Friday, April 29, 2005

1. Disgust 2. Despair 3. Detachment
With the Phils trailing Florida by the dispiriting score of 4-0 in the fourth inning, I'm about to pack it in for the evening and go to the gym. Why burn any more time on a game that started with Damian freakin' Easley taking Randy Wolf out of the yard, and has scarcely gotten better from there? The Marlins have three home runs in the game; they'd come in with 14 on the season.

I was thinking earlier that every time the Phils play the Marlins, Ed Wade's emotion should be deep, deep shame that Fish GM Larry Beinfast eats his lunch so consistently.

Every failing of Wade's is a strength of Beinfast's. Scared to promote the kids, as Wade has been with virtually every good prospect the team has developed in his tenure? Beinfast wasn't; without lefty pitcher Dontrelle Willis, then 21 and outfielder Miguel Cabrera, who was 20 when he reached the majors, there's no 2003 World Series trophy in Miami (but it's likely that some Paul Abbott type would have increased his service time). Unwilling to fire your manager even when it's clear he has failed? Beinfast pulled the trigger in spring of that year, canning Jeff Torborg and bringing in septuagenarian Jack McKeon. Wade couldn't even fire Larry Bowa after the Phils imploded down the stretch that same year, and Bowa's ineptitude ruined another season afterward. Can't trade in mid-season? The Urbina and Conine pickups lifted the Fish over the Phils the same year that Wade added Mike Williams, who was as bad as incumbent closer Jose Mesa.

Add in the Marlins' superior farm system, opportunistic/"buy low" player acquisition--he got closer Armando Benitez after '03 and saw him put up a dominant 2004 season for peanuts, and made economical pickups of Al Leiter and, relatively speaking, slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado this year--and smart resource management, e.g. letting Benitez and Carl Pavano walk last off-season, and I can't imagine there's a baseball fan in the world who doesn't realize the better executive.

Can you imagine Wade trying to contend with any of what the Marlins have had to deal with? Ownership change. Stadium uncertainty. Tight budget constraints.

Conversely, think about what a guy like Beinfast could do with the Phils' larger market and bigger revenue stream. And just know that David Montgomery, that pimple of a Phils managing partner, probably never will.

edit: Thome struck out, for the 25th time this season, as I typed the above. Burrell then followed with an RBI hit off the left-field wall, scoring Abreu (who'd walked, of course) but was held to a single. This proved important, as Chase Utley, after working the count full, ended the inning with a 4-6-3 double play. Your 2005 Phillies, in a nutshell.
It's been a while since I threw propers at Rev. Jim Wallis, the guiding spirit of Sojourners and the emerging champion of a religiously informed politics with a decidedly more progressive bent than what Dobson, Tony ("Norman Bates") Perkins and their radical colleagues have to offer. In his latest "Hearts and Minds" column, Wallis calls the drive of "conservatives of faith" to remake the federal judiciary in their own intolerant image for what it is: An attempt to hijack Christianity.

After the "Justice Sunday" event, and the controversy surrounding it, some of the sponsors are denying they ever claimed that those who oppose them are hostile to people of faith. Yet their words stand for themselves. In the letter announcing the event on the Family Research Council Web site, Tony Perkins wrote: "Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked...because they are people of faith and moral convictions.... We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

So, I told the Louisville rally that when someone has stolen our faith in the public arena, it is time to take our faith back. "Justice Sunday" was an attempt to hijack Christianity for a partisan and ideological agenda. Those on the Religious Right are declaring a religious war to give their version of faith religious supremacy in America. And some members of the Republican Party seem ready almost to declare a Christian theocracy in America. It is time to take back both our faith and our Constitution.

It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation's future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

One hope I hold through all of this is that, if people like Wallis grow in prominence and visibility by reclaiming the faith-informed tradition of Henry Ward Beecher and Martin Luther King Jr., more secular-minded liberals will realize what a (potential) friend we have in Jesus, and his followers. While religious and non-religious progressives are always likely to disagree on issues like abortion, the recognition that we substantially share a larger moral framework would lead to a more positive politics, and in time to better societal outcomes as well.
True Confessions
I've never been a big fan of Andrew Sullivan. An expat Brit with an opinion on seemingly every aspect of American political life, devout Catholic, foreign-policy hawk, avowed conservative and out of the closet gay man and outspoken champion of gay marriage rights, the guy rarely has trouble getting attention for his views--even when he's not exposed cruising the web for rough sex. My problems have been with his pomposity and occasional intellectual incoherence.

But the man can think, and he can write. And in this week's New Republic, he's penned a really insightful and interesting cover story on the deep schism in the right-wing coalition. Dividing contemporary Republicans into "conservatives of faith," a faction deeply informed by religion who brook no moral uncertainty and argue that since government cannot remain neutral on personal questions, it has an obligation to intervene wherever fundamental values (as they see them) are imperiled, and "conservatives of doubt," who believe that absolute truths are unknowable, that actions have consequences, and that as a result government should generally err on the side of inaction, Sullivan advances the argument that, for the first time, what splits these two factions might be more compelling than what unites them. He begins by surveying what the ascendance of "conservatives of faith" has meant in terms of the recent transformation of American government:

What matters to conservatives of faith is therefore less the size of government than its meaning and structure. If it is harnessed to uphold their definition of the good life--protecting a stable family structure, upholding Biblical morality, protecting the vulnerable--then its size is irrelevant, as long as it doesn't overwhelm civil society. Indeed, using government to promote certain activities (the proper care of children, support for the poor, legal privileges for heterosexual relationships) and to deter others (recreational drug use, divorce, gay unions, abortion, indecent television) is integral to the conservative project. Bush has added another twist to this philosophy, seeking not only to expand government programs from the top down, but from the bottom up, by incorporating new mechanisms that give citizens more choice. Hence Health Savings Accounts in Medicare and personal accounts within Social Security. If that actually means more government borrowing and spending, so be it. If government must be expanded to give more people a sense of "ownership" within government programs, fine. This is what remains of conservatism's old belief in individual freedom. The new conservatism of faith has substituted real choice in a free market for regulated choice within an ever-expanding welfare state.
As Republicans found that it was hard to reduce the size of government, they decided to stop worrying and deploy it for their own goals.

