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Political Animals: A Review

July 16, 2012

Until they advertised Political Animals, the TV mini-series or six episode special drama as they are calling it, I hadn’t even heard of the USA Network. But once I learnt about this show I had to see it.

So I scrolled around and found channel 65 on my Comcast dial and made plans to spend Sunday night at 10:00 pm ensconced in front of my TV. While I thought it would be a fun show to watch I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it and how good the acting was.

Over coffee this morning as I was raving about the show my friends kidded me that it was only because of my love for Hillary Clinton that I liked it. After all the show is about a Secretary of State who lost a presidential primary to the man who is now President and in whose Administration she serves. She is a former First Lady who was married to a womanizing ex-President. Sound at all familiar? So they figured that was the only reason I could enjoy the show. But as it happens, Sigourney Weaver who plays the lead role of Madame Secretary, Elaine Hammond, is great in her own right and exciting to watch.

Greg Berlanti who wrote the show admits he is a Hillary Clinton fan and like me supported her in the primaries in 2008. Rather than being a Senator Elaine is the Illinois Governor and instead of one well brought up quiet and charming daughter like Chelsea, Elaine has two sons, one who is gay and has attempted suicide and the other who works for her and is getting engaged to a young woman with bulimia. As if Hillary didn’t have enough issues to deal with in her own right.

Berlanti says the characters are an amalgam of those he has met and those he has read about. Bud Hammond the former President is more like Lyndon Johnson, big loudmouthed and crude a portrait drawn from the Robert Caro biographies of Johnson. Like some of its predecessors such as West Wing, whose Oval Office set they borrowed, this show is based on some reality but is still great entertainment. But then some think that is what Washington is. Ellen Burstyn is great as Elaine Hammond’s boozy sharp tongued mother and so is Carla Gugino who plays Susan Berg, who the Washington Post critic called that “pesky Washington Globe reporter” and someone else likened to Maureen Dowd.

There are some great lines in the script and a lot of women calling other women bitches in a complimentary sort of way. Her son’s fiancé can’t figure out why Elaine wants to do their engagement party at the Zoo as a fundraiser for the elephants. This gets solved later when Elaine meets Susan Berg, the reporter, in front of the Elephant enclosure for an off the record conversation and says she admires elephants because they are both strong and gentle and their families are a Matriarchal society.

The show opened with Elaine giving her concession speech in the primary she lost to the man in whose administration she now serves. It ends with her asking her Secret Service driver if he can keep a secret and tells him she intends to run for President again. Go Hillary, uh I mean Elaine!

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Gray and the 'Shadow Campaign'

July 11, 2012

On Tuesday after Jeanne Clarke Harris pleaded guilty to running a “Shadow Campaign” for Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said; “ the well-funded, well-equipped “shadow campaign” went to work for Gray but was not reported to campaign-finance authorities or disclosed to the voting public.” He went on to say, “that although the “shadow campaign” appeared legitimate with vans, yard signs and stickers — it’s funding was “sinister”. He further said, “Today’s plea confirms the sad truth that many of us have long feared: that the 2010 mayoral election was corrupted by a massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters of the District.”

Now before anyone accuses me of favoring such tactics I believe that anyone not following the law should be punished and that all contributions to political campaigns should be limited to smaller specific amounts; donors identified; and reported. Unfortunately that isn’t the view of the Supreme Court in the ‘Citizens United’ case.

I have spent a lifetime working on campaigns and for candidates and 99.9% of the time it has been as a volunteer. I once got paid for two months as Deputy Campaign Manager for Bella S. Abzug’s losing Mayoral campaign in New York in 1977 but then she stopped paying most staff and we worked as volunteers. I have seen all types of money raised and spent including thousands of dollars not reported and used for what was colloquially called ‘walking around money’ distributed in cash to campaign workers at the polls on Election Day. Rich candidates like Mayor Michael Bloomberg can make million dollar donations from their Foundations to a pastor and then reap the rewards of an endorsement and that is perfectly legal. Families get around the limits to campaign donations when they donate in the name of their minor children and no one looks if that money actually came from the child’s trust fund or the parent’s checking account.

In 2010 there was massive bundling of donations to both the Gray and the Fenty campaigns and no one appears to be looking at whether in the Fenty campaign it was reimbursed to some of the donors from the person who they worked for or a family member. In the case of Jeffrey Thompson and Jeanne Clark they have apparently been doing this on a grand scale since 2001. So what other campaigns have they contributed to in this way?

As stated, I support full reporting of anyone who makes a donation to a political campaign and setting reasonable limits to the amount that any one person can contribute. Contrary to Mitt Romney, I don’t believe corporations are people. But I am also having a real problem with Machen using the word ‘sinister’ and inferring in anyway that the outcome of the last Mayoral election would have been different had this not occurred. Maybe people should take the time and bother to find out who has contributed to pay for their yard sign or t-shirt or umbrella but people don’t. For good or bad people vote for, or often against, the candidate regardless of who is funding the campaign.

