: Drop Dead” and “Big Run on Uruguay Tix” – aren’t quite right either.

So please, if you have a suggestion for an iconic headline about the debt crisis, send it our way. And don’t forget to enclose cash. Hurry. Don’t forget the cash.

All you need to know: All across the media landscape, we see one of the most hokey, hoary and hardy MSM perennials blooming like stinkweed on the median strip. Whenever a news story gets too complicated to explain within the eight-second attention span of whoever it is that’s running the Page 1 meeting this week, and who, in any case, is running late for an appointment in HR to go through the new layoff list, it’s time for the old Q&A.

The basic conceit of the Q&A feature is that the average (dumbass) reader is scratching his (dumbass) head over the paper’s recent spate of confusing stories about a confusing topic, all of which appear to have been translated from the Swedish  – “goldarnit Maude, I just don’t get how the trigger mechanism for cuts in Harry Reid’s plan is different than in Boehner II.”

At which point the paper helpfully affects what elitist editors imagine a (dumbass) reader’s vernacular voice sounds like and then answers all these (dumbass) questions in a jiffy.

Just now, your best bet for a debt crisis Q&A is Washpost whiz kid Ezra Klein, who actually appears to understand this stuff; the NYT version popped up yesterday, but actually seems to muddy the waters even more, probably because it’s aimed at the average Times reader, a hedge fund manager who lives in Greenwich and is now on his way to Uruguay.

In any case, you’re better off with the Calbuzz version:

Q: Isn’t this all the media’s fault?

A: Yes.

The roots of the “crisis” lie in the MSM’s addiction to “balanced reporting,” according to which the views of, say, the world’s leading economists are “balanced” by those of some yahoo congressman from Meadow Muffin, Mississippi with an IQ of 12.

Instead of telling the truth – Obama has caved so completely to Republicans that he’s now to the right of GOP voters, but Tea Party thugs are still intent on stealing his lunch money and throwing his pants on the top of the school bus – they keep feeding their false equivalence meme, like this whopper from CNN:

They’re all talking, but no one is compromising, at least publicly. Democratic and GOP leaders appear unwilling to bend on proposals to raise the debt ceiling.

Q: Is Obama really that much of a wimp?

A: Yes.

Despite the utter absence of evidence, the president astonishingly maintains the view that if the Republicans would just think about the facts, darn it, they’d slap their heads, shout “Now we get it!” and ink a deal with him pronto. Why else would the leader of the free world interrupt “The Bachelorette” to urge everyone to call their congressmanPut another way:

He apparent really believes—still!—in civic-republican notions of government as an arena for reasoned deliberation. That he could still think this is akin to a child believing in Santa Claus until he’s 15—but apparently he does.

Q: Isn’t there something he could do?

A: Yes.

Pretend he’s the president. Instead of acting like a moonlighting muni court mediator trying to avert a City Hall janitor’s strike, he could invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to extend the debt ceiling for, as one leading constitutional scholar put it:

“At the point at which the economy is melting down, who cares what the Supreme Court is going to say?” Professor Balkin said. “It’s the president’s duty to save the Republic.”

Q: Aren’t the writings of German sociologist and political economist Max Weber particularly relevant to the situation?

A: Yes.

Despite his problems with the Weimar Constitution, not to mention the Spanish flu Max’s thoughts on social theory and methodological antipositivism hit the nail on the head, the New Yorker noted:

The sociologist Max Weber, in his 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation,” drew a distinction between “the ethic of responsibility” and “the ethic of ultimate ends”—between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences. These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two. On its own, the ethic of responsibility can become a devotion to technically correct procedure, while the ethic of ultimate ends can become fanaticism. Weber’s terms perfectly capture the toxic dynamic between the President, who takes responsibility as an end in itself, and the Republicans in Congress, who are destructively consumed with their own dogma. Neither side can be said to possess what Weber calls a “leader’s personality.” Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane. Conviction without responsibility, in the current incarnation of the Republican Party, is raving mad.

Q: Anything else we need to know?

A: Best prices on California to Uruguay flights here.

Space capsule special: ICYMI here’s Kurt Loder’s oh-so-hip 1995 report on the newfangled internets thing.

Titian Tressed Temptress Tanks Tainted Tabloid!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

On Saturday afternoon, July 9, as the shell-shocked staff of the “News of the World” put together the last-ever edition of that storied British tabloid, their  boss was at the hairdresser, having her famous carrot top tended.

That ill-timed indulgence of Fleet Street editrix Rebekah Brooks cinched her standing as the most vivid, if not vile, symbol of the ever-widening scandal that’s shaken the empire of media despot Rupert Murdoch and, oh yeah, the  British government.

One journo at the now-departed News of the World recalled the day:

“We were all pulling together under the most traumatic and devastating circumstances and mustering all the dignity we could and Rebekah was two floors down in the hairdressers getting her hair done. She had it opened especially. That just says it all,” said a senior executive.

For media and political junkies, the Murdoch meltdown, an epic tale of  corruption, criminal behavior and sleaze within a nexus of powerful press, police and government high-fliers, is perhaps the most compelling  spectacle since big Dick Nixon assured the nation he was not a crook.

(Those who got soused on Independence Day and have been sleeping since are required to report to detention for remedial reading, including this, this, this and this. Please show your work).

For those obsessed with the story, and for whom schadenfreude is the most delicious guilty pleasure — we name no names — the happiest aspect of the matter is watching the swift downfall of a loathsome pack of craven, self-entitled, pampered and privileged prigs.

