What I'm Reading

March 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 8:52 pm
March 26, 2009

Could It Really Be Him? Yeah, Probably




IT has been only two months since the Obamas moved into the White House, but here in the nation’s capital, some people are already asking: Have you bumped into your president and first lady yet?

This is no idle question. During the Bush years, Washington got used to a homebody president who preferred bringing friends into the Executive Mansion to venturing outside it. But these days, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, are popping up all over this city.

Like basketball? There was Mr. Obama sitting courtside recently alongside astonished fans at the Verizon Center as he cheered on the Chicago Bulls in a losing battle against the Washington Wizards.

Enjoy the performing arts? The Obamas have been to the Kennedy Center twice, once to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe — with daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 — and once for a musical tribute to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

How about a tasty meal? The Obamas have enjoyed white-tablecloth dining at Equinox, Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, B. Smith’s and Georgia Brown’s, and street-corner casual at Ben’s Chili Bowl and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

They have gone to parent-teacher conferences, school sporting events and visited working-class and gentrifying communities that have rarely served as stomping grounds for American presidents and first ladies — speaking to students at a charter school in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, and worshiping in a black church, among other activities. (The president and friends also tossed a basketball around at a city-run recreation center.)

“Everywhere you go, you’re wondering whether or not you’ll run into them,” said Washington’s mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, who has lunched with the president and first lady.

Political observers are still debating whether this out-and-about style simply reflects the personal inclinations of the Obamas or some political calculus (or both). But one thing is clear: No other modern president has reached out so widely to so many corners of the city, says Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian.

That is no surprise to friends of the first family. The Obamas, after all, are city people, former community organizers who have long felt at home in the urban landscape. Mr. Obama is the first president since Richard M. Nixon to be elected while living in a city neighborhood, in his case, Chicago’s racially and economically diverse Hyde Park. And the Obamas are now eager to explore the city beyond the White House walls.

“They want their lives not to be confined solely to the White House but rather to become a part of the urban, vibrant fabric of D.C.,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president and a close family friend, said in an interview.

Of course, the social schedule of the president and first lady is also a powerful political tool, a way to nurture political alliances and to cultivate political narratives. The Obamas can enjoy their time out on the town while, at the same time, reaping potential dividends by reinforcing their promise to bring change to Washington and honing an image of openness and accessibility, some Washington watchers say.

“Let’s face it: It’s very good for getting re-elected,” Letitia Baldrige, the White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, said of the Obamas’ socializing. “It’s a great bank of good will in which they’re making deposits every day.”

Political analysts say that the images of Mr. Obama hooting and hollering during a basketball game, eating a hot dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl and watching the ballet with his wife and daughters — pastimes routinely broadcast to a national audience — may humanize a politician who is sometimes viewed as too cerebral and distant.

Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary for President Clinton, said the outings allow Mr. Obama to project “an accessible glamour” and to convey a message of hope during bleak economic times. (She said that even the gregarious Clintons never got out this much.)

“It’s very humanizing and very encouraging to people,” Ms. Myers said. “And it’s valuable for him politically.”

Some warn, however, that such a schedule can also carry political risks, particularly if it undermines the mystique of the presidency, the image of power and command that a president needs to enact an ambitious agenda. Americans love the idea of the common man in a position of political power. (Think Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”) But they can also lose some respect if a politician seems too familiar. (Think Jimmy Carter in his cardigan.)

“Every once in a while it’s great, but there’s a chance of overexposing yourself socially,” said Bradley A. Blakeman, a former aide to President George W. Bush. “People scratch their heads and say, “Doesn’t the president have other things to do, especially in a crisis?’ ”

It is certainly a shift from historical precedent. In the 19th century, Washington was mostly viewed as a humid, uninviting town that presidents escaped from when they could.

In modern times, said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, the notion of presidential engagement with Washington has typically meant “going to parties in Georgetown or making friends on Capitol Hill, in other words, engaging with the permanent political establishment here.”

“This is really different,” said Mr. Beschloss of the Obamas forays into casual restaurants and working-class neighborhoods.

The Obamas know that it’s different. As the first African-American couple in the White House, they want to reach beyond the prosperous, predominantly white corridors of Washington.

“We were taught you have to get to know the community you’re in, and you have to be a part of that community,” Mrs. Obama said during a visit to Mary’s Center, a health clinic that serves a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. “D.C. is our community now, and it’s our home.”

THE president says he hopes to serve as a bridge in a town long divided between the haves and have-nots. “I want to see if we can bring those two Washingtons together,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on the ABC program “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

For ordinary people, the unexpected encounters with the new president and first lady are astonishing.

Joe Clark, a corporate lawyer who sat near the president at the basketball game, described the experience as “surreal.”

“I couldn’t believe that he was so accessible that I could literally shake his hand and heckle him about needing to suit up because his team was losing,” Mr. Clark said.

That is not to say that the Obamas can live anything close to a normal life here.

“There really is no going out in public and blending in anymore,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to Mr. Bush, describing the challenges facing any president. “That really is one of the burdens of the job. You go into the restaurant and everyone stands up and applauds. You always have to shake hands.”

“But when you’re sitting at the table, either out of fear of the Secret Service, respect for the office or old-fashioned decency, people usually leave you alone,” Mr. Fleischer said. “You still can have a nice meal with your friends.”

The Obamas are clearly scoping out varied restaurants and places to visit.

Mr. Fenty said it was the president who suggested lunching at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a well-known black-owned restaurant. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s delegate to Congress, said Mrs. Obama suggested lunch at B. Smith’s, also black-owned, a Southern-style restaurant near the Capitol.

Mrs. Obama and her staff also visited Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen, where the first lady bumped into Bill Richardson, a 46-year-old homeless man. Mr. Richardson was so stunned that he could barely stammer thank you as Mrs. Obama scooped a helping of mushroom risotto onto his plate this month.

“I was expecting some lunch, but this is the president’s wife; this is her right here,” said Mr. Richardson, who said he planned to get to a phone as soon as he could. “I’m going to be like, ‘Mom, you’re never going to guess who I’ve seen.’ ”


March 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 8:14 pm

Slate Magazine
xx factor xxtra


Are prominent conservative pundits really in a catfight over body fat?