As a result, Republicans now support institutions they previously vilified: Whereas they once wanted to abolish the federal Department of Education, now they want to wield it to advance their own agenda on educational standards and morals (no wonder that, in four years, Bush has doubled--yes, doubled--its budget). They are willing to concern themselves with aspects of human life that conservatives once believed should be free of all government interference. In his 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush said, "I propose a $450 million initiative to bring mentors to more than a million disadvantaged junior high students and children of prisoners. ... I propose a new $600 million program to help an additional 300,000 Americans receive [drug] treatment over the next three years." And the conservative movement, begun partially in resistance to federal intervention in what was regarded as the states' spheres of influence, today has endorsed dramatic federal supremacy over state prerogatives. The No Child Left Behind Act entailed a massive transfer of power from states to the federal government--not just a difference from Reagan-era conservatism, but its opposite.

No wonder the size of government has exploded. The federal government now spends around $22,000 per household per year--up from a little under $19,000 in 2000. Total government spending has increased by an astonishing 33 percent since 2000. This isn't all about post-September 11 defense and homeland security. According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, since 2001, federal spending on housing and commerce has jumped 86 percent, community and regional development 71 percent, and Medicaid some 46 percent.

And in the other corner, "conservatives of doubt."

The alternative philosophical tradition begins in precise opposition to the new conservatives' confidence in faith and reason as direct, accessible routes to universal truth. The conservatism of doubt asks how anyone can be sure that his view of what is moral or good is actually true. Conservatives of doubt note that even the most dogmatic of institutions, such as the Catholic or Mormon churches, have changed their views over many centuries, and that, even within such institutions, there is considerable debate about difficult moral issues... [t]heir alternative is a skeptical, careful, prudential approach to all moral questions--and suspicion of anyone claiming to hold the absolute truth. Since such an approach rarely provides a simple answer persuasive to everyone within a democratic society, we live with moral and cultural pluralism.

For conservatives of faith, such pluralism can allow error to flourish--and immorality to become government policy--and therefore must be limited. A conservative of doubt, however, does not regard the existence of such pluralism as a problem. He sees it as an unavoidable fact of modernity, an invitation to lives that are more challenging and autonomous than in more traditional societies. Even when conservatives of doubt disagree with others' moral convictions, they recognize that, in a free, pluralist society, those other views deserve a hearing. So a conservative who believes abortion is always immoral can reconcile herself to a polity in which abortion is still legal, if regulated. Putting government power unequivocally on the side of one view of morality--especially in extremely controversial areas--must always be balanced against the rights and views of citizens who dissent. And, precisely because complete government neutrality may be impossible on these issues, government should tread as lightly as possible. The key in areas of doubt is to do as little harm as possible. Which often means, with respect to government power, doing as little as possible.

Doubt, in other words, means restraint.
Conservatives of doubt are not necessarily atheists or amoralists. Many are devout Christians who embrace a strong separation of church and state--for the sake of religion as much as politics. Others may be Oakeshottian skeptics, or Randian individualists, or Burkean pragmatists, or libertarian idealists. But they all agree that the only solution to deep social disagreement is not a forced supremacy of a majority or minority, but an attempt to keep government as neutral as possible, power as close to people as possible, and as much economic power in the hands of the private sector as possible.

Sullivan goes on to note that certain charismatic leaders on the right, most notably Ronald Reagan, have unified both factions. The more interesting example to me, though, is Barry Goldwater--one of the most decisive losers in American political history, but also one of the most ultimately influential and important. Goldwater (and I suppose Reagan as well) came across as a "conservative of faith," but acted like a "conservative of doubt"--particularly in the later years of his Senate career, he bent strongly libertarian on questions of gay rights and showed a streak of fiscal prudence that would leave him in the lonely company of the McCains and Snowes were he in the Senate today. Another way to frame this schism is to counterpose pragmatists and dogmatists: both Reagan and Goldwater were ultimately pragmatic politicians, though in Reagan's case it certainly helped that he was always balanced by a Democratic House, and in his last two years by a Democratic Senate as well.

Having set the pieces on the board, Sullivan goes on to delineate their conflict:

Since there is no higher authority than God, and, since there can be no higher priority than obeying him, the entire notion of separating politics and religion is inherently troublesome to the fundamentalist mind. Whereas for older types of faith-conservatives, religion informed their view of the world and shaped the way they entered civil discourse, the new conservatives of faith bring their religious tenets, unmediated, into the public square.
In response to several court cases across the country that edged closer and closer to giving legal equality to gays and lesbians, conservatives in Washington responded by proposing--as a first resort--a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage and any of its benefits from being granted to same-sex couples. Again, what's interesting is just how far-reaching the initial position was. Several other conservative positions were ruled out in advance: that marriage is a conservative institution that should include gays; that states should be allowed to figure out their own marriage policies as they have done for decades; that no action need be taken as long as the Defense of Marriage Act remained on the books, preventing one state's marriages from being foisted on another; or that conservatives could support civil unions or halfway measures that could grant gays some, but not all, of the rights of heterosexual marriage.

In various state constitutional amendments, again actively promoted by the Republican Party, gay couples were also denied benefits or protections. Judges--some liberal, many conservative--were described as "activists" or "extremists" if they applied their state constitution's guarantees of equal protection to gay couples. The rhetoric was extraordinary. Letting gays marry was equated with the "abolition" of marriage, even though no one was proposing to change heterosexual marriage rights one iota. "Homosexuals ... want to destroy the institution of marriage," James Dobson said. "It will destroy the Earth."
The religious right's insistence that homosexuality is a psychological disease requiring treatment forced the president to avoid ever using the words "gay" or "lesbian" or "homosexual" in his speeches; even recognizing the existence of gay citizens was too much for the social right. No surprise, then, that the 2004 Republican Party platform called for constitutional amendments banning all legal benefits and protections for gay couples everywhere in the United States. In a society with a big openly gay population, this was not a politics of moderation. It was and is a crusade.