Among the cast of ass-kissing courtiers to the Great Satan Murdoch, no character getting her comeuppance within this media morality play is more intriguing than the 43-year old Brooks.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the British tabs (coincidentally known as “red tops” for those with colored nameplates) have saved the most histrionic, hyperbolic and lurid language in their lexicon of sensationalism to describe the fire-haired siren of the piece.

In the last few days alone, tabs that compete with those published by Murdoch’s News International have variously referred to Brooks as a “Titian-tressed,” “pre-Raphaelite” “flame-haired Medusa lookalike,” dubbing her “The Witch of Wapping” (for the London neighborhood housing Murdoch’s operations) and “Ginger Spite” (after the redheaded Geri Halliwell of the lip syncing Spice Girls).

Male privilege and volcanic coiffures: Our Department of Fourth Wave Feminism and Camille Paglia Canon Studies has, of course, sensitized our entire staff to the chauvinist underpinnings of the sexist behavior that flows from the male pig-dominated Fleet Street culture that is solely responsible for the unfairly targeted, incessant focus on the glamorous Ms. Brooks. So naturally, it makes our blood boil to read such swill as this:

As a firestorm – (Prime Minister David) Cameron’s word – engulfed her papers she said as little as possible and so become a red-haired icon to which commentators could wittily attach ancient male terrors of the femme fatale. She was compared to Morgan le Fay, the evil half-sister of King Arthur. The Arthurian romances were beloved of Victoria painters, and Brooks’ hair is so exactly like the volcanic coiffures in pairings by the Pre-Raphaelites that not only do Arthurian allusions resonate – check out Rossetti’s painting The Holy Grail — but it looks as if she consciously sets out to look Pre-Raphaelite. Is she an art lover? Well, it’s said that Rupert Murdoch gave her a Lowry for her 40th birthday.

If not a witch like Morgan le Fay, perhaps Brooks resembles a wicked character from some Victorian novel – the Telegraph called her “one of the great adventuresses of the age”, writing on a Trollope high. But, of course, she is not a mythic femme fatale. She is, like all people dragged against their will into the brutal light of media attention, a human being hunted by the pack.

In this context, it’s to be expected that inky wretches assigned to produce instant news profiles of Brooks quickly found evidence that in her rapid professional rise she encountered and overcome precisely the type of workplace bias and harassment to be expected in the bastions of male privilege that are the newsrooms of London:

“There was quite a lot of willy waving, to put it mildly, but she soldiered on,” says Sue Evison, the head of media at Touchstone Media, who left the Sun in 2006 after 19 years. Evison recalls that Wade’s first year as editor of the paper in 2003 was also difficult. “There was an air of misogyny about the place. She endured it.”

(Memo to self: save and recall phrase “willy waving” for future use).

A red top’s red top: The recent chain of astonishing events erupted on July 4, when a dogged reporter named Nick Davies disclosed in the Guardian that during the time Brooks was chief editor of the News of the World, staff members hacked into the cell phone of a missing 13-year old girl named Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. The story set off a firestorm of outrage that just keeps rising amid ongoing revelations.

Besides Murdoch himself, Brooks has emerged as the high profile player with the largest curiosity quotient in the saga (at press time, a Google search of “Rebekah Brooks” yielded 14 million results) not only because of the meme of her spectacular rise and fall within Murdoch’s magic kingdom, but also because of, well, you know, her hair.

No less a figure than the Pulitzer Prize winning critic Robin Givhan, now laboring for the Daily Beast (the second must-read on the story, right after the Guardian) wove a splendid, 1,000-word pseudo-psycho-social analysis on the subject, a one-part Rapunzel, one-part Rumpelstiltskin tale of the profound meaning to be gleaned from the head and hair products of the Biblicaly-named news hen and Debra Saunders lookalike.

Brooks arrived for her questioning (in the House of Commons) dressed soberly in navy with a demure little heart-shaped charm dangling from a necklace. Her hair hung thick and loose below her shoulders like a dense tangle of vines. It was free and unruly; it was hair that had been released from any need to be controlled and tidy…

Hair like hers is a great asset to have in a room crowded with famous and powerful folks. It makes one immediately memorable without having to utter a single word. It isn’t sexy hair that brushes seductively against the shoulders and it isn’t that gloriously girlish hair in which each long ringlet is carefully cultivated. Instead, it’s a spray of self-conscious indifference…

So perhaps, in her own way, Brooks was attempting to defy presumptions, rise above the cultural rules and style herself according to her own sensibilities. But that’s a pretty brazen thing to do when Parliament is on your case for defying laws, ethics, and common decency.

Brooks’ hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.

That was look-at-me hair—stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.

Of that, there can be no doubt. 

Going, going, gone. By week’s end — after the News of the World had been shuttered, the two top cops of Scotland Yard had resigned, Murdoch had abandoned his bid to take control of the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom and (pause for breath) Brooks had been canned and then arrested — her hair had gone global: Red hair was massively trending on Murdoch’s home turf of Australia; countless comics concocted elaborate parodies on the subject, and Givans wannabes  tossed off derivative hair pieces with the speed of a buzz cut:

No one is claiming that Brooks’ hair cast a spell over Rupert Murdoch for all those years.

Nor are they suggesting that the mysterious power wielded by a frothy mass of in-your-face russet curls tells the untold story behind one of the greatest scandals of our times. Because that would be silly.

But what if it’s true? There’s a missing link in this story. And it’s the magic of the power barnet. Brooks’ hairdryer is the smoking gun.

To be sure.

It must be said, then, in the immortal words of Jeeves, the most famous character created by the great British writer P.G. Wodehouse: “Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.”