By Dahlia Lithwick

At first, it just made you go hmmm: Here was Meghan McCain, 24-year-old daughter of the former Republican presidential contender, blitzing the airwaves with her thoughts on what ails the GOP and using her column in Tina Brown’s the Daily Beast to pick fights with Ann Coulter. In a deliberately controversial column that decried Coulter’s tendency to deliberately court controversy, McCain wrote: “I straight up don’t understand this woman or her popularity. I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time.” That earned her a week (now spilling into two) of prime time television spots including The Rachel Maddow Show and The Early Show.

But the blonde-on-blonde catfight spiraled into a third dimension of lowlights when conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham—perhaps feeling left out—mocked McCain on her show last Thursday (listen at link) for being, among other things, cute, liberal, and, er, “plus-sized.” Meghan, forced now to defend her weight as well as her politics, posted what she termed a “thoughtful” response at the Daily Beast, criticizing Ingraham for making her size an issue, then took the fight to The View yesterday morning, winningly telling Ingraham—while, of course, channeling Tyra Banks—to “like, kiss my fat ass.”

In case you’re still scoring all this in the margins of your seventh-grade Brenda Walsh yearbooks, Ingraham then took yet another swipe at McCain on her blog, calling her a “useful idiot” and “flavor of the month.”

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. This is the female version of the Rush Limbaugh-Michael SteeleDavid Frum smackdown for the soul of the GOP? One skinny blonde attacking another skinny blonde who is angrily defended by a third skinny blonde, after which everyone retires in a huff to their favorite health blogs to angrily discuss the importance of a positive body image and the need to support a healthy body mass index?

Ever wonder why some men think women are less than serious political thinkers? It certainly helps explain why so many men continue to believe that when it comes to “political discourse,” women are all long, sprawling legs and silky blond hair in a tangle on the dessert cart. It’s one thing to air your dirty laundry. But are we really stupid enough to be having a front-page battle over a plus-size thong?

Can you imagine the Y-chromosome version of Meghan McCain’s recent appearance on The View? With Rush Limbaugh sitting at a round table surrounded by four supportive men, lamenting that men should help one another out more and that weight is the “last socially accepted prejudice” in America? Can you imagine David Frum sneering about Limbaugh or any other well-known political critic, “I’ve never heard of him before” as Meghan McCain giggled yesterday about Ingraham? (And can you imagine any serious television hosts chortling in girlish solidarity that “Laura Ingraham” was “the lady from Little House on the Prairie?” Grow up, View!)

If you’re going to fight about politics, fight about politics. Here’s a useful litmus test: As long as the media continue to cover women’s political differences in their “Health” sections, we are probably doing something wrong. Just as Michelle Obama has been reduced to a perpetual fashion story, the fight for the future of young women in the GOP has now become a body-image story. Well done, ladies! Way to get your thoughts and preferences taken seriously!

Michelle Cottle suggests that Ingraham’s mistake lay in the criticism by one leggy, blond sex kitten of a younger leggy, blond sex kitten. Perhaps. But I’m uncomfortable taking Anne Baxter’s* side over Bette Davis’ or vice versa where spectacularly pointless catfights are concerned. My view is generally that an eyelash for an eyelash leaves the whole world blind.

Were Ingraham’s comments about McCain’s weight thoughtless and stupid? Of course. Are McCain’s hands lily white in the catfight rules of engagement? No. Don’t believe me? Consider that her first column on Coulter attacked the Republican pundit for, among other things, her “voice.” It reminded me of nothing so much as Sarah Palin’s claim that she couldn’t stand Clinton’s “whining.” When women, or men, criticize women’s voices—whether we’re going after Michelle Obama’s allegedly angry one or (forgive me, Tina Fey!) Sarah Palin’s allegedly crazy one—it’s not all that different from going after their weight. It’s a way of reducing what they have to say to what they sound like. It’s a way of questioning their entitlement to speak at all. Which is why it’s not something men typically complain about in other men.

Then there was McCain’s nasty little zinger about Ingraham’s age. Maybe you missed it amid all the fat chat. But in her column asking Ingraham to lay off the gratuitous weight comments, McCain dug deep and landed this little gratuitous snot-bomb: “Unfortunately, even though Ingraham is more than 20 years older than I and has been a political pundit for longer, almost, than I have been alive, she responded in a form that was embarrassing to herself and to any woman listening to her radio program who was not a size 0.”

Get that, readers? Laura Ingraham is really, really, really old. She’s so old she’s been a pundit for longer (almost) than McCain has been alive. Classic girl-on-girl smear. And not something, say, David Frum would try on Rush Limbaugh because in man-world, being old and experienced is deemed a good thing. McCain has to know that when twentysomethings call fortysomethings old, they really mean it’s time for Botox and a good divorce attorney because I’m coming to take your husband. There’s a lot of snark in McCain, which will doubtless make her a brilliant heiress to the Coulter-Ingraham crown someday, but it makes her cries of mistreatment somewhat more difficult to tolerate.

And that’s the problem. Meghan McCain just hasn’t been doing this punditry thing long enough to understand that you can’t suck and blow at the same time. The single most baffling line penned in the current catfight comes in McCain’s latest salvo against Ingraham:

I also thought the media outlets that reported on Laura’s comments about me were out of line. I don’t listen to Laura’s show, so if journalists hadn’t picked up on it and reported on it, I never would have known what she said. I wonder how Laura would feel if at some point someone were to criticize her daughter’s weight and broadcast it nationally on the radio.

Now, I don’t want to expend a whole lot of energy here close-reading Meghan McCain, but is she, in fact, claiming that the media outlets that joyfully reported on her Coulter claims, interviewed her about them, and then reported on those interviews were “out of line” for covering Ingraham’s remarks as well, because such widespread media coverage allowed McCain to hear unpleasant things about herself?? Is the problem here that only Meghan’s complaints about others are fair game or that claims about weight are not news? Oh, Meghan. Go out and buy a copy of US Weekly. Weight is always news.

McCain’s problem isn’t her weight, or her views, or even the fact that she doesn’t know a lot. It’s that she suddenly holds a rather enormous megaphone without understanding that the person most likely to be smacked on the head with it is herself. I am about to write a sentence I never believed myself capable of writing: I score this game, set, and match to Ann Coulter, who has never met an opponent she won’t destroy—including myriad imaginary ones—and yet has remained silent in the face of Meghan’s wrath.