Crusades, however, are not means of persuasion. They are means of coercion. And so it is no accident that the crusading Republicans are impatient with institutional obstacles in their way. The judiciary, which is designed to check executive and legislative decisions, is now the first object of attack. Bare-knuckled character assassination of opponents is part of the repertoire: Just look at the swift-boat smears of John Kerry. The filibuster is attacked. The mass media is targeted, not simply to correct bad or biased reporting, but to promote points of view that are openly sectarian, even if, as in the case of Armstrong Williams, you have to pay for people to endorse your views. Religious right dominance of the party machinery, in an electoral landscape remade by gerrymandering, means that few opponents of fundamentalist politics have a future in the Republican Party.

This piece, for all its abundant insight, ultimately disappoints the way Andrew Sullivan usually disappoints: in the end, he seems to conclude that staying within a Republican coalition that actively detests him as a gay man, and ideologically dismisses him as a "conservative of doubt" still beats hanging with the Democrats. This to me is emblematic of a larger problem with our politics: team loyalty all too often trumps notions of the public good.

To my view, the great political cause of our time is containing and defeating the moral absolutism and undeterred ideological aggression of the current dominant strain in the Republican Party. Left unchecked, they'll wreck our economy (the subject of my next post), impose a singular twisted ideal of morality, and remake America along lines unrecognizable to those who have gone before us. This was the key issue of last year's presidential campaign, and it will continue to dominate our politics for the next three years. I've said before, and I'm sure I'll say again, that we have until November 2008 to test this premise that American democracy is self-correcting and ultimately punishes absolutism and political arrogance. If it fails to do so in the next two electoral cycles, that will be a clear signal that the "grand experiment" has finally failed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

This is What Theocracy Looks Like
Ready for the money quote from this past weekend's "Justice Sunday"? Here it is, courtesy of Michele Goldberg's piece in

"We are not calling for people to be moral, we want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."
--Al Mohler, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Yeah, this is the guy I want picking federal jurists. This runs more directly counter to my own leanings than anything else I've read in this whole debate: my deal is that we absolutely should call for people to be moral, and that the dogmatic strictures and social control aspects of organized religion often do more harm than good in that effort. Swap out "Jesus Christ" for "the Prophet Muhammad" and think of some notable villains you could imagine speaking that line.

Here's Goldberg expanding on the point:

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, angrily recalled something that Judge Charles Pickering, one of the appellate court nominees that Democrats blocked, was asked during his hearings. "He was asked about something he said as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. He said, of all things, that Christians ought to base their decision making on the Bible ... that is normative Christianity! There's what it means to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and to be a Christian incorporated into the body of Christ!"

Of course, the concern about Pickering's comment at the hearings had to do with the implication that when the law contradicts his reading of the Bible, he sets the law aside. In the rhetoric surrounding Justice Sunday, though, expecting judges to put the law before their personal theology constitutes discrimination that threatens all Christians. "If it's Judge Pickering now, it can be you tomorrow," Mohler warned.

The language on Sunday was consistently apocalyptic. Dobson, the avuncular culture warrior, declared, "I think this is one of the most significant issues we've ever faced as a nation, because the future of democracy and ordered liberty actually depends on the outcome of this struggle." After all, the Supreme Court is responsible for "the biggest holocaust in world history" -- the legalization of abortion. "For 44 years, the Supreme Court has been on a campaign to limit religious freedom," Dobson said. He continued, "We do have a right to participate in this great representative form of government." From the way the crowd cheered, you'd have thought someone had told them they didn't.

The cognitive disconnect here would be funny if it weren't so frightening. In calling for a remedy to "unaccountable activist judges," the religious extremists champion avowedly activist judges accountable only to (their very specific conception of) God. But don't take my word for it: Janice Rogers Brown, one of the (figuratively) martyred nominees, has declared herself a holy warrior against "secular humanists who [threaten] to divorce America from its religious roots."

Brown is perhaps the most interesting of Bush's blocked nominees: she's African-American, and thusly probably gets Karl Rove quite excited in his long-term goal of peeling off that usually Democratic constituency by appealing to their social conservatism on homosexuality and other issues. And while the business community, which as Bull Moose points out isn't primarily interested in Dobsonite crusades to save the world for theocracy, that key Republican base group probably loves Brown's contention that the New Deal marked "the triumph of our socialist revolution." So in a way, she's as perfect a "Bridge Republican" as Tom DeLay himself, winning favor from fundamentalists of both the kulturkampf and free market stripes.

Nobody said these guys were stupid.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What a difference a week makes. When the Phils took two of three from Atlanta in Philly last weekend, taking two taut one-run victories, and then beat the Mets last Monday to go above .500 at 7-6, it looked like their pitching might be for real and there was ample confidence that the bats would pick up. I felt pretty good that the team was winning close ones, even though they seemed to be losing blowouts.

Since then, they've stopped winning close ones, or any other kind. Tuesday, the Mets drubbed Vicente Padilla, 16-4; the next day, Colorado won its first game on the road all season by a 7-4 score. Jon Lieber stopped the bleeding Thursday afternoon to get the team back to .500 with his fourth win in four starts, but this weekend in Atlanta has been lost in every sense of the word. Brett Myers came back to earth in a 6-2 loss Friday night; Randy Wolf got crushed 11-1 yesterday; and as I write this the Phils are being shut out this afternoon by underwhelming (and wild) Braves starter John Thomson. Padilla walked the ballpark and gave up a bunch of two-out, run-scoring hits in three terrible innings. At last count they've been outscored 20-3 for the weekend.

I don't want to over-react, but right now this looks like a lousy team: they swing at an ungodly number of bad pitches, the starters, aside from Lieber and maybe Myers, are all pitching down to the level their doubters expected; the bullpen is a disaster; they're old, slow, and not hitting the home runs they need to win games the way the offense was constructed. They're expensive--in the top fifth of all baseball, in terms of salary--and will become more so as Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu move deeper into their 30s. And they've got a GM who likely will never work in baseball again after he finally gets his well-deserved dismissal.

Add in a mostly barren farm system and the good prospects of their competitors--the Mets are about to launch their own cable network, the Marlins and Nationals have new stadiums to look forward to, and the Braves are loaded through their own minor league chain--and this aging, expensive team looks poised for absolute disaster over the next three to five seasons. The city of Philadelphia hates this team; in the second season of the expensive new stadium, attendance is already down by almost 50 percent, and they're booed mercilessly game in and game out. The inept GM is arrogant, confrontational and reflexively dismissive of criticism; the out-of-touch ownership group, having gotten their publicly subsidized stadium, seems totally indifferent to the performance of the team on the field.

