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August 19, 2004
4:00am EDT

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004 4:58 p.m. EDT

Jesty Jackson
We never thought we'd say this, but Jesse Jackson has a sense of humor. The self-styled civil-rights leader writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, and while it seldom rises above the level of left-liberal cant, yesterday's entry actually was a clever joke at the expense of Illinois's struggling Republicans. The subject is the Land of Lincoln's Senate race, which pits state Rep. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, against Alan Keyes, a Maryland Republican.

That's right, a Maryland Republican. Hillary Clinton excepted, U.S. senators are usually expected to come from the state they seek to represent, but Illinois has very lenient residency requirements. As long as Keyes lives in the state by Election Day, he's eligible to serve.

If he wins, that is. Which he won't. Keyes has run for Senate twice before, in his actual home state, and he has the distinction of having been trounced by both of Maryland's sitting senators. In 1988 he managed a mere 38% against Paul Sarbanes, in 1992 an even more dismal 29% against Barbara Mikulski. This of course persuaded him that he should run for president, which he did in 1996 and 2000. Neither time did he win.

So will a move to Illinois improve Keyes's political fortunes? Not likely. The two states have actually become quite similar politically. Illinois used to be a fairly Republican state; it went for the GOP presidential candidate in every election between 1968 and 1988, whereas Maryland backed Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in both 1976 and 1980. But in the past four elections the same candidate has won both states, and by very similar margins:

2000 Gore
1996 Clinton
1992 Clinton
1988 Bush

Maryland last elected a Republican senator in 1980. Illinois elected one in 1998: Peter Fitzgerald, who beat the ridiculous Carol Moseley Braun and is retiring after one term. Before that, the last time a Republican won an Illinois Senate seat was in 1978.

Although the GOP holds a slender majority (10-9) in the Illinois House delegation, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, the statewide party has fallen on hard times. The winner of the Republican Senate primary, Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race after a bizarre sex scandal that involved no actual sex and no one except the candidate and his wife. (In their divorce, she alleged that he had made kinky proposals, which she rebuffed.) Republicans tried to persuade Mike Ditka, the popular former Chicago Bears coach, to run, but he said no dice.

Even before the scandal, Obama had a comfortable lead over Ryan in the polls, and when their Ditka Hail Mary failed, it's likely that Republicans realized they had no chance of winning. Still, it's hard to see why they would turn to a proven loser like Keyes, unless it was for comic relief.

Keyes has a tendency to make over-the-top statements; yesterday's Sun-Times reported that in May "he said that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a 'warning' from God to 'wake up' and stop 'the evil' of abortion." (Which leads us to wonder: Was abortion legal anywhere in the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1941?) Nor is his overcharged intensity limited to morally fraught questions like abortion. Some 15 years ago, at a conservative confab in Washington, we saw him deliver a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon on the evil of . . . excessive federal spending. At the time he was president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

Keyes and Obama are both black, and the Democrats are treating Obama as a rising star; he delivered the keynote speech at the party's national convention in Boston last month. Jackson's jape is that the GOP should do no less for Keyes:

Keyes is a fair test. Will Republicans pay off his debts, pay the rent on his new apartment in Illinois, hire him a serious campaign team and finance his campaign at the level needed to be competitive? Or are they simply tossing him as a token into a losing cause? Will Bush invite him to deliver the keynote or at least a prime-time address at the Republican convention? We can measure how much ''leverage'' playing on the right side of the field in a Republican jersey provides African Americans by how the party and the president treat Keyes. . . .

Provide the dough, provide the platform at the convention. Demonstrate that African Americans like Keyes, who serve at the beck and call of your party and are prepared to move from Gaithersburg, Md., on a day's notice, are treated with the respect they deserve. Keyes may well be a better test of Bush's word than he will of Barack Obama's candidacy. We'll all look for him at the Republican convention in New York.

Making the joke especially pungent is a bit of history that Jackson doesn't mention. We unearthed this passage from Rowland Evans and Robert Novak's Aug. 3, 1988, Sun-Times column on that year's Republican National Convention:

Ex-Transporation Secretary William Coleman, who testified against the Bork nomination, was for a spell the only black face scheduled to speak. One articulate black Reaganite--ex-Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes, Senate candidate from Maryland--was held off as "too controversial." When they finally scheduled a non-prime-time speaking slot, convention managers sent him a "suggested" script, beginning: "I am a black man and a Republican." Mr. Keyes responded that he would speak as an American.