Last week, McCain told Maddow “If it was too hot in the kitchen, I’d get out. …” Yesterday, Ingraham retorted that “you know, sometimes the kitchen gets a little hot.” The problem with the whole hot-kitchen metaphor is that it’s as archaic as these women who keep flinging it around. Women can fight in the kitchen if they want to, and they can crank up the heat if they so choose. But until we remember to argue on the merits, avoid the tired Mean Girls clichés, and speak as though what we have to say matters to men as well as to the viewers of America’s Next Top Model, we’ll never be taken seriously, in the kitchen or anyplace else.

Correction, March 17, 2009: This article originally misattributed Anne Baxter’s role in All About Eve to Anne Bancroft. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2213992/

March 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:31 pm

News & Opinion Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In praise of earmarks

By Robert Shrum

Last week, the beleaguered Republicans in Congress finally moved on from attempting to inflict collateral damage on President Obama by ritually scourging “Reid and Pelosi.” They explicitly blamed the president for his willingness to sign a holdover appropriations bill supposedly replete with “earmarks”—a word which has now become the equivalent of a budgetary profanity. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell was too earmarked up himself to lead the charge, although he did organize behind the lines to temporarily deny the Democrats the needed sixty votes to move ahead in the Senate. The claimed goal here was to pressure the President to threaten a veto—over earmarks that constitute about 1% of the 410 billion dollar measure—a political tactic to expose him as a hypocrite for failing to do so since he was critical of earmarks during the campaign. His criticism, however, is more muted than John McCain’s; the latter often left the impression that his entire answer to the economic crisis was eliminating earmarks like the now iconic “Bridge to Nowhere.” Obama, of course, declined to rise to the Republican bait. For one thing, as administration officials rightly noted, the bill is last year’s business, a holdover from the final dreary and deadlocked denouement of the Bush administration. This explanation is more than a Pilate-like washing of hands. A veto would gum up the legislative gears, requiring a time consuming new effort to deal with old issues and stirring resentments that could cost the President vital support for his budget. This was never in the cards, but was the ultimate Republican aim—to slow or derail the Obama economic program. In the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, who other than the angry, self-righteous John McCain would pause or detour to do mortal combat with earmarks? Yet most of the press echoed the Republican line, even the New York Times, which reported the probably week-long delay in passing the bill as a Democratic “failure” and then offered up a name brand Op-Ed column that uncritically reprinted McCain’s manic twitterings. The story line is probably just too easy, the punch lines too irresistible. During the stimulus debate, we had a run of stories across the media about Obama’s stumbles and set-backs—just before the largest single expenditure bill in American history passed in record time and the President’s approval rating reached all time highs. But it’s even easier to go down the high-minded road here, because the examples McCain cites are the very caricature of a hapless, spendthrift Congress. Never mind that many of the most glaring items could in fact help the economy. New York’s wine industry will benefit from research in grape genetics. “Quick, peel me a grape,” McCain twittered, ignoring the potential boost for production and jobs. The same goes for the “earmark” for blueberry farming in Georgia, catfish research in Alabama, and the “promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii. The luddite McCain noted that “nothing says jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.” Well, yes it does—if they’re hired to build the equipment or staff the facilities. The most egregious McCain reach for the cheap and the demagogic was his cute denunciation of a million dollar appropriation for “Mormon critic control in Utah,” which he ridiculed as possibly “a game played by the brits.” (In twitter-land, presumably there are no capital letters.) Clearly, McCain hasn’t even glanced at the issue. It has nothing to do with the British, or with “Mormon crickets” who adjure alcohol and coffee; it’s about pests who endanger crops, livelihoods, and yes, guess again, agriculture that contributes to economic growth. My plight is not that all earmarks are right, but that they’re like all forms of government spending. They have to be evaluated on the merits, not libeled by labeling. And in an era when more and more power has been seized by the Executive branch, why should we assume that bureaucrats, the usual Republican targets, are uniformly wiser about how to allocate federal dollars than elected members of Congress. There is no underlying philosophy of government here other than opportunistic posturing. Obviously earmarks should be transparent; obviously they can be wasteful and the process can be deformed; but earmarks can also be justified and even essential. The Iraq Study Group, which led to a fundamental reexamination of conduct of the war, was created with an earmark offered by one Congressman, a Republican, who had had enough of Donald Rumsfeld’s stubborn insistence that failure was really success. Newt Gingrich’s earmark for additional cargo planes in the early 1990s, spending not requested by the Pentagon, provided needed capacity to resupply our forces in Afghanistan. An equally persuasive case can be made for some of the biggest domestic earmarks like rail transportation projects in New York and Arizona—which total 600 million dollars in the appropriations measure being carpet-bombed by McCain. The new Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, has been called out for earmarks in the bill that she inserted as a member of Congress. What are they for? Police equipment in some of the hardest pressed neighborhoods of Southern California. What’s wrong with that? The unexamined earmark is not worth denouncing or discarding. The fault here is not all McCain’s or the Republicans’; Evan Bayh, the perennially cliché-hobbled Democratic Senator from Indiana joined in last week. He insisted that “spending should be held in check before taxes are raised, even on the wealthy”—a sentiment which surely pleased the Wall Street Journal where he was writing. But he conveniently overlooked the reality that all the earmarks in the bill could be eliminated and total spending would barely change. John McCain campaigned on his enmity toward earmarks. He lost because the country faced far bigger issues. It still does. The present and passing debate—over a contested appropriations bill that will soon reach the President’s desk—is merely another way station in the Republicans’ wandering search for an idea beyond reflexive opposition—for a coherent alternative to the Obama economic policy. It won’t come from House Minority Leader John Boehner’s latest folly, a proposed federal spending freeze which would drive the economy into an accelerating downturn. And it won’t come from the gathering Conservative argument that the trick here will be to restore the confidence of the Masters of the Market who, with the connivance of the regulators who didn’t, got us into this mess in the first place. This focus on “confidence” was the heart of Herbert Hoover’s failed response to the Depression. So absent any coherent rationale for policy, expect the Republicans to just keep on keeping on. They will relentlessly rationalize a do-nothing, try-everything approach even if it means they have to go along with party-suspect John McCain and for the moment block the earmarks they themselves sponsored. – ROBERT M. SHRUM has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum’s writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times , The New York Times , The New Republic , Slate , and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.