It's hard to see how things will get better. One idea that I see taking hold is a high-volume fan protest, pledging to stay away from the ballpark until the GM is gone and the doofus ownership group sells the club. It's not like they'll likely be missing much over the next few years.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Time Out of Joint
Other preoccupations and distractions have kept me off the blog for a few days; the Phils keeping losing three, then winning three, and I don't have much enthusiasm, or particularly well-informed opinions, on John Bolton and the newly elevated Pope Benedict XVI. I'm fairly sure the former is an ass-hat, and I'm hoping the latter surprises me by proving himself otherwise.

I do have an opinion, a pretty strong one, about Time magazine's decision to put Ann Coulter on its cover this week. (What, they didn't have any more Jesus cover stories in the can?) You have to love the timing, however: this week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City terror attack, carried out by far right-wing extremists who hated the federal guv'mit. One of Coulter's more memorable "witticisms"--the Time story offers fawning praise for her sense of humor--was that she only wished Timothy McVeigh had driven his explosives-laden truck into the New York Times building.

Why do I have the feeling that if, say, Arundhati Roy had said, "I only wish McVeigh had driven his truck into the American Enterprise Institute's building," our media betters wouldn't see the humor in her statement?

Coulter's myriad falsehoods and smears are exhaustively documented; today's Daily Howler offers a very quick primer, for one. But her more serious transgressions, I think, are that you can look long and hard through her writings and you'll find not a word about love of country, the value of democracy and self-government, or connection of whatever policy issue she's demagoguing about to some core value of America. No, it's all about the monstrous evil of liberals, the hideous character of Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton or whoever she's demonizing, and occasionally you'll discern a piteous whine about how Christians are so horribly persecuted in this country. (Maybe Time had been leading up to making her its cover girl with all those shout-outs to the Jesusmeister.)

Worst of all, as I've written here before, is her tactic of demonizing those with whom she disagrees. From her statement at this winter's Conservative Political Action Conference that it's time to give those liberals a taste of "the McCarthyism they're always whining about," to her calls to racially profile "swarthy men" at airports, to her suggestion that America should treat with the Arab world by "invad[ing] their countries, kill[ing] their leaders, and convert[ing] them to Christianity," the recommended solutions always involve division and scapegoating, and usually at least strongly imply violence. The First Amendment protects this sort of hate speech, but it's hard to see how it contains enough value to be propagated.

Here's the best thing I've read about the larger picture and the politics of Time. After a review of how the magazine served as the Fox News of the late '40s and through the 1950s, author Billmon dismisses the argument that Time is simply coming full circle:

...the differences between the old Time and the new Time not only show how much the magazine has changed, they also highlight how much the news media as a whole have been changed by the rise of the mega-monster entertainment conglomerates – such as Time Warner AOL CNN HBO Elektra etc. etc.

Time isn’t returning to its roots – if anything, it’s moving even further away from them. The old Time was conservative, right down to its DNA; the new Time is pandering to the conservatives, right down to its bottom line.

The old Time mirrored the obsessions of its founder, which were only partially, and not even primarily, commercial. The new Time is only part – and probably not even the largest part – of a line item on a quarterly profit and loss statement. The Time drones are giving head to Ann Coulter for the same reason the NBC clones are putting Left Behind knock offs in the fall line up: They’re both terrified they’ve lost touch with the mass audience, which they believe (based on what evidence I don’t know) to be drifting deeper and deeper into wacko land.

But there’s absolutely no conviction behind it, no Lucian desire to smite the wicked and elect the virtuous. Heck, according to, Time-Warner is the bluest of the blue corporations, with its executives giving a cool 77% of their $1.7 million in political contributions to the Democrats in the 2003-04 cycle.

Which is exactly why the magazine's fawning treatment of the conservative Mafia is being repaid with such contempt. Time is offering the journalistic equivalent of protection money, but the crew has something bigger in mind – like busting up the joint and taking it over.

In less abstract matters, let's also take a moment for melancholy over the pending retirement of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords. The Republican-turned-Independent whose rejection of his erstwhile party's hard right turn gave the Democrats control of the Senate in 2001 was among the last of a dying breed: responsible fiscal conservatives and social moderates within the Party of Lincoln.

Jeffords put country over party. I'm nearing the end of David McCullough's biography of another man who made that choice, albeit in a time when party allegiences weren't nearly so fixed: John Adams. It's probably too much to hope that, as Jeffords nears the end of his career in public service, many of his former partisan colleagues will contemplate casting votes on similar grounds.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The 50-50-60 Rule
An old and as far as I know unattributed piece of baseball folk wisdom is that of the 162 games of the season, for 99 percent of the teams (excluding only the all-time worst and best), you'll win 50 games and lose 50 games just by showing up. It's what happens in those other 60 (really 62, but poetic license is taken), which stay close into the later innings and "could go either way," that show you how good of a team you have.

The Phillies are 5-6 this afternoon, but I think a maybe more revealing way to think about their first couple weeks of play is to break the games down into that 50-50-60 structure. The team's first six games, which they split, seemed to include three "win 50" contests (the lopsided Opening Day win against the Nationals and the two against the Cardinals) and three "other 60" games--the two against Washington and one in St. Louis in which the Phils squandered late-inning leads and wound up losing. The frustration was that the team could have been, arguably should have been, 6-0.

Of the five games since then, in which the Phils are 2-3, I think the trend has reversed: they lost three games that weren't close--the two complete games thrown by Burnett and Willis--and won two that "could have gone either way, a 4-1 victory last Monday in Miami in which the bullpen threw three-plus scoreless, and today's hair-raising 2-1 win against the Braves in Philly.