The GOP's treatment of Keyes 16 years ago was an embarrassment to the party. But Jackson's gag is a bit of a cheap shot (albeit a funny one). In 1988, after all, it was reasonable to see Keyes as a promising politician, even if he had little chance of winning that year. Since then he's amassed a record of miserable failure in electoral politics, mostly by setting his sights unreasonably high. Perhaps he'd actually have been elected if he'd run for, say, a House seat in a Republican district instead of president.

But no one can seriously expect Republicans to give the same prominence to a sure loser like Keyes that the Democrats gave to a sure winner like Obama. The Dems wouldn't do it either. We were at the Democratic Convention last month, and we don't remember seeing Rep. Denise Majette, the black Georgia Democrat whose chances of winning a Senate seat are little better than Keyes's.

Playing Politics With Terror
From the New York Times, Aug. 2:

News of the terror threat on Sunday also stirred renewed suggestions from some Democrats that the White House was manipulating terror alerts for Mr. Bush's political gain. They said the alert had been issued just as Mr. Kerry emerged from a convention that was described by Republicans and Democrats as a success.

"I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism," Howard Dean, a former rival of Mr. Kerry for the Democratic nomination, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sunday.

"His whole campaign is based on the notion that 'I can keep you safe, therefore at times of difficulty for America stick with me,' and then out comes Tom Ridge," Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor, added, referring to the homeland security secretary. "It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it."

From the Times, Aug. 17:

British police today charged eight men with conspiracy to murder and violations of the Terrorism Act after finding that they possessed surveillance information on the same financial centers in Washington, New York and New Jersey that were the focus of the terror alert earlier this month in the United States.

The eight men were arrested on Aug. 3 and held for two weeks at a high security police facility in West London. They were also charged with conspiring to use "radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals and explosives" to cause fear, panic and disruption against unspecified targets.

Blogger John Henke has a list of others who claimed that the terror alerts earlier this month were political. They all owe the country an apology.

Kerry's Cold War Nostalgia
"John Kerry on Wednesday set out his opposition to the Bush administration's plans to bring home 70,000 US troops from permanent overseas bases," reports the Financial Times:

Mr Kerry argued that the withdrawal of troops from Europe and Asia threatens to undercut alliances and weakens America's ability to project its power overseas.

"For example, why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea--a country that really has nuclear weapons?" Kerry said.

Of course, Kerry also opposes missile defense, which would actually offer protection from Pyongyang's nukes. A New York Times editorial also weighs in for the status quo:

Despite the Pentagon's denials, it seems deliberate that the two largest withdrawals have been proposed for countries that the Bush administration has had serious differences with in recent years, over Iraq in the German case, and over negotiating strategy with North Korea in the case of Seoul. Both countries have been working hard to patch up relations--South Korea is one of the few American allies with troops in Iraq--but the Pentagon does not seem interested in reciprocating.

Both the Times and Kerry seem to be making a fetish of preserving Cold War-era alliances and institutions, even if it means sacrificing U.S. security interests. Given who's proposing change here and who's resisting it, you really have to wonder just who the "conservatives" are.

Kerry's Identity Crisis--II
Yesterday we noted that the Kerry campaign has been claiming, apparently falsely, that its candidate is a former vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Blogger Greg Taggart contacted the Senate historian and asked for "a list of senators who have served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence over the last 15 years, including who has served as Chairman and Vice Chairman of that committee over those years."

Kerry served on the committee between 1993 and 2000, but he never was vice chairman. Taggart sent us the PDF document he received from the historian, and here's a complete list of vice chairmen:

  • William Cohen (R., Maine), 1989-90
  • Frank Murkowsi (R., Alaska), 1991-92
  • John Warner (R., Va.), 1993-94
  • Bob Kerrey (D., Neb.), 1995-99
  • Richard Bryan (D., Nev.), 2000
  • Bob Graham (D., Fla.), 2001
  • Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), 2001-02
  • John Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), 2003-present

It does appear that Kerry's campaign has mistaken Kerry for Bob Kerrey. Let's hope they don't start claiming Kerry was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam.

Bloggers Hit the Trail
A year ago on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, we had a little fun at the expense of politicians who were trying their hand at blogging. But we've gotta love this story, actually a press release from the Iraq Pro-Democracy Party:

Two popular Iraqi webloggers, Ali Fadhil and Mohammed Fadhil, today announced their candidacies for the Iraqi National Assembly.

The bloggers, who are brothers, have been writing their popular weblog www.IraqTheModel.com since November of 2003. Their weblog has been quoted in major world media, including the BBC, USA Today, [The] Wall Street Journal, National Review, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Bulletin, Dallas Morning [News], and New York Post.