March 9, 2009

I have over 1,000 fb friends…oh dear?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 9:59 pm


From the Los Angeles Times


The age of Friendaholism

With Facebook, Twitter, etc., what kinds of ‘friends’ do you really have?

Meghan Daum

March 7, 2009

Thwarting the age-old theory (and high school coping mechanism) that unpopularity in adolescence portends wealth and success in adulthood, a new study from the University of Essex in Britain has shown that the more friends you have in school, the more money you’ll earn later.

Beginning in 1957, American male high school seniors were asked to name up to three people they considered friends. Those “nominations” were tallied and compared, and then the boys were interviewed over time. Researchers found that for every “extra” friend a student had — someone who nominated him despite not being reciprocally nominated — his salary was 2% higher 35 years later.

I’m torn between two opposing reactions: no way; no duh.

I suppose the “no way” response reflects my need to believe that high school has no bearing on the rest of one’s life (i.e. the nerds become billionaires and the cheerleaders end up appearing before Judge Judy in some kind of pet-custody dispute).

Still, the “no duh” in me knows better. Even though the researchers noted that when it came to earning power, intelligence and level of education were bigger factors than popularity, let’s not kid ourselves. If you want to get ahead in life, social skills and networking are easily as powerful as talent and hard work. After all, that old chestnut, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” didn’t come out of nowhere.

Maybe that’s why we now find ourselves in the age of Friendaholism. Call me geriatric or Amish or just uncool (I gave all that away last week when I admitted I thought Ne-Yo was a sushi place), but I think of a friend as an actual person with whom I have an actual history and who I enjoy actually seeing. It seems, however, that this is no longer the definition of “friend.”

A friend is someone on your Facebook page or in your Twitter circle. A friend is someone you might know personally but who could just as easily be the friend of a friend of some other Facebook friend you don’t actually know. In any case, these friends have been assigned value not necessarily because of anything they’ve actually done with you or for you, but because, well, they just exist in the world and so do you.

The idea of friendship, at least among the growing population of Internet social networkers, is to attain as many of these not-really-friends as possible. Hence, the alcoholism analogy, which I don’t make lightly. Like cheap wine, “friends” provide a high that can only be sustained by acquiring more and more of them. Quantity trumps quality.

Recently, I heard a woman complaining that Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit was too low for her vast reserve of social contacts. At the time, this struck me as advanced-stage friendaholism, but in light of the University of Essex study, I’m wondering if the joke is on me. Is her salary 2% higher for every extra friend she has on Facebook? If so, why is she driving a used Honda?

I can’t presume to know the answer. But it’s worth noting how many people these days regard “friends,” or at least the collective concept of friends, as a form of currency.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Social ties, whether they take the form of bona fide BFFs or people you air kiss at a party once a year, grease the wheels of life. They also provide the invaluable — and often unheralded — service of bearing witness to our lives. Without friends, we’d have fewer memories, not to mention less to remember.

Granted, even on Facebook, the currency of friends comes in different denominations. If real-life pals feel like $100 bills, those random strangers amount to little more than loose change. But the fact remains that here, as in other economic markets, the dollar is losing its value. Not only do these “friendships” represent a shortcut to intimacy (thereby rendering it phony), they require a lot of maintenance. You have to keep Twittering, instant-messaging and texting lest you become a bad “friend.” As a result, for friendaholics and those showing signs of friendaholism, socializing is less akin to sharing life experiences than to sustaining a never-ending volley with multiple partners in a giant electronic tennis game.

The subjects in the University of Essex study may have had little trouble naming three friends back in 1957. But in a poll conducted in 2004 in which Americans were asked how many “close confidants” they had, the most common answer was zero. As depressing as that is, it’s hardly surprising. In the mind of the friendaholic, having one friend you can count on apparently just isn’t as fun as having thousands of friends to count up. Considering how labor intensive the new friendship frontier is, maybe people with wider social circles do deserve to earn higher salaries.

Too bad one thing money can’t buy is a real friend.


March 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 10:47 pm

March 5, 2009, 10:00 pm

<!– — Updated: 6:21 pm –>

Moderation and the Modern Mom

I always claimed that I could hold my liquor. I was lying.

But to admit that I was dizzy and inappropriate after a few drinks would belie my German/Irish/English heritage, my Guy’s Girl persona, and my profession as a writer. Despite a few debacles (a sullied car or two, the suggestion that we have sex when, in fact, we already had) I persisted in behavior like downing shots with the 23-year-old at work, or worse, drinking with actors. Such hardy drinking resulted in my husband wisely escorting me out the side exit of many establishments, but I refused to be ashamed. I enjoyed the brief escape of a vodka gimlet.

After months of willingly sacrificing my body and everything that went into it for the well-being of my child, I started to revel in taking a little of myself back. 

And then I got pregnant. It was not unexpected. We had planned for it and tried for a few months. As soon as we started trying, I became unexpectedly responsible. I decided to behave as if I were pregnant, just in case I was. Which meant I didn’t lounge in hot tubs, eat sushi or even indulge in a glass of wine. It was surprisingly easy. I was so freaked out by the concept of carrying a human in my womb that I even refused to take a sip during Shabbat dinners, something that mystified my friends and, possibly, God.

I felt maternal, wise and frankly relieved. I had worried for years that the alcoholism that ran in my New England stock had snuck into my veins and it was good to know that I could painlessly, easily, give up alcohol when necessary. And so, for 13 months, I didn’t touch a drop. And then I had a baby.

Babies are magical and beautiful and amazing. They are also exhausting and frustrating and anxiety-inducing. In the beginning, my daughter nursed non-stop and I didn’t even think of having a drink. Not only did I not want to risk alcohol being in my bloodstream when she nursed, I was also just too tired. Wine would only put me to sleep, and sleep was an impossibility. The first time my husband and I went out, I had a glass of wine and I felt like I was shooting up heroin in my parents’ bedroom. It seemed so wrong. When I went home, I pumped my milk and immediately poured it down the sink, an act that seemed almost as wasteful as blithely burning hundred dollar bills.