From a pure fan perspective, this was a satisfying contest: both starters throwing darts and working fast, turning points in the field and on the basepaths, clutch hitting on both sides. John Smoltz pitched one of the better two-loss weeks you'll ever see from a starter, getting nicked for two runs in seven innings today after tossing 15 strikeouts against the Mets last Sunday in a game he lost at the end. Jon Lieber, though, did what an ace is supposed to do--break losing streaks--in throwing eight sharp frames. Strike one on batter after batter, using his defense, always around the plate. The Braves had two runners thrown out trying to steal by backup catcher Todd Pratt--one immediately preceding what would have been a run-scoring double. Smoltz in seeming big trouble in the sixth, giving up a solo homer and back-to-back walks, only to reach back and dominate Thome and Burrell. On the verge of escaping trouble when Utley, smart-aggressive at the plate, jumps on the first pitch and seeing-eyes it through for the eventual game-winner.

The Phils preserving it with one defensive gem after another--Thome spearing a potential triple, Lofton quickly learning the park, Wagner laboring in the ninth, getting squeezed. Nemesis after nemesis coming up: Estrada, mocking the Millwood trade, then Franco, dealt away in a hubristic move almost a quarter-century ago, and then Jordan, who never, ever seems not to hit the Phils. Wagner behind in the count, throwing a seed, Jordan turning it around on a line seemingly bound for right-centerfield pasture, and Utley ("not known for his defense") leaping from literally off the screen to snare it--preserving the win.

This was grace; this was something we know at a cellular level DOESN'T HAPPEN TO THE PHILS. That the script was flipped, feels like the clouds suddenly parting, God's heavenly light (or a similarly beneficient natural process) shining down on us. I could all but hear the seraphic choir, just in from Boston.

But certainly a game that could have gotten away at any number of points, determined by some fraction of an inch around where the bat struck the ball. Not a game we perceive the Phils as likely to win. And they won it.

Would they have won it under Bowa? The instinct is to say no, no way, though I'm sure that if you went through linescores, they won a dozen or two games like this, probably every year; that's the essence of the "50-50-60," you'll win enough of those to finish above .500. Some teams seem to win a freakish number of them, like the 2003 Royals; this is how teams get described as "clutch," "disciplined," "well-coached." Sometimes, as with the Twins under Gardenhire, this happens to be true--but the bigger factors (and, likely, those are correlated with being "well-coached," etc) are high-quality relief pitching and a lot of dangerous hitters. Over time, those people performing the way you'd expect them to perform seems to translate to "clutch."

So for the year, they're about back to even in the "60". That bodes well, though another piece of baseball folk truth is that "momentum's only as good as tomorrow's starter," and we're still not sure whether Brett Myers is just teasing, or has really raised his game.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Anti-judicial "Activism"
Every time I hear James Dobson or one of his fellow would-be theocrats talking about how persecuted Christians are, I always flash to Germany claiming Poland fired first in September 1939. But The American Prospect lets us know that more such victimization claims are on the way:

In a speech laced with claims that the federal courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, have “systematically attacked Christianity,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins announced the launch of a new campaign by the right to turn the confirmation battle into a religious war against the “anti-Christian left.”
In a live simulcast sent out to more than 1,000 churches across the country and broadcast on the Christian Television Network, Perkins and Dr. James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) will make the case that Senate Democrats have opposed a handful of the president’s judicial nominees not out of honest concern about their extreme political views but, simply, because the nominees are Christians.

“We must communicate to people of faith across this country that this is a filibuster of people of faith,” he said last week. “That the courts are consistently taking away the religious liberties of Christians in particular, and people of faith in general, in this nation.”

The next day, the onslaught on Capitol Hill is set to begin. Perkins said, “We are going to hold our fire [until April 24 -- "Justice Sunday”], and then we begin to just pound the United States Senate with phone calls and faxes, telling them to stop filibustering people of faith and vote up or down on the president’s judicial nominees. We have got to get the Christians of this country -- people of faith -- to understand that this is an issue; this is a battle they cannot miss.”

During the simulcast, listeners will undoubtedly be reminded of the religious credentials of some of the president’s stalled federal court nominees: Priscilla Owen is a Sunday school teacher; Charles Pickering is former president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention; and Mark Pryor is a devout Catholic.

Perkins, Dobson, and other leaders of the religious right will also make it clear to their supporters that helping the Bush administration in its efforts to pack the courts with Antonin Scalia-type conservatives is the only way to save the republic from what Dobson has described as an impending “long night of paganism.”

This would seem simple to factually disprove--of the hundreds of federally appointed jurists, I'm guessing that a majority of them are practicing Christians. Of course, factual arguments aren't really of interest to these people: they are, to put it much more kindly than they deserve, outcome-focused. Perhaps this is what seems to draw some of their more prominent spokespeople to favorable citations of Stalin, who was also notoriously goal-oriented.

This effort amounts to a frontal assault on both the tradition of pluralism and the notion that American law should reflect both adherence to the founding principles of the nation, and the sense of contemporary majorities as expressed by legislatures.

Nobody seems to have commented on this, but if you want to see the logical extension of what Perkins, Dobson, Tom DeLay and their counterparts on the anti-judicial fringe right are really interested in, one good place to look might be Atlanta. There, Eric Robert Rudolph yesterday was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for a series of bombing attacks he committed in the 1990s, attacks inspired by his hatred of legalized abortion and the "public practice" of homosexuality. If those concerns sound familiar, that's not a coincidence.

Mr. Rudolph's statement, an amalgam of biblical quotations, sermonizing and an oddly passive voice, offered a glimpse of how he had planned and carried out the bombings and of his five years as the nation's most famous fugitive, celebrated by some for his beliefs, admired by others for his ability to survive in the Appalachian wilderness, and reviled by many as a domestic terrorist.

Abortion was his central foe, though the Olympics, he wrote, promoted the "despicable ideals" of "global socialism" expressed in its theme song, John Lennon's "Imagine." His goal was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least scare people away...

As for the attack on the gay nightclub, Mr. Rudolph, who has a gay brother, wrote that homosexuality practiced in private was acceptable, but that any effort to "drag this practice out of the closet" and have society recognize it as legitimate or normal "should be ruthlessly opposed."

I was working at the 1996 Olympics, was still in our office the night the bomb went off in Centennial Park (and remained there for the next eight hours or so), and I can tell you that the effect was much as this bastard intended. The Games went on, but under a pall of despair that didn't really lift until the closing ceremonies.

