Jeff Smith Breaks Down the Latest in Bridge-gate

Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Lose?

Is Mitch McConnell the real-life version of Bulworth?  Here’s an excerpt from my piece from yesterday’s The Daily Beast:

Mitch McConnell has thereby found himself in an unprecedented situation — the master politician is running an embarrassment of a campaign.  And there is little that is tougher to survive politically than become a laughingstock, particularly with 24/7 cable news and social media replaying your humiliations on a virtual endless loop.

Veteran Kentucky political observers are shaking their heads at McConnell’s sudden loss of political mastery.  Some blame his lack of traction on the high level of difficulty of running his traditionally scorched earth strategy against a young female opponent — early sexualized GOP attacks on Grimes as an “empty dress” and an “Obama girl” backfired and perhaps have led to a heightened defensiveness from the McConnell camp and a more desperate effort to reach outside of their comfort zone into, yikes, positive advocacy.

Others blame the campaign leadership, specifically campaign manager Jesse Benton, a Ron and Rand Paul confidante and family member.  The manager’s hiring was seen as a bold strategic move by McConnell to blunt Tea Party primary opposition; but after a recording emerged of Benton claiming that he was “holding my nose” while he worked for the establishment icon — and then after McConnell’s refusal to fire or even discipline Benton for his insubordination — it appeared that the powerful Senate leader was being held captive by insurgent forces that lack the professionalism and experience to run a top-tier Senate campaign .  And perhaps some of the campaign’s mistakes over the past month might be attributed to a manager whose head and heart aren’t really in the race.

But my theory involves none of the above.  I believe that Mitch McConnell is having a Bulworth moment.  Just like the suicidally disillusioned title character of the 1990s Warren Beatty feature, Kentucky’s senior senator has simply had enough of Washington.  Why, after all, would anyone want to return to the polarization, the hyper-partisanship, the paralysis that has engulfed the nation’s capital?  And with some sense of responsibility for helping create that status quo, I believe McConnell now desires to leave on his own terms — smirking on camera, sticking it to the liberal media, and poking the eye of absurd traditions such as our undeserved ardor for a bunch of teenagers running up and down a hardwood floor.

Click here to read “Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Lose?

Michael Steele: CPAC — Who Best Articulates Modern Conservatism?

By all accounts the gathering of grassroots conservatives for the American Conservative Union’s CPAC event in Prince George’s County, Maryland offered the right mix of hot rhetoric and new faces; reflection and assessment.

CPAC is often a good way to get a sense of the state of the conservative movement but more important, the state of its relationship with the Republican Party.

For many conservatives, that’s a tenuous relationship on a good day. As Erick Erickson, co-founder of, noted, “I think CPAC is really RPAC these days and is as much, if not more, lobbyist oriented than grass-roots oriented. It is like church homecoming for the Republican Party.”

As the weekend proceedings wrapped up with a rousing call-to-arms by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, some basic questions remain for a movement in transition: Coming into the 2014 elections, are conservatives gaining strength or treading water? And how does any of this really translate to the rest of the country?

Polls show political conservatism is still very healthy despite liberal wailing to the contrary. In terms of electoral politics the conservative base and liberal base basically cancel each other out, with each side striving to reach enough independents in the political center to win nationwide or statewide elections. So, for the most part, it’s a draw.

But some of the polling of the CPAC attendees also reveals some interesting challenges and opportunities for conservatives. For example 41 percent believe marijuana should be legalized and taxed for recreational and medical use (21 percent believe marijuana should be legalized only for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor) while 31 percent say it should remain illegal.

446px-Michael_SteeleSimilarly, 78 percent cite their most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government, while only 12 percent cite promoting traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn as their most important goal. Such findings are consistent with the libertarian leanings of the participants (46 percent of whom were between the ages of 18-25) but also are a sign of a changing demographic within the conservative movement itself.

While themes of freedom, faith and family were echoed throughout the weekend, speaker after speaker seem to have in mind those changing demographics inside and outside the hall as they came repeatedly back to strategy and what it will take to win in 2014.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich cautioned “we must stop being the opposition movement, and we must become the alternative government movement that will help make the life of every American better so that they understand what we would do that would be right, not just what the left is doing that is wrong.” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx), a Tea Party favorite, urged conservatives to stick with core beliefs to win elections. “They say if you stand for principles, you lose elections. That is a false dichotomy.”

Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), insisted conservatives embrace a governing agenda that would help Republicans succeed this November and beyond. “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win. So please, let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

And it is winning elections that has proven elusive since 2011. The lack of a cohesive message to voters, struggles over the “conservative brand” with its Tea Party base and the poor standing of the Republican-controlled Congress have all taken their toll (for example, 51 percent of CPAC attendees disapprove of the Republican Congress).

But many conservatives, like Sen. Cruz, feel in the end the failure of 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to effectively draw stark contrasts between his governing policies and the Obama agenda stands as an example of watered-down conservatism. As the Senator would make clear in his speech, “All of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney — now look, those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”

But it would be another Tea Party favorite, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who would warn against purging centrist Republicans, saying, “we as conservatives have got to be far more engaged in finding converts than in discarding heretics.” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) drove the point even deeper. “You may think I am talking about electing a Republican. I am not,” Sen. Paul said. “I am talking about electing lovers of liberty. It isn’t good enough to pick the lesser of two evils. We must elect men and women of principle, and conviction and action that will lead us back to greatness.”

Senators Lee and Paul are closer to the truth for both conservatives and the Republican Party: It is a false choice we sometimes make between core principles and good governance.

But many conservatives stand on the precipice of conservatism, ready to throw each other off because of such false choices; feeling they have lost their grip on what conservatism means and who is best positioned to articulate it.

As conservatives and Republicans assess their leadership, their strategy and ultimately the impact they will have on American politics in 2014 and beyond, they would be wise to heed the advice of the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.: “Nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable.”

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Colonel Sanders

I fully support YUM and think they are a great company and corporate citizen. But the other night I was parked across from a KFC restaurant and for several moments couldn’t stop staring at the logo rendering of Colonel Sanders.

It just wasn’t the way I remember the Colonel looking. I’m no Colonel Sanders expert and only met him a handful of times…But something about this logo image bothered me. This man pictured in the logo looked pleasant, harmless, bland, and a little metrosexual. Frankly, he looks more like a Walmart greeter (no offense to Walmart greeters) than one of the century’s great restauranteurs and entrepreneurs.

1796461_10153814955580515_195611752_nAnd the Colonel often mumbled to himself while deep in thought about his exacting standards about whatever he was doing…..and never would have said something like “Today tastes so good.”

Colonel Sanders, as I recall him, was kind-hearted and generous but could be gruff at times, too. He always seemed like a proud and determined man, He was in many ways an artist. A perfectionist who demanded from others what he gave.

And he seemed to enjoy life. Seemed to suck out the marrow, in his own way, as Thoreau wrote.

jyb_musingsWhen it was time for me to leave the parking lot the other night, I pulled away slowly and stared again at the image of the Colonel on the KFC logo.

And decided if the new made-up image of the Colonel could meet the real Colonel, there’s a good chance the real Colonel may have taken a swing at him –and told him to get that silly grin off his face and for he and his apron to back in the kitchen. And probably given up on him ever looking as dignified as the man who came up with the 11 secret herbs and spices and left his unmistakable imprint–including his unique and distinctive appearance — on the world.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Obama on Pot?

I sometimes wonder if editors just speed through what they put up and overlook hilarious sounding headlines like this one—making it sound like the president could also be “evolving” as a person while on marijuana, rather than evolving on his policy position on marijuana—or if they do it on purpose as kind of an inside joke or a political statement.

jyb_musingsI think the fact that the pic used of the president is one where he is apparently exhausted (and inadvertently looking a little high) suggests this headline and pic were used on purpose.

John Y. Brown, III: In Defense of a Woody Allen Fan

As a young boy my list of grown-ups I idolized included a long list of what you’d expect with any typical boy—athletes, political figures, a few movie stars (the character more than the actor, of course).

But when I was about 12 years old I was in a hotel room with a friend watching a movie that we were able to get through the hotel. It was Love and Death by Woody Allen. It played in the background while I played with my friend. But I kept trying to watch it. The humor was quirky and absurd. And when there was the scene of the view of a battlefield from the perspective of the generals (which was a pack of stampeding sheep instead of men fighting for their lives on the battlefield), I started laughing uncontrollably. I guess I thought it was brilliant and silly at the same time but it hit my funny bone from an angle and with a velocity I had never experienced before –and I stopped my playing with my friend altogether to watch this unusual and hilarious movie. And watched again a second and a third time before I stopped ordering it for fear my parents would get angry when they saw the bill.

A few years later I asked my mom to drive me to see the movie Manhattan. I heard Woody Allen had written it and starred in it. The same guy who wrote and starred in that hilarious movie I saw at the hotel when I was 12.
I didn’t like Manhattan as much as Love and Death, but left the theater a bona fide Woody Allen fan.

In high school, there were no VCR’s yet, but Louisville did have The Vogue and The Uptown art theaters which often played older and less commercially popular films, and I got to see many of the older Allen movies—Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and of course, Annie Hall, which I adored.

I wouldn’t let other kids in high school know about my Woody Allen fetish but I felt like he “got me.” Or at least, “I got him.” I was a smallish and philosophical kid that didn’t fit into any of the traditional groups or cliques in high school. Woody Allen’s humor provided a refuge for me. A sanctuary where I didn’t feel like as much of an oddity—and the pressure to be like everyone else would temporarily evaporate as long as the movie played, and I could even feel a surge of pride for being a humorous oddball who saw the world through a neurotic lens. Woody Allen helped me feel I wasn’t alone…and wasn’t defective or inferior.

As a college student living in Los Angeles for a year and a half and majoring in philosophy at USC — and still a smallish and slightly neurotic guy— I purchased a VCR and depended even more on Woody Allen’s worldview. I watched all of his movies at least several times. Some probably 10 or 12 times. They continued to provide me comfort in a world that wasn’t receptive to self-questioning, nervous, guys like me.

I also read his books: Without Feathers and Side Effects and Getting Even. And actually read each all the way through. Something I rarely did with any book even though I was a college student at the time. And I didn’t even get college credit for reading Allen’s books! And I bought a rare cassette of his early stand-up routines. Which I also found uproariously funny as well as finding a kinship with the humor. It wasn’t just comic relief any more but absorbing chunks of Woody Allen’s philosophy at life by this juncture of my fanhood.

I saw Woody Allen once at about this time in my life. My stepmother, Phyllis, was working for CBS news and living in New York. I visited her one weekend and we went to Elaine’s restaurant. Phyllis kept trying to introduce me at our noisy table to Pat O’Brien who was a sports colleague at CBS. But I couldn’t take my eyes of the two gentlemen seated quietly in the corner talking thoughtfully between themselves, Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.

Again, I was too self-conscious to mention—especially to a sports loving crowd at our table—I wanted nothing more than to meet Woody Allen. Inside I felt like one of those screaming teenage girls you see as the Beatles get off the plane for their first trip to the US. But outside I tried to pretend I was listening to a funny sports story I couldn’t care less about and laugh along with everyone else.

That same weekend in NY after everyone in my family was asleep I played a Woody Allen movie I had rented. My father woke up and got some ice cream and sat down with me and asked what I was watching. I told him and hoped he’d watch a few minutes and find the scene we were watching as hilarious as I did. He chuckled awkwardly as he had before when I tried a Woody Allen joke on him. I asked him why he didn’t like him more. He said, “Woody Allen reminds me of eating cauliflower. It just didn’t look very good and I never bothered trying it.”

In his defense, my father was never a very self-conscious person who would appreciate Allen’s humor and we just had very different taste in film. The night before I took my father to see the movie “The Gods Must be Crazy.” But we left after about 25 minutes when my father said it was too slow and he couldn’t figure out what it was about.

By the time I reached my 20s, I started coming into my own as a person and began to feel it was safer to acknowledge my Woody Allen infatuation. I read a piece—maybe in the New Yorker—about a young woman who secretly wanted to be Woody Allen, only a female version, who snarkily and with wry and sophisticated humor poked fun at others around her for being shallow. It was safe to come out of the Woody Allen closet.

Until recently.

When Allen was awarded the Cecile B Demille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globe awards last month. Of course, as always, he didn’t attend to receive his award. I felt like I had been vindicated in my adoration of Woody Allen’s work. But moments later I read about a series of Tweets from Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow bringing up old accusations about child molestation charges about Woody molesting Farrow and his adopted daughter, Dylan, when she was 7 years old.

Initially, I am disappointed to report, I thought, “Oh, please. Enough already. Let the man receive this well-deserved award for his art without going there…..”

The next few days and weeks became a full-blown rehash of a shocking episode in Allen’s career that had stayed publicly buried for nearly 20 years where he and Farrow broke up after Woody fell in love with their then adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn and later married her. It was an ugly public battle and shook my worship of Allen to its core at the time. But I somehow mustered the denial and distinction between one’s art and personal life give him the benefit of the doubt to eventually continue my admiration for Woody Allen, although it would never quite be the same as before.

But this time –over the past few days—sifting through the sordid accusations and factual details again as an older and wiser man, I can’t deny that something outrageous and wholly inappropriate happened between Woody Allen and his young adopted daughter over 20 years ago.

I acknowledge that fact and am saddened to learn that you are never too old to become disillusioned with those you place on a pedestal. Or even find part of their life—which is inextricably part of who they are—despicable. And that is true even if you are a 50 year old fan and moved on from hero worship many years ago. But it still stings…and still hurts, too.

So, no, I won’t defend Woody Allen art or try to distinguish it from his personal life. But please don’t expect me –just yet anyway– to line up behind his ex-wife and adopted daughter and pile on Allen either. I would like to say that I won’t be doing that because it is a personal matter and should be handled in private. But the real reason is there is still a part of denial in me that my childhood hero was capable of doing such inexplicable things. And since I am only a fan—and not a direct player in this drama—in my defense and in defense of all similarly situated Woody Allen fans, I ask that you understand it is not the grieving of the public death of a man’s reputation that makes us unable to be objective right now. It is the grieving of the private death of part of ourselves.

Jeff Smith Tweets the Christie Scandal

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Think Wildstein a distraction now. If he had the goods he’d be giving em up below radar. The ones feeling real heat likely Baroni/Samson.

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Immunity grant Wildstein seeking pie in sky. 5K.1.1 letter in which feds request lenient sentence aftr substantial cooperation more frequent

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

The impt thing about Wildstein letter isn’t anything in it. It’s degree to which it may motivate others to flip while they still have value.

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Once the feds have the dude you were gonna rat out, you’re useless – and your cooperation agreement evaporates. Thus the potential rush here

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Federal targets are like poker players: the weak hands act strong, while the strong hands stay quiet. So Wildstein may be in real trouble here

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Interesting to see Wildstein beg for attn. Feds have likely moved on to others with more/better cards to play on non-Ft Lee issues.

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Big Christie problem now: tenuousness of power position renders notion that he’ll “take care” of allies who eat it increasingly implausible.

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Smart- Legal survival trumps politics MT @lis_Smith “Christie has not taken q’s at a news conference for 21 days.” … …

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 2

Bridgegate fed crimes a stretch. No breach of honest services statute post-Conrad Black. W/ WH hopes fading,obstruction for pol reasons nuts

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3

Silly how pundits write, “just as things were calming down for Christie…” Things were heating up, not calming; most US Attys aren’t sieves

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3

Pundit silliness #2: suggesting Wildstein’s letter indicates “heating up”. Media confuses letter aimed at them for actual event of import.

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3

We knew from Day 1 Wildstein itching to sing; his letter impt only insofar as it might goad waverers to sing before their info made redundnt

Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO Feb 3

A snitch can give the Feds every morsel he’s got, but if they already have it or if it’s not on the guy they want, he’ll get zilch for it.

Artur Davis: Wishful Thinking for the New Year, Part II

A year ago, in lieu of resolutions or predictions, I offered a more guarded set of wishes for the new calendar year. Could the track record have been worse? There was the melancholy: Mandela no longer lives; while George H.W. Bush survives, his conciliatory brand of leadership is discredited in his own and seems impossible to revive nationally. There was the embarrassingly off base: describing Virginia’s likely soon to be indicted Bob McDonnell as a politician without a single ethical blemish, and a much too laudatory take on the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III were the low points.

There were rosy hopes that didn’t pan out: some of my favorite center-right thinkers have added a lot of wisdom to the internal Republican debate without influencing it very much; Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, rather than soaring, is the latest southern black politician whose ambitions suffer the limitations of his party’s “electability” mantra; and Bobby Jindal is a much longer presidential shot now than he appeared 12 months ago.

And there were the parts that really made my label of “wishful thinking” unintended irony. Let’s just say that Phil Robertson isn’t the principled voice of federalism on same sex marriage that I had in mind; that the Heritage Foundation’s assault on food stamps is not quite the anti-poverty agenda I was hoping for; and that education reform continues to lie in the overstocked, undersold column on aisle 32.

davis_artur-11So, in the hopes of doing better, a more guarded set of wishes for 2014:

(1) That a year from now, some Republican has decided to run for President unabashedly as a center-right alternative, with policy ideas and campaign message to match. Whether that individual is Chris Christie, the most successful coalition builder in big league politics today, or Paul Ryan, who should keep channeling his former mentor Jack Kemp’s vision that upward mobility is a legitimate conservative aspiration, or someone to be named later, it would be to the good of Republicans and domestic politics in general if a presidential level Republican owned the notion of a vital center rather than running from it.

(2) That George Packer’s superb “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” follow up its National Book Award with a Pulitzer. One can take issue with Packer for skimping on the fine points of economics, or for staying vague on solutions, but this is the most gripping account that has emerged of what the guts of the country looked like in the depths of the Great Recession. He nails the development of alienation that has eroded normal ideological boundaries. And if Packer’s subtle narrative maneuver of reducing national politics to the margins seemed incomplete to critics, it surely captures how the swamp on the Potomac registered to most rank and file Americans.

Read the rest of…
Artur Davis: Wishful Thinking for the New Year, Part II

Lauren Mayer: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Every now and then, a movie catch phrase comes along that both works perfectly in context, and comes in handy in real life.  “Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore,” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” come to mind (as well as almost every line from “Blazing Saddles,” although most of those can’t be quoted without a detailed explanation and a PG-13 warning).

One of my personal favorites is from “The Princess Bride,” when Inigo Montoya hears his boss say ‘inconceivable’ and comments, “You keep using that word, I do not think that word means what you think it does.”   (I’m the adult child of a former English teacher, meaning I cringe when I see mis-used words and grammatical mistakes, although I agree, “ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put” is a little awkward.)  So I was delighted to see that meme pop up in connection with the latest flap over “Duck Dynasty,” with family patriarch Phil Robertson being quoted in GQ (yeah, rednecks and GQ seem like an odd pairing to me, too!), expressing some colorfully homophobic and outdated racial views.

Of course, the biggest shocker to me was that anyone was shocked – did A&E really expect that a family of Louisiana evangelical duck-hunters would have enlightened views on race relations or gay rights?  (Brings to mind another of my favorite film lines, when Claude Rains is trying to impress the Nazis in Casablanca by saying, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here” right before a dealer says “Your winnings, sir.”)  But in their reactions, A&E and conservative politicians seem trying to outdo each other with cluelessness.

I find Mr. Robertson’s remarks offensive – but I find a lot of things offensive about reality TV, and I’m not so crazy about the whole idea of hunting defenseless little ducks – but I digress.  Mr. Robertson has a right to express his views, as repugnant (or weird – read the actual article!) as they are, and his employers at A&E have a right to hire, fire, and suspend whomever they like.  A&E announced a brief suspension, apparently trying to appease the large gay and black audience for the show (??), but opening up a huge can of worms in the process.  Conservative politicians and peripheral-but-trying-to-stay-in-the-spotlight-characters declared their outrage that the media was censoring a good Christian and depriving him of his fundamental right of free speech.  Ignoring, of course, the fact that no one’s right of free speech was infringed, because the Bill of Rights says nothing about anyone’s right to star on a reality television program.

John Y. Brown, III on “Take ‘This Town’ And Shove It”

Sam Youngman is someone who if you haven’t heard of yet, you will.

And you will enjoy hearing from and about him –and want to hear more about him. And read more from him.

Sam is the Lexington Herald-Leader’s newest political reporter after recently returning from DC to his home state of Kentucky.

The cliched comment would be to reference something about Kentucky’s brain drain and Sam’s return being a bright spot and encouraging anecdote that Kentucky’s best and brightest do often return home to settle down. But Sam’s story is anything but a cliche or mere anecdote. I would say it is a story epic in its trajectory but serenely sane in its current arc–an arc which seems to be good news for Kentucky generally and Sam personally.

And D.C.’s loss–as Sam decided he’d absorbed about all the wisdom one can staring into an abyss. Sam appears to have concluded that the mirage of besotted and noisy power games in our nation’s capital was , in fact, an abyss –and that the orgiastic yet mind-numbing self-absorbed tedium drawing him in was instead the abyss staring back at him.

Please read this wonderfully witty and searingly honest and insightful piece about Sam Youngman’s journey home.

Homer-esque at moments; and at other times capable of making the Prodigal Son blush. But with a similar happy ending; just not one that is similarly Biblical in proportion. In fact, it’s a very humble ending that really isn’t an ending all. But rather an inspired and edifying new beginning.

Welcome home, young man. (No pun intended. Seriously)

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