Eventually, my daughter began sleeping through the night. I cannot speak for all babies, but at the end of a long day with mine … sometimes I want a drink. Not a large one, not a hard one. Just enough of one to ease the tension of the knotted back that comes with carrying a 20 pound baby around. Enough to quiet the voices that question, “Is she eating enough? Am I promoting her self-confidence? Should we listen to more Mozart and less Death Cab For Cutie? Should I be teaching her sign language? Or Italian?” After months of willingly sacrificing my body and everything that went into it for the well-being of my child, I started to revel in taking a little of myself back. At night, after she was soundly asleep, I would cook my husband and myself dinner and pour a luxurious glass of wine. I sautéed, I sipped. It was just like the good old days.

Except that it wasn’t. Because in the good old days, I would have had at least half a bottle by myself and would have started slurring non-sequiturs to my husband in the middle of “Damages.” And as much as I wanted to celebrate my newfound nighttime independence by getting pleasingly sloshed, I discovered that this was an impossibility. Two things led me to this conclusion. One: The one night that I went out and met a few friends, I daringly had two and a half glasses of wine. I made it safely home, but I left my car running in the garage. The next morning I was perplexed as to why it wouldn’t start. Apparently I can hold my liquor even less than before. Two: teething. When my daughter started teething, she also started waking up at all hours of the night and sometimes nursing was the only thing that would soothe her back to sleep. It wasn’t safe to be tipsy. They say that if you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to nurse. Seems like a pretty good rule to me. And so I limit my intake to a small glass of wine immediately after nursing her and that’s pretty much it.

Is that it? I’m 33. It baffles me to think that I won’t be good and drunk again until I’m 50. Surely the days of embarrassing myself and my loved ones aren’t over. I could have done so much more. Didn’t our parents get drunk? Does our generation read too much, think too much and worry too much? Probably yes. But if I’m really honest with myself, I don’t miss getting drunk. The night I killed my car battery, I woke up with a raging headache and experienced a fairly hellacious morning with my daughter. I would actually prefer to be sober and awake refreshed and happy to see my daughter’s face.

So it’s not the alcohol I miss. It’s the immaturity. The selfishness. The wasted days frittered away recuperating from the wasted nights. It all turned around so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to be this person. A person who can clearly recall all the events of the night before. Who can be the designated driver. Who can go to a work party without apologizing the next day. This must be parenthood. I would toast this milestone, but I have pears to puree.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 6:53 pm

The Dearth Of Women In Politics Is Not Just Due To Sexism

For some reason, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton was a Senator from New York, nearly won the Democratic Presidential primary and is now Secretary of State, she’s the posterwoman for losing due to sexism.

Apparently, her accomplishments are all for naught because — like many men before her and many men after her — she lost a race. Well, losing is part of politics. And not every woman loses because of sexism. But, it appears, many women think that’s the reason, according to an article in Women’s eNews by pollster Celinda Lake.

On the idea that the country is not ready to elect a woman, 56 percent of women call this a major factor versus 46 percent of men. On the idea that women are held back by men there is again a perception gender gap, with 48 percent of women holding this view compared with 37 percent of men. When it comes to discrimination against women you find 45 percent of women seeing it that way compared to 30 percent of men. 

A Lifetime Television survey conducted after the November 2008 elections asked women about the requirements for male and female candidates. An overwhelming 65 percent said that men and women are held to different standards. When running for elective office, only 29 percent said requirements were the same.

Note, by the way, that there’s nothing in the way of statistics that show people saying they are not personally ready to elect a woman — it’s just people saying that they think other people aren’t ready to elect women, and that they think other people hold men and women to different standards. Perception is not always reality, and citing statistics of people’s perceptions of sexism in politics doesn’t help combat actual sexism in politics.

In fact, there’s evidence that most people think men and women make pretty good political leaders.

In the Pew study, a strong majority of respondents, 69 percent, rate women and men as equally good political leaders. Only 21 percent prefer men, while 6 percent favor women. 

Few attribute the small number of women in elected office to ideas such as women not being as good as men at leadership (16 percent say it’s a major reason) or women not being tough enough for politics (that’s 14 percent).

But to counter Pew’s study, Lake continues to rely on Lifetime’s survey, which is hugely annoying because she doesn’t identify whether the study was a self-selected website survey or a methodologically rigorous study (and she doesn’t link to it).

In the Lifetime survey, when women were asked to select from a list of nine possible reasons why fewer women hold elected office, 20 percent said the perception of lack of experience could be blamed. An equal number said that women are not perceived as tough enough. Eleven percent believed women would prefer to devote their attention to their family and not to politics. The remaining answer choices were in the single digits. 

Oh, and, by the way, it’s all the fault of younger women, who think that silly things like policies and experience are more important than blindly voting for the female candidate (paging the PUMAs who voted for Sarah Palin!):

However, as we saw in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, younger female voters tend to be less supportive of female candidates and gender is less important than agenda and qualifications to them. 

Oh, brother.

I am increasingly annoyed by older women whining about how us younger types don’t just vote for women candidates because of gender and blaming sexism for there not being enough female elected officials. Not one of these critics I’ve read over the last year ever looked at how many women ran for office this year against men and lost — though I can name 8 who won out over male candidates. The simple fact is that most candidates are men, and there are several significant, institutional reasons that are much harder to talk about or deal with than blaming simply blaming sexists and/or young female voters.

1. The Power of Incumbency
Most of the time, if a candidates survive their first re-election race, they can hold onto the seat for as long as their hearts desire. They get name recognition, press coverage, it’s easier raising money for future re-election campaigns and their state will, in all likelihood, engage in incumbent-protection gerrymandering to keep them in office for their seniority (see number 2). This was one of the major reasons EMILY’s List (Early Money Is Like Yeast) was founded — to help give the kinds of female candidates liberal women want to see elected a leg up on challenging incumbents. But if Congress members and Senators hold their seats for 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years, of course the composition of those bodies is going to more closely resemble the male-dominated politics of those eras. (And, in case you think term limits will help, keep reading).

2. The Power Of Gerrymandering
With the exception of states whose redistricting is overseen by the federal government to ensure that racial minorities are not disenfranchised, most states nominally engage in partisan gerrymandering and, by and large, engage in gerrymandering designed to protect incumbents. This then increases the already strong likelihood that certain districts will stay Democratic, others Republican and all in the hands of the politicians who currently hold them. If you want new blood, start bitching at your state representatives now. Worse yet, by creating unassailable incumbents, many women (and men) who run for office in those districts function as little more than sacrificial lambs for the party with no hope of actually being elected — and the more you lose, the less likely you are to eventually win.