The difference between Eric Robert Rudolph and the Perkins/Dobson set isn't much more than one of skill sets. One knew how to work explosives; the others know how to work public opinion. I feel certain that these extremists don't come close to representing the majority views of American Christians--but if more responsible elements don't come forward and speak out about what's happening here, we'll all suffer for it.

Monday, April 11, 2005

When They Call This Good News...
New polling in the putative Spitzer-Pataki 2006 gubernatorial contest here in the Empire State:

Republican Gov. George Pataki has narrowed the gap against state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in a possible 2006 governor's race, according to a statewide poll released Monday.

The Siena College Research Institute poll of registered voters had Democrat Spitzer leading Pataki 48 percent to 34 percent. A Siena poll conducted last month had Spitzer leading Pataki 53 percent to 30 percent.

Can't you just hear it now? "Congratulations, Governor: you're up to 34 percent!"

It's moot, of course; Pataki isn't running next year, and I wouldn't be surprised if he never stands for election again. He's interested in the do-re-mi, and should cash in nicely just as his one-time mentor Al D'Amato did before him.

I have very, very little regard for George Pataki, but his career might stand up to future historians as a classic example of a public figure who perfectly navigated the various political currents of the last decade-plus. Pataki won the governor's mansion in 1994, riding a national Republican wave and the same kind of voter fatigue with his predecessor, three-term incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo, that Pataki will forego next year. He cruised to re-election in 1998 like most other state-level incumbents of that time, riding on the strong economy; the hot race in New York that year was for the Senate, with Chuck Schumer making D'Amato pay the price for his high-profile involvement in the various Clinton witch-hunts. Four years later, Pataki might have been vulnerable; but the halo effect of 9/11, combined with his overwhelming money advantage compared to underwhelming Democratic nominee H. Carl McCall and some shrewd political deal-making with union kingpin Dennis Rivera brought him through.

Pataki supposedly fashions himself a contender for national office, the vice-presidency if not the White House. But like most Republicans in generally Democratic states, he's doomed to fail any number of political litmus tests: he's pro-choice, gay-tolerant, surprisingly good on the environment, and has shown occasional tendencies toward pragmatic policymaking on issues such as public assistance. His anti-tax absolutism isn't enough, he won't help any Republican nominee carry New York or anywhere else, and he's nobody's idea of an electrifying speaker or inspiring personality. He'll take his pension, sell his influence, pop up on local talk shows, write the occasional Times op-ed, and fade into well-deserved obscurity.
Shays' Rebellion
Since the rest of the world probably isn't as obsessed with the Phils 23-run, two-day outburst in St. Louis this weekend, I'm a bit surprised that the remarks of Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) haven't gotten more attention. Shays, a moderate Republican in a heavily Democratic district, called this weekend for our pal Tom DeLay to resign his leadership post in the House of Representatives after earlier asserting that he would never vote for DeLay as Speaker of the House.

I've written earlier about how the DeLay Affair is emblematic of a larger split within the Republican coalition, and it's hardly surprising that Shays--the Republican House champion of campaign finance reform, and an outspoken opponent of the trend toward theocracy in the Republican Party--comes down on the other side from DeLay. And Shays is no dummy: he barely survived a strong Democratic challenge in his re-election bid last fall, and knows that as a New England Republican he stands athwart the long-term trend of his state and region toward deep Blue political allegience. (TAPPED and others have noted that Shays' rejection of DeLay somewhat smacks of "doth protest too much" in light of previous, more favorable comments he's made about the pride of the Texas bug-killing industry.)

This may be so, but I'm kind of a Chris Shays fan, mostly for the reasons noted above. He's pretty much what I think a Republican should be: a true fiscal conservative enamored of balanced budgets, somewhat distrustful of both political elites (as demonstrated by his support for campaign finance reform) and the enraged masses (hence his complaints about "the party of theocracy"). He's no Democrat; I'm pretty sure he's anti-choice, and his support for Social Security privatization shows that on a lot of economics issues he's probably little better than DeLay. What I most like about him, as with his Senate counterpart John McCain, is that he seems to believe that given a level political playing field, democracy will work as it should. That's his biggest contrast with DeLay, whose disinterest in a level political playing field is the defining characteristic of his career in public life.

Will the Shays Rebellion turn into a full-fledged Revolution? I doubt it, but I'm hoping. As every left-leaning site in the blogosphere has noted, the institutional power base of the right-wing coalition has rallied 'round DeLay. Having no factual case to stand on, they're trying to dismiss the constant pattern of corruption in his career as something ginned up by that all-purpose boogeyman George Soros--while at the same time suggesting that Democrats like Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton have committed as bad or worse ethical misdeeds. (Talk about "red state facts" and "blue state facts.")

DeLay has always been something of a useful embarrassment for the Republican establishment. His remaining supporters, by suggesting that they can brazen it out and politically argue way his transgressions, are demonstrating a lack of confidence in their own ideas. Shays, for all that I disagree with him on, is making a far more admirable case that political self-interest (both his, and his party's) and the broader notion of serving the public might yet have some overlap.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Here's What We Know: Nothing
Last Wednesday, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote a wise piece noting that baseball analysts like himself shouldn't overreact to what happens in the first few days of the new season. At the time, I nodded at the sage advice.

Then the Phils bullpen coughed up three 8th-inning leads in less than 48 hours, and it became a little tougher to keep perspective. Thursday night at our favorite barbecue place, I interrupted a conversation at another table to correct the speaker that it was Tim Worrell, not Todd Worrell, who'd blown both the first two losses; last night, before going to the gym in hopes of exercising, and exorcising, my rage, I left Annie the annotated linescore of the Phils' come-from-ahead 6-5 loss to St. Louis, complete with stick-figure drawing of my head exploding. I can't remember if this was before or after I interrupted an otherwise-pleasant conversation with my brother by screaming into my cell phone that when you've got a 5-4 lead and four outs to go and the bases loaded, you don't fuck around with your "lefty specialist" but instead bring in your $9 million closer...