Adrian Fenty had $5 million dollars to spend on his campaign. He had the bully pulpit available to him as the incumbent Mayor; he had a record to run on and a record of winning every precinct in the District in his first campaign. So to infer that people would have voted differently in the Eastern part of the District where Vincent Gray racked up huge votes if they knew where the money for the signs or t-shirts or buttons, or the salaries of the people that drove them to the polls came from is nonsense. Vincent Gray won the election by more than ten percentage points. Actually most political junkies would say that Fenty lost it because it was really his to win.

I am for punishing everyone, up to and including the Mayor, if they are guilty of a crime in any of the campaigns and for cleaning up campaigns across the nation. I am for public financing of campaigns if we are truly to make them fairer. I am for ending the so called ‘constituent service funds’ in D.C. which give incumbents huge advantages as they can raise money each year to benefit their constituents without considering it campaigning. I am for ending bundling and for ending the practice whereby D.C. Councilmembers can hold outside jobs. The time has come to pay them a fair salary and make it a fulltime job.

But I am not for calling practices that we all know have been used across the nation for too many years to count ‘sinister’. Compared to the Daley machine in Chicago, Tammany Hall in New York or the political machine in Texas that helped win the state for Kennedy/Johnson in 1960 what happens in District politics is penny-anti stuff. It shouldn’t happen and it should be rooted out but Harry Thomas, Jr. was found guilty of theft and Kwame Brown was found guilty of mortgage fraud so campaign finance reform wouldn’t have changed those outcomes.

Let the U.S . Attorney finish his investigations and let the chips fall where they may and punish all those found guilty of a crime. It is time to get this behind us and move on. Time to focus on how to get people to move from just complaining and debating in their living rooms or their neighborhood cafe about what government is or isn’t doing right and to actually get them to come out and vote and take part in this great system of Democracy that we have here in the United States.

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Scalia is Scourge of the High Court

July 8, 2012

With the announcement of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, we saw again how important it is who sits on the Supreme Court. Contrary to Sen. Rand Paul’s assertion that just because a few people think something is constitutional doesn’t make it so (yes, he really said that) the views of those on the court can impact our lives for generations. The major decisions of the court in the next few years will impact marriage equality immigration, women’s issues and much more.

The rant of Justice Antonin Scalia during the oral arguments and again when reciting his dissenting opinion in the Arizona immigration case make it clear that we need to ensure we don’t populate the court with other justices who apparently would rather be politicians than judges. While most of the other justices seemed to make an attempt at being fair and impartial during the questioning, there was absolutely no question where Scalia stood.

“The state has no power to close its borders to people who have no right to be there?” he asked incredulously. His questions also included: “What does ‘sovereignty’ mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?” “Are you objecting to harassing the people who have no business being here? Surely you’re not concerned about harassing them.” And then he asked: “We have to enforce our laws in a manner that will please Mexico?”

During the reading of his dissent he ranted inappropriately about an issue that was totally irrelevant to the case saying, “After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the secretary of homeland security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants” and continued, “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.”

This is typical Scalia. In a “60 Minutes” interview, Scalia said, “I’m a law-and-order guy. I mean, I confess I’m a social conservative, but it does not affect my views on cases.” How can that be when you travel the world dispensing your opinions on law and order freely to anyone that may ask?

Scalia has attacked colleagues, once calling a Justice Breyer-penned decision “sheer applesauce.” Justice Ginsburg has also been the target of some of Scalia’s zingers; he called one of her opinions “absurd,” another “implausible speculation,” and another “self-righteous.” He once said of Justice O’Connor, “This opinion is not to be taken seriously.”

Scalia himself has said, “When I first came on the court I thought I would for sure get off as soon as I could, which would have been when I turned 65. Because you know, justices retire at full salary. So there’s no reason not to leave and go off and do something else. So you know, essentially I’ve been working for free, which probably means I’m too stupid to be on the Supreme Court.

“You should get somebody with more sense. But I cannot — what happened is, simply I cannot think of what I would do for an encore. I can’t think of any other job that I would find as interesting and as satisfying.”

The time for the American public to allow a Supreme Court justice to serve because he finds his own rants interesting and satisfying should be over. Scalia calls himself an “originalist.” He believes in interpreting the Constitution by trying to decipher what the original writers were thinking when they wrote it. He seems to forget that women and African Americans, among others, weren’t represented among the writers. Scalia sells those men short. I believe they did understand that society would change and they wrote a brilliant document that can be interpreted by modern society. Retirement with full pay may seem even too much to grant Scalia, but I suggest he take the money and leave the rest of us in peace.

The next president will get the opportunity to appoint at least two justices and we need to ensure they will be men and women of substance who recognize that the Constitution is a living document. It is crucial that we vote with this in mind. Our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren hang in the balance.


This article was first published July 4, 2012 in The Washington Blade.

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