3. The Power of State And Local Officials
Where do many future Congress members, Senators and Governors start? In the statehouse and in local office — and even as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Do you know how many women are elected to state and local office around you? Do you make a concerted effort to find out? Statehouses and local government often serve as farm teams for higher office, and yet many people don’t know their own elected officials at those levels, let alone bother turning out to vote for them in off years. They are also the people in charge of gerrymandering Congressional districts every 10 years and can hold plenty of sway among their constituents in terms of making endorsements. If women are all focusing on running for Congress, they’re ignoring the power that isn’t in Washington.

4. The Power of the Two-Party System
Quite often in countries that have more than two political parties, there is more gender equity among elected and party officials. Having two parties in this country means that there is a lot of demand for a smaller number of positions, both within the parties and as candidates.

5. The Power Of The Local Parties
Quite often, the decisions about which candidates the local or statewide parties will support (and whether they will get involved or stay out of a primary challenge to an incumbent) is made by a bunch of unelected local party apparatchiks in a back room somewhere. Women who aren’t part of the boys’ club can find themselves facing fierce opposition from men who think that they’ve put in the time with the party and are thus more deserving of the right to represent the party in an election, even as a sacrificial lamb.

6. The Power Of Your Own Decisions
If women don’t choose to run, it doesn’t matter if we change everything else to make it easier for them to win. Very rarely do I see an article about sexism in the political process written by a former candidate for elected office. Politics is a tough business for women and men, and I don’t begrudge anyone for not wanting to give speeches and raise money and make themselves into a public figure. That said, if women continue to choose not to run, then women aren’t going to be elected. Groups like WUFPAC (Women Under Forty Political Action Committee) can have trouble finding women candidates to even fund, for many of the reasons I listed above and others. If you want to see more women elected, what are you doing between now and your next state or local election?

Gender Gap in Politics Is Invite for More to Run [Women’s eNews]

Related: WUFPAC
Why Aren’t There More Young Women In Political Office? [Glamocracy]

Earlier: Welcome, Women Of The Class Of 2009!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 6:49 pm

Slate Magazine

A Spoonful of Vino

Why are Americans obsessed with wine being good for you?

By Mike Steinberger

60 Minutes recently ran a segment about the health benefits of red wine, specifically the apparently wondrous powers of resveratrol, a polyphenol that is found in the skin of grapes and is thought to prevent illness and promote longevity. This wasn’t the first time 60 Minutes has trumpeted the virtues of red wine; in 1991, it called attention to the so-called French Paradox, which posited that the low rate of heart disease in France, despite a national diet gloriously abundant in rich foods, was due to the country’s prodigious consumption of red wine. That report not only prompted an outbreak of oenophilia in the United States; it fanned an obsessive interest in the nutritional and therapeutic properties of wine. This seems to be a particularly American fixation, and it raises an intriguing question: Why are we—Americans—so anxious to find justifications for drinking wine beyond the fact that it tastes good and we like it?

Obviously, scientists aren’t investigating wine’s physiological impact because they are shills for the wine industry and want to encourage Americans to imbibe; the research is being pursued and the results disseminated because it appears that there really is a link between red wine and well-being. (For their part, vintners are not allowed to publicize these findings; federal and state laws prohibit advertising that touts the health benefits of alcoholic beverages.) It is now widely recognized that moderate red wine consumption—generally defined as one or two 5-ounce glasses a day for women and two or three for men, drunk with food—boosts HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that purges arteries of fatty deposits. In addition, scientists have determined that the flavonoids in red wine have an anticoagulant effect that can help prevent blood clots leading to heart attacks.

Resveratrol is also said to have a role in preventing clots and is believed to inhibit the production of LDL cholesterol—the bad kind. Judging by the headlines, resveratrol seems to be the omnipotent ingredient in red wine—a “vascular pipe-cleaner,” as one physician put it. The recent 60 Minutes episode highlighted the work of Dr. Christoph Westphal and Harvard biochemist David Sinclair, whose research suggests that resveratrol can delay the aging process and forestall many gerontological diseases. A few years ago, scientists reported that resveratrol may discourage the onset of one such illness, Alzheimer’s. It is also claimed that this antioxidant can boost stamina, reduce lung inflammation stemming from chronic pulmonary disease, and help stave off cancer. Last fall, University of Pittsburgh scientists reported that resveratrol might offer some protection against radiation poisoning. Then there is this joyous news, possibly upending age-old assumptions about alcohol and sexual performance: According to Men’s Health in the United Kingdom, resveratrol works to enhance blood flow, which in turn may improve erectile function.

Personally, I’m thrilled to learn that red wine could help me avoid cancer, outlast opponents on the tennis court, survive a nuclear attack, and lead a long, lucid, and Viagra-free life. However, a little caution is in order. Most of the testing with resveratrol has been done on mice, and they have been given ungodly amounts of the stuff. As the New York Times pointed out in a 2006 article, the mice in one experiment were injected with 24 milligrams of resveratrol per kilogram of body weight; red wine contains around 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per liter, so to get the equivalent dose, a 150-pound person would need to drink 750-1,500 bottles of wine a day. I weigh 195 pounds and can finish a bottle of Beaujolais and feel no different than if I’d had a bottle of Gatorade, but tossing back 1,100 liters of wine in a 24-hour period? Probably not.

This combination of lab mice, outlandishly large doses, and extravagant claims recently yielded a very funny piece in The New Yorker, one which zeroed in on an essential point: Red wine may contain resveratrol, but it contains substantially more alcohol. Regardless of how beneficial wine ultimately proves to be for the heart, lungs, groin, and other body parts, we already know it has a powerful and mostly salutary psychological influence. Wine—or, to be more precise, the alcohol in wine—leaves us happy; it is a relaxant, a stimulant, a balm. It can make a bad day good and a good one better. All this, coupled with the gustatory pleasure that wine confers, ought to be reason enough to uncork a bottle. So why are we so concerned about these other possible gains to be reaped?