Today's 10-4 win over the Cardinals helped flatten me out a little bit. Gavin Floyd, currently taking kudos on the "Star of the Game" postgame radio show, was brilliant against the excellent St. Louis lineup, keeping his cool even after repeated bad calls from notorious lousy umpire "Cowboy" Joe West. Floyd retired 19 straight--more than six full innings worth of outs--after allowing an RBI single in the first. Utley, Abreu and Burrell all homered for the Phils--Burrell has 12 RBIs in five games, as if he's trying to make up for the last two mostly suck-laden years in just a week. Floyd's great start was actually the fourth in a row, following high-quality outings from Brett Myers and Randy Wolf, both disappointments last year, and a gutty five-plus innings of two-run ball from spring training disaster Cory Lidle yesterday. Some other good stuff has been happening as well: David Bell, Mike Lieberthal and Placido Polanco have all hit decently or better. Meanwhile the Mets are off to a terrible start, and Florida hasn't exploded out of the gate either.

All that, however, was put in the shade by the bullpen's disasters. Worrell, who was terrible all spring, seemed to be throwing batting practice out there. Terry Adams, Rheal Cormier and even Ryan Madson have looked shaky. And Aaron Fultz was a total disaster yesterday, walking in the tying and winning runs while Wagner sat on his hands in the bullpen--resulting in a loss, like the one on Thursday, arguably more the fault of manager Charlie Manuel than the pitcher himself.

Even today, the 'pen wasn't much mightier. After Floyd's strong seven, Worrell came in for the 8th and gave up two hard-hit singles--though an inexplicable baserunning blunder resulting in a pop out/double play erased one of them. Pedro Liriano, making his first appearance of the season, gave up three runs in the 9th, though only one was earned. For the year, the bullpenners have now allowed 13 earned runs in 14 frames.

Will that keep up? No, but then it's not likely the starters will maintain a collective ERA well under 3, either. After five games--two wins powered by an offense we all expected to produce, and three painful losses crafted by a bullpen that previously was considered a strength--I'm trying to keep Joe Sheehan's sensible admonition in mind.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

With Friends Like These...
As I listen to the Phils in the process of dropping another ballgame to the Washington Nationals, it occurs to me that ideally I should have posted the following item a few weeks back, when it was a bit more timely. Suffice it to say that there was a good reason for not doing so, and that I hope the larger theme here holds up today as it would have in mid-March. This item is adapted from a letter I sent to the New York Observer, which I'm pretty sure they didn't publish (at least not online).

There's a certain sub-stratum of the punditariat that seems to get its kicks, and make its money, through little acts of fratricide. Two in the vanguard here are Fred Siegel, a professor at Cooper Union and culture editor of BLUEPRINT, the official publication of the Democratic Leadership Council; and Joel Kotkin, a prominent academic based on the west coast who frequently pops up to comment on issues of politics, urban development and demographics. Both self-identify to some extent as Democrats; both derive their prominence from attacking their notional co-partisans.

In his recent column, “Radical Professors: The New Brain Trust?” Siegel relied upon stereotypes in blasting neoconservative bugaboos old and new—-those radical academics, that freaky Howard Dean—-rather than seriously examining the interrelationships between academia and political thinking. Siegel rightly deplores the absence of substantive thinking on the part of some anti-Bush partisans, but has no comment regarding their counterparts on the right side of the political spectrum, such as those College Republicans in Philadelphia a couple months back who stood outside a forum on Social Security and chanted, "hey hey, ho ho, Social Security's got to go!" His reference in the article to “fascist writers from the 1930s” perhaps would better refer to those charmers who've taken to wearing t-shirts that read "Imagine No Liberals." Or the spirited folks at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Virginia who cheered when Ann Coulter called for giving liberals "some of that McCarthyism they're always whining about."

For that matter, I wonder what Fred has thought upon listening in to just about any right-wing radio broadcast over the last twelve years or so.

Presumably, it’s hardly a newsflash to a professor like Siegel that young people relate to politics more from emotion than reason or rational policy analysis. Actually, there’s no need to limit this by age group; I'd argue that the vast, vast majority of the electorate does this. Hence we see minimum-wage earners opposing the "death tax," and single parents working for pittances in economically distressed communities voting for Bush because "he makes them feel safe" from terrorists.

"Voices of reason" like Siegel and Kotkin, who recently joined in the assault upon the straw man of “senile Deaniac liberalism” seem to have no understanding of Howard Dean’s record or views. Rather than digging into the issues, they seem lazily content to offer a slightly more tempered version of the Club for Growth attack advertisement from January 2004 that castigated Dean’s “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show." Though I’m not particularly interested in defending Dean’s campaign, and I don’t believe that he would have been a successful general election presidential candidate, for his current position as Democratic National Committee chair I think it’s worth keeping in mind that governor of Vermont, he balanced budgets every year; was applauded by non-liberal groups from the centrist Democratic Leadership Council to the decidedly right-wing National Rifle Association; and generally drove left-leaning activists in his state crazy. And that he'd planned to run his presidential campaign on a platform of fiscal conservatism and health care reform—issues that presumably even the likes of Siegel and Kotkin would deem legitimate and worthy of discussion.

Regarding Siegel's thesis, it’s easy, and certainly understandable, to fixate on the weird and ugly statements of fringe academics like Ward Churchill or Joseph Massad. It would be nice, however, if more responsible public thinkers like Siegel spared some of their tut-tutting for people like Pat Robertson, who has suggested that 9/11 was God’s punishment for the excesses of feminists, secularists, gays and lesbians, and other “enemies”, and once called for a nuclear bomb to be detonated at Foggy Bottom, thus obliterating the U.S. Department of State. Or the aforementioned Ms. Coulter, who “joked”, in the same Observer, that she wished Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had driven his truck into the New York Times headquarters. These are individuals with much wider reach and greater visibility than some oddballs on the far left, spewing bile to a very limited audience of bored undergrads.

Finally, if Siegel is sincere in his disdain for "postmodernism," perhaps he should take up the issue with Bush administration officials who have paid off columnists, supported a male prostitute turned partisan operative amidst the White House press corps, and distributed canned “news” segments amounting to propaganda to broadcasters across the country. They're the master practitioners of this “trick.”