We believe that we represent an important segment of the Iraqi people that was never organized before under any category as a result of the oppression of the past regime. Now this segment has come to see the necessity to contribute to the building of a new Iraq in a way that is entirely different from the old ways that are still dominant in the Middle East and that are governed by religious fanaticism and pan-Arab nationalism.

We see that remaining silent is not an option in our battle towards democracy and freedom and that everyone who seeks a better future should take part in this battle.

Two years ago, Iraq had one political party and no blogs. Now, thanks to America and our allies, it has a Pro-Democracy Party and two bloggers-turned-candidates. Meanwhile, America has a party that calls itself Democratic, even though most of its members would rather Iraq still be a dictatorship.

This Just In
"Some Groups Skeptical of Iraq War"--headline, Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, Aug. 18

How to Get a 'Piece' in the New York Times
Boy, the guys at the New York Times have amazing expense accounts. The New York Observer reports:

Since January 2003, the paper has included "Gunmen" under the miscellaneous options on its electronic expense-reporting form.

"Gunmen" appears in the program, produced by Concur Technologies, just before "Internet" and "Laundry." And it occurs just after "Fixers," another January 2003 addition. "Fixers" covers the helpers--usually local journalists--who serve as idea-generators, translators and general facilitators for foreign correspondents. "Gunmen" apparently covers the more narrowly specialized facilitators who use guns. . . .

Asked to explain the thinking behind adding the gunmen in the first place, The Times turned to its time-tested protective measure: impenetrability. "I can tell you," a spokesperson wrote, "that we establish expense categories for various reasons, including expense control and analysis, what our internal customers or business units would like to see on a reporting basis, to help us negotiate favorable vendor contracts and to satisfy statutory reporting requirements principally in the tax area as some expenses are not fully deductible."

No one has actually filed an expense report for a gunman, and the Times plans to remove the option from its expense software. It's not clear if the paper will also eliminate its magazine, but this should put a stop to the rumors that the Old Gray Lady is changing her name from the Times to the Bullet-In.

What Would We Do Without Owners?
"Mobile Homes a Danger in Hurricane Zones, Owners Say"--headline, Reuters, Aug. 17

What Would We Do Without Juries?
"Jury Decides Knife Attack Was Attempted Murder"--headline, Las Vegas Sun, Aug. 16

Germany's Last Stand
EU-niks are taking a stand against standing. "German men are being shamed into urinating while sitting down by a gadget which is saving millions of women from cleaning up in the bathroom after them," reports London's Daily Telegraph:

The WC ghost, a £6 voice-alarm, reprimands men for standing at the lavatory pan. It is triggered when the seat is lifted. The battery-operated devices are attached to the seats and deliver stern warnings to those who attempt to stand and urinate (known as "Stehpinkeln").

"Hey, stand-peeing is not allowed here and will be punished with fines, so if you don't want any trouble, you'd best sit down," one of the devices orders in a voice impersonating the German leader, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Another has a voice similar to that of his predecessor, Helmut Kohl.

The manufacturer plans to market an English-speaking version in the United Kingdom:

Their prototype English-speaking WC ghost says in an American drawl: "Don't you go wetting this floor cowboy, you never know who's behind you. So sit down, get your water pistol in the bowl where it belongs. Ha, ha, ha."

So that's what Europeans mean when they criticize Americans as "cowboys."

The Telegraph notes that "in German, the phrase for someone who sits and urinates, a 'Sitzpinkler,' is equivalent to 'wimp,' " The paper also cites an expert called Klaus Schwerma, author of "Stehpinkeln: Die Letzte Bastion der Männlichkeit?"--an actual book, the title of which translates as "Standing Urinators: The Last Bastion of Masculinity?"

This makes all the more unsettling the New York Times' observation, in that editorial blasting President Bush's military reorganization plan, that an "advantage" of stationing U.S. soldiers in Germany is that it gives them "the experience of living in other cultures." Pulling out of Germany may prove beneficial to America's defensive posture in more ways than one.

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Peter August, John Williamson, Chris Timmons, Michael Segal, Mike Williamson, Alisa Duncanson, Dan O'Shea, Tom George, Brent Silver, Michael Britton, M. Gilbertson, Erik Moy, Jeff Marti, Jennifer Ray, Mike Brogley, Madison Bagley, Tom Villars, Paul Siebenshuh, Thomas Dillon, Paul Music, Gary Strahl and Pete Drum. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

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