Part of it is that we are a nation infatuated with quick-fix diets and painless remedies; the idea that sitting on a couch nursing a syrah could actually be making us thinner and fitter is irresistible. We are also a culture that fears growing old, and the possibility that a glass of red wine could be a fountain of youth is likewise a tantalizing prospect. I suspect the preoccupation with wine’s health impact is a reflection, too, of our Puritan heritage and the conflicted attitude that Americans have always had about wine. Although we are consuming it in record quantities, wine is still seen as something effete and vaguely foreign. That’s why the wine vs. beer dichotomy continues to be invoked every election season as a way of distinguishing urban elites from other Americans, and it is why candidates favored by those elites are invariably tarred as chardonnay-swilling swells.

At the risk of tarring myself as one such specimen, I think we should just lighten up and enjoy wine for the immediate gratification. It is great that science is uncovering so many possible ancillary benefits to merlot and pinot noir, and I hope that resveratrol is indeed the cure-all that mankind has been hoping for. But if and when a proven resveratrol tablet hits the market, I won’t be liquidating my cellar, nor do I intend to load up on any of the resveratrol-enhanced wines that are apparently coming our way (unless, of course, they happen to be seriously good). Likewise, if it turns out the mice have been screwing with us and that red wine carries none of these magical side effects, there will still be a bottle on my dinner table every night. Wine is a habit that requires no rationale other than the pursuit of enjoyment.

The French, despite being the inspiration for so much of this research, have never much cared about wine’s medicinal qualities; for them, a glass of vin rouge is simply a mealtime ritual. (Though, sadly, that is changing.) Jancis Robinson, Britain’s leading wine writer , tells me that her compatriots give little thought to the health aspects of wine; they just like to drink (and are certainly very accomplished in that pursuit). In his excellent book A Hedonist in the Cellar, Jay McInerney notes, “In Europe, where wine has been a part of daily life for thousands of years, American oenophiles are sometimes viewed as monomaniacs—zealous and somewhat narrow-minded converts to a generous and pantheistic faith.” He goes on to say that “American wine lovers need to broaden their vision and relax: to see wine as just another aspect of the well-lived life.” L’chaim.

Mike Steinberger is Slate‘s wine columnist. He can be reached at slatewine@gmail.com.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2211597/

March 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:23 pm

Slate Magazine
my goodness

Bridge to Somewhere

I could get an MBA, or I could keep working at nonprofits. Which is better?

By Patty Stonesifer and Sandy Stonesifer

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Patty and Sandy,

I’m a fairly recent grad from an expensive liberal arts college where I enjoyed four years of life in a bubble. Armed with my diploma, I leaped headlong into the world of management consulting. After about two years of selling high-priced advice to executives, I began to grow restless and fearful that I would fall prey to the steeply sloping compensation curve. I again shifted gears to something I knew nothing about, talking my way into a support role in an international development organization. After witnessing inefficiency, questionable efficacy, and cloudy intentions, I am marginally disillusioned and find myself wondering where my talents might be best utilized.

Should I should pursue an MBA and reintegrate myself into the world of startups, return on investment, and innovation? How should I balance the allure of the private sector and its mystique as a more rewarding, fast-paced career with the seemingly greater possibility to be a true agent of positive and innovative change in the nonprofit and public sectors?


Well, Eric, you’ve come to the right do-gooding mom for this question—she has career advice in abundance (check out a recent interview about her own for-profit-to-nonprofit transition), so I am going to leave the tough stuff to her and stick to a few quick points.

First, please don’t base this whole decision on your experience with one nonprofit. There are good and bad organizations in every sector. Take the time to assess what type of work and work environment you want (it sounds like a fast-paced, highly efficient workplace is important to you) and find an organization that fits, whether it’s nonprofit, for-profit, or “not-only-for-profit.”

Second, as someone who used to be absolutely sure she would never be interested in an MBA program, let me be the first to say that MBA programs aren’t just for for-profit folks anymore. Check out the Aspen Institute’s biennial guide to socially responsible MBA programs. It sounds like the highly transferable skills that come with an MBA might be right for you, but don’t plan for it to limit your future to the world of startups. And since when are startups and innovation the domain of the private sector, anyway? Start reading Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review or the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge blog to learn more about the ways innovation and entrepreneurship are being harnessed to enact social change.

I’m surprised to hear a millennial so easily accept the traditional dichotomy between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. Why not try to shake things up a bit? You may have to do more research and write more cover letters than you would if you were filtering your job search by sector—but isn’t it worth it to find the very best fit?

Eric, I was a “bridger” (a label I first learned from Bridgestar, and it fits my story perfectly) who moved from 20 years in the for-profit technology sector to a not-for-profit career in the foundation sector (12 and counting). As a result I get lots of questions like yours. Most start with something like: “I have been doing this for-profit job, and now I want to do something good/give something back, so I would like to apply my skills to the nonprofit world. What should I do?”

It’s nice, even admirable, but it’s not the right way to think about your next steps. Let me start by discussing two pervasive myths about the for-profit/not-for-profit equation that I frequently encounter when talking to for-profit leaders thinking about making this change:

Myth No. 1: Not–for-profit missions are inherently more “good for the world” than for profit; thus choosing to work in a values-based or mission-based job means choosing to work in a not-for-profit.

Myth No. 2: People who work in the for-profit sector are more talented than their peers in not-for-profit organizations.

Neither of these is true. It’s not the tax status that determines the impact of the organization on the needs of the world.

It is the mission and the quality of the organization and its leadership and how effective the organization is at achieving their objectives. Jim Collins, in the best (little) book I have ever read about the social sector, reminds us that most organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, are simply not great organizations. But you should find one that is!

Can a fair-trade for-profit coffee company do as much to generate gainful employment in Rwanda as a not-for-profit microcredit organization? Absolutely. Which is better, a biotech company looking for a new class of antibiotic or a field health organization reaching those least served? It depends.

Yes, stakeholders in a for-profit company have motives that might affect the way the mission is pursued. But self-interest plays into all organizations’ choices. You need to look deeply into to the mission and the approach to serving the mission to determine where you might be able to use your values, passion, and skills to do the most good.

As a frequent nonprofit employer of “bridgers,” I expected bridging candidates to demonstrate a sustained commitment to pursuing their values—not a newfound passion. If the candidate didn’t show a long-term commitment to his or her values (using their money, time, or voice in pursuit of those values) before they showed up looking to “bridge” to a leadership role that would allow them to exercise those values, they were at a real disadvantage over those who had already demonstrated their commitment.