Monday, April 04, 2005

You're Pushin' Me, Baby...
Well, here we are just two-plus hours before the Phillies start the 2005 season, and they're already grinding down my optimism. If bad news comes in threes, I've got your troika right here:

  • Thursday, March 31: Howard's options. I didn't actually have a big problem with the Phils sending minor-league slugger Ryan Howard back to AAA for more seasoning. He won't play in front of Thome, and he's too young and strikeout-prone to be a good bet in a pinch-hitting role. But the rationale Ed Wade offered to ESPN's Jayson Stark turned my stomach: "Despite the fact he's coming off a tremendous season, he still has two options left. So we just feel the appropriate thing is to let him continue to develop and see what happens." Hey dumbass: the point isn't to use up all the guy's options so you can defer making a move on him till he's 27. The point is to get the best team on the field. If the offers for Howard aren't adequate, that's one thing; one rumor I heard was that Tampa was offering inconsistent reliever Danys Baez and one-dimensional speedster Joey Gathright, which isn't good value. But Wade's typical caution and utter lack of creativity leads me to believe that Howard is about to enter the unpleasant Land of Prospect Limbo where so many previous young Phillies have wasted away. Perhaps not surprisingly, he's requested a trade. Wouldn't you?

  • Friday, April 1: Marlon Byrd demoted. After retooling his swing over the winter and hitting .390 with power this spring, with only injury risk and reputed clubhouse malcontent Kenny Lofton in front of him, one might have thought that Byrd was set to reclaim the starting job he lost in 2004. Instead, the brain trust that has brought the team zero playoff appearances in 11 seasons sent him back to AAA. Byrd thinks he's done in Philly, and I can't blame him. I t's probably just a matter of time before Ed Wade trades him, probably along with a second-tier pitching prospect, for David Weathers.

  • Sunday, April 3: Chasing Polanco. For six months, the Phillies have been saying that Chase Utley would be their starting second baseman. His very promising 2004 and good bat this spring seemed to confirm the wisdom of this position. The team offered arbitration to incumbent starter Placido Polanco, but made no bones about their wish that he sign elsewhere and allow the Phillies to collect compensatory draft picks. The problem was that Polanco hired idiots for representation, misjudged the market, and wound up accepting arbitration--driving the team over-budget and creating an infield logjam. He then proceded to whine about his self-created dilemma all spring. Polanco hits lefties very well, as Utley does not, and has value in his versatility; he's an above-average third baseman and can play a credible shortstop. But Utley's clearly the better hitter against right-handers. Even so, Polanco will get the start today against Washington righty Livan Hernandez. Hopefully it's a one-game aberration based on Polanco's good career numbers (15 for 42) against Hernandez, but it sends a lot of bad messages about what works and what doesn't in the Phils' organization. No wonder Ryan Howard wants out...

I'd like to think that all this will play itself out--that the decisions around Byrd and Polanco, and the rationale for how the team is handling Howard, will prove sound. But seven years of Ed Wade's rotten decision-making, and 26 mostly futile and disappointing years of following this team, don't give me tremendous hope. If they win, it will be in spite of these moves, but consistent executive incompetence is tough to overcome.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

It's About DeLay, and That's Okay
Following up on the thought about a possible schism among the Republicans, we see in the aftermath of Terri Schiavo's death that the stakes are about to get even higher: Tom DeLay now wants to remake the federal judiciary. The Hammer is looking to nail those federal judges who "let Terri die" and "thumbed their noses" at Congress and the president. As you've probably heard, he issued a written statement that sounded distinctly like a threat: "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of NJ, still hugely enjoying himself after coming back from retirement three years ago, wasn't amused:

Democrats continued to criticize DeLay yesterday, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) charging that the Republican might have broken a federal statute against threatening U.S. judges.

"Threats against specific federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a Member of Congress," Lautenberg wrote. "Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well."

The Washington Post, where this story appeared, naturally doesn't bother to point out that most of the judges who ruled in the Schiavo case were Republican appointees with solid conservative credentials. Nor that consistently large majorities opposed the grandstanding intervention in the Schiavo affair. Nor that DeLay remains desperate to keep the focus off his atrocious record of corruption and extremism. Good thing they're a "liberal" paper, or else they'd probably be nominating him for the Papacy.

More broadly, it looks like the fundamentalist/absolutist faction of the Republican Party--led by DeLay himself--wants to make this whole argument substantially about, not principle or a vision of governance, but the record and character of Tom DeLay. Republicans who won't defend their leader simply won't be helped by a number of prominent conservative groups.

Frankly, I couldn't be happier about this; I don't see how progressives can possibly lose in this outcome. Beyond the fact that this upping of the ante will push blue-state Republican congressmen like Shays and Simmons of Connecticut to either repudiate DeLay or risk near-certain defeat, making DeLay the face and name of the Republican Party opens the door to potential huge Democratic wins next year.
  • DeLay's record absolutely cannot stand close scrutiny, and it's not like his personality exactly helps things. In defending him, right-wingers open themselves to a virtually endless litany of charges on hypocrisy, cold-heartedness, excess and corruption. DeLay is a lot more popular among the money and fundie elites of the party than among the rank-and-file; I've been arguing with Republican friends for years that DeLay represents the true face of their party; they commonly respond that he's an aberration. This will now be an impossible argument to make.

  • While "rallying around DeLay" is likely to split the Republican coalition (see below), it's also likely to foster Democratic unity. It's hard to imagine a more damning attack on DeLay than that offered by the DLC; I suspect that the Ed Kilgore and Bull Moose screeds against "the Bug Man" are probably well-received even on dKos, where the organization is generally loathed.

  • Back to John Danforth and Glenn Reynolds, the former Senator and prominent blogger who spoke out against the Schiavo intervention and, by extension, the anything-goes/"just win, baby" ethos of today's Republican majority, embodied by Tom DeLay. I've gotten the sense for a long time that the more mature and responsible Republicans see DeLay as something of a necessary evil, occasionally embarrassing but generally useful in twisting arms and firing up the base. That balance is about to change, big-time, and I think we'll eventually see a race by the party's grown-ups to play Joseph Welch to DeLay's Joe McCarthy.

Last year, Democrats weren't sufficiently able to "make DeLay famous." If Republican groups want to do that work for us, the result will be a public perception that will make Newt Gingrich look like Santa Claus.