Garance Franke-Ruta is a senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic. More
Franke-Ruta was previously national web politics editor at The Washington Post, and has also worked at The American Prospect, The Washington City Paper, The New Republic and National Journal magazines. In 2007, she and the other contributors to The American Prospect 's blog "Tapped" won the Hillman Prize. In 2006, she was fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., and in 2007, a summer fellow with The Iowa Independent, based in Des Moines, Iowa. Garance has lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard Art Museums, Williams College, Wellesley College, Brandeis and Georgetown Universities, and taught in Georgetown's Master of Professional Studies in Journalism program. She has also has made numerous appearances on national and regional television and radio programs. Born in the South of France, Franke-Ruta grew up in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico; New York City; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., since graduating from Harvard in 1997.
Four conditions that would make it easier for the New York Democrat to retain his House seat
NEW YORK -- Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday evening called for a House ethics investigation into the actions of Queens, N.Y., Rep. Anthony Weiner, the gravest threat yet to his continued tenure in office after a remarkable afternoon confession to sending inappropriate online messages to at least six women over a period of three years. But I think even with a congressional investigation afoot he will not need to resign from office so long as the following four things obtain:
1. None of the six women in question are minors.
2. None of the six women in question are in the sex industry.
3. No congressional resources were inappropriately used.
4. He confessed everything. There's no other shoe to drop.
Why could he stay in office? Because he is from New York. I'd wager some percentage of men here looked at Anthony Weiner's sext pictures and wondered not about his marriage, but where he gets waxed. Others envy him. At the PDF conference Monday in lower Manhattan, one married man was impressed by Weiner's ability to seduce women. "Good for him," he said to me as we discussed the situation, and the six women who, in addition to the congressman's gorgeous wife, were willing to indulge him. "So he likes beautiful ladies! So what, who doesn't?" one New Yorker told the Daily Beast as it surveyed opinions in the city. Heck, after Weiner, I'll bet more men take up the practice of sending photos to women than are scared off by his example.
People are prurient. Weiner has afforded them the gift (or curse, depending on your view) of a break from social norms that frown on having pornographic conversations at the office, over dinner, or while swirling a drink and wearing a half-embarrassed, half-titillated smile. Of course they want to keep talking about him, because that means they get to indulge in something verboten, too.
And so they will talk about him. And people will surely dig into the question of the women's ages. One is 26; another is 40 and one (perhaps the same one?) was earlier reported to be "middle-aged" -- which is to say, from the 46-year-old Weiner's age cohort. If there is any lesson to be drawn from all of this, it is that men who do not marry until their mid-40s may have a deeply held ambivalence about the contemporary American vision of marriage. News to no one! Heck, many married men (and women) that age are ambivalent about it, too, if our national divorce rate is any indication.
(And note that I am not saying "traditional marriage," because traditional marriage has historically often made room for male infidelity, and still does today in quite a large number of nations.)
But one never knows how an individual marriage is constructed by the people in it. And in any event, such matters, while of cultural and sociological interest, do not tell us much about someone's capacity as a legislator. Weiner did, as he said, repeatedly, a stupid, dumb thing in sending naked pictures of himself to women who were virtual strangers, and behaved in ways that were deeply unkind to his wife. He has admitted it, and corrected his lies pretty rapidly as these things go (look how long it took John Edwards to come clean). Also, I think we can all acknowledge after the events of the past week that Weiner is a terrible liar.
His political survival going forward will depend in part on the four criteria outlined above. Of them, charges of misuse of congressional resources would be perhaps the easiest problem to fight, because they're the most boring. Sextual involvement with a porn star will be bigger hurdle, because it will prolong the story and add a fresh element of intrigue. But even as new details trickle out over the next few days, it is likely that the Weiner story reached its narrative climax yesterday. Could anything top that news conference?
Whether Weiner can be reelected or seek new office is a whole 'nother question, but as the cases of Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank and Bill Clinton and David Vitter have shown, voters can be much more forgiving than television pundits or newspaper editorial boards. It can be difficult to assess the actual impact of a scandal on a politician's career during the first week of the controversy. And given that adultery remains a major cause of divorce in this country, and that half of all marriages end in divorce, and that we routinely elect divorced people (some of whom were doubtless unfaithful), we seem as a nation to have settled the debate over whether marital problems should be a de facto disqualifier for public service.
Image credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press
Drop-down image credit: Reuters
What would Freud say?
During a tour of Westminster Abbey in central London Tuesday, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama left a message in the guest book, signing the volume with their signatures and a date that was off by three years.
In reality, on May 24, 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama was campaigning at an event with veterans at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The financial crisis portrayed in last night's HBO movie "Too Big to Fail" had yet to take place, the unemployment rate was just 5.5 percent, and Obama was on the rise as the global superstar promising to bring Hope and Change to America.
He was also locked in the protracted primary battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton, and on that day three years ago, forgave her comment that she was staying in the race in part because of her memory of the Robert Kennedy assassination, and how things can change even late in a contest.
"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Senator Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make, and I think that is what happened here," Obama said in an interview with Radio ISLA at the time.
That seems to go for dates, too.
"A Westminster Abbey spokeswoman confirmed it was the president who had written the wrong date," The Telegraph reports.
Via New York magazine.
Image