I encourage Eric and others struggling to make a values-based career change to start this exploration by exploring four key questions:

Values match: What do I care deeply about?

Skill match: With my education, skills, experience, and financial resources, what can I offer to the organizations addressing those issues?

Life match: What key conditions do I need to be successful (geography, pay, work environment)?

Organization match: What organizations are making real progress in an area that aligns with my values, meet my basic criteria above, and have an unmet need that I can potentially serve?

Then you can either go back to school in a program that will help you build the skills needed to make that ideal match; offer to work on a volunteer basis where you can build the experience and understanding that will make you a better match for the right job and right organization; or get out into the marketplace with your criteria in hand.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it. In our ongoing effort to do better ourselves, we’re donating 25 percent of the proceeds from this column to ONE.org—an organization committed to raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, and disease and the efforts to fight such problems in the world’s poorest countries.

Patty Stonesifer is the chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was president, then CEO for 10 years. She spent the first two decades of her career in the technology business, where her last job was senior vice president at Microsoft.
Sandy Stonesifer is the project manager for a national study of the consequences of unintended pregnancy based in San Francisco.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2212642/

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Copyright 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC


Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 3:48 pm

March 4, 2009, 6:27 pm

<!– — Updated: 1:46 am –>

A Castle at the White House

Doug Mills/The New York Times A swing set was installed at the White House Wednesday.

Now the White House is really kid-friendly: On Wednesday, the Obamas had a swing set installed at the executive mansion, just outside the Oval office.

The swing set, which includes three regular swings, a tire swing and a tree house, sits near the White House pool and the horseshoe pit. It is emblazoned with a plaque proclaiming that it is “Malia and Sasha’s Castle.”

Doug Mills/The New York Times

The new play equipment marks the Obamas first effort to put their personal stamp on the White House grounds. President Bill Clinton installed a new putting green. President George H.W. Bush added the basketball court and horseshoe pits.

First Lady Michelle Obama — who has two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, — has vowed to give the White House more of a family-friendly feel. And Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, has predicted that emphasis will become more evident as the weather warms.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

“I’m looking forward to backyard barbecues,’’ Ms. Jarrett said in an interview earlier this year. “Just the fact that they have young children lends itself to a different kind of entertaining.”

March 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:44 pm

Minority Leader Limbaugh

By David Plouffe
Wednesday, March 4, 2009; A15


The 2008 election sent many messages. At the top: Americans wanted to turn the page on the politics of division and partisan pettiness, and they wanted a government — and country — that would put the middle class first.

Watching the Republicans operate this past month, it would appear that they missed that unmistakable signal.

Instead, Rush Limbaugh has become their leader.

Limbaugh, of course, told his radio listeners that he’s rooting for President Obama to fail — and hoping the president’s ideas for bolstering our economy fail with him. For many Americans, hungry for leadership and cooperation, this sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. When Limbaugh reiterated the sentiment this weekend, hundreds of Republican conservatives cheered him on. But instead of rebuking the radio personality or charting their own course, Republican leaders in Washington are paralyzed with fear of crossing their leader. Less than 24 hours after committing the unforgivable sin of criticizing Limbaugh, RNC Chairman Michael Steele felt compelled to publicly apologize. He was not the first and will certainly not be the last.

Limbaugh’s voice could be heard in the words of new Republican quarterback Eric Cantor, who says the GOP’s strategy will be to “Just Say No” — not for substantive or philosophical reasons but to advance Limbaugh’s strategy for failure. Independent voters, those who find the ways of Washington particularly toxic, could be forgiven for wondering whether the Republican minority has any clue what is happening in our country.

Last week’s Post-ABC News poll shows that voters trust President Obama on the economy by a remarkable 35 percentage points more than they trust Republicans in Congress — the biggest advantage for a president on this question since George H.W. Bush basked in public approval of his handling of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The source of Obama’s advantage is critical: independent voters, who give the president high marks on his handling of the economy and his job overall.

Obama won these voters, who famously recoil from what they see as overly partisan and shortsighted politics, by eight points in 2008 — a dramatic improvement for the Democrats from 2004, when George Bush and John Kerry tied.

There are other groups of voters worth watching. Among those with a history of voting in presidential elections, Obama and Sen. John McCain essentially ran even. Obama won first-time voters by a convincing 39 points — owing largely to a combination of younger voters, Hispanic voters and disaffected voters.

The sentiment seems alive and well today. Seventy-three percent of all voters, The Post found, believe that the president is trying to cooperate with Republicans. Only 36 percent believe the same to be true of the GOP.

It would surprise no one to learn where new voters and independents came down on that question.

Thus far, Republican leaders have let their strategy be guided by their most conservative base, capturing perhaps a third of the nation’s voters. For Republican candidates seeking the support of right-wing activists in Iowa, who will exercise outsize influence in the presidential selection process in four years, that strategy — while not entirely defensible in the midst of an economic crisis — is understandable.

But any party that hopes to actually govern must appeal to moderates. Today, “moderate” is not an adjective that many would associate with the GOP minority in Congress. And a strategy designed chiefly to satisfy the 33 percent of voters who approved of George Bush’s performance last fall — while turning off first-time and swing voters — hardly seems like the best way out of the political wilderness.

But Republicans aren’t simply guilty of knee-jerk reactions in opposing efforts to reach common ground. They also thumb their noses at the middle class, those who are struggling mightily in these rocky economic times. One after the other, congressional Republicans declared before TV cameras that the president’s economic recovery plan won’t work — that it would rocket the country toward socialism and would only make things worse.

The truth? Obama’s recovery package contains the biggest middle-class tax cut in history. It will create or save at least 3 million jobs. In every community, district and state, its impact will soon be felt. Obama has made clear that this measure, while crucial, won’t solve all our economic problems overnight. But no matter what the eventual impact, congressional Republicans have staked out their position: steadfastly opposing something most Americans see as reducing middle-class taxes and creating jobs when the country needs those outcomes most.

There is still time for Washington Republicans to join some of their colleagues outside the Beltway and become partners in progress. As Americans, we should all hope that happens.

But if the GOP sticks with its strategy of failure as the only option, further eroding its brand with the people who decide elections, we may find out what it means for a political party to hit rock bottom.

The writer is senior adviser at AKPD Message and Media, a political consulting firm. He served as campaign manager for Obama for America and Obama-Biden 2008.

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