Paul Begala

The politics of health care reform have looked shaky for the last twenty-four hours. But Time's Jay Newton-Small has a message for the Democrats: "This is likely to be as bad as it's going to get." She explains: If you pass the bill, next week's coverage is likely to trumpet triumph, the most productive legislative session since LBJ, an historic and seminal victory. It's getting from here to there that's the hard part--especially for those 12-20 swing votes under the most pressure. For them, especially the vulnerable ones, this might not be rock bottom: they may well lose reelection.

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Since losing in Iowa the Clinton campaign has mostly been dumping on the state. Hillary has now noted a couple of times, in a passive-aggressive way, that she's happy to compete in New Hampshire, where people in the military and night workers aren't "disenfranchised" (as they are by the caucuses, though she doesn't come right out and say that). Clintonites have also hinted that there's something a little sexist about the Hawkeye state, given that it's just one of two never to have elected a woman governor or member of Congress.

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Pay it Forward

HOURS AFTER Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as House speaker last week, Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel held a celebratoryreception at Johnny's Half Shell, an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant. Having just overseen his party's victorious campaign aschairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Emanuel resembled a mafia don who had taken down a rival family andwas now receiving visitors (Harold Ickes, Paul Begala, James Carville) to kiss his ring. Filing into the restaurant along with the giddy Democrats, however, was a crowd with markedly longer faces.

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  It's five miles from Northern Virginia, where the Pentagon sets military targets, and a mile and a half from Foggy Bottom, where the State Department cobbles together coalitions. To look at it, you'd never guess that the ten-story glass-and-steel building at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and T Street, nestled amid the town houses and cafes of Dupont Circle, serves as one of the headquarters for the U.S. propaganda war against terrorism. If it doesn't look like a government office building, that's because it's not. Rather, it houses a public relations firm called The Rendon Group.

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Underprivileged

President Clinton inspired dark comparisons to Watergate last week when he invoked executive privilege to prevent his aides from testifying before Kenneth Starr's grand jury. His critics are treating the president's claim as proof that he has something to hide. "Not since Richard Nixon tried to withhold incriminating taped evidence--and was forced by the unanimous Supreme Court to respond to the subpoena of a grand jury--has a president presumed to wrap personal wrongdoing in the cloak of official business," William Safire thundered.

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Panetta's Moment

Bill Clinton was being treated to the good side of Newt Gingrich. When congressional leaders gathered at the White House in July for a dinner devoted to foreign affairs, the Speaker was, recalls a top Clinton official, like Wellington opining on world affairs. Gingrich lamented those Republicans who would slash contributions to the U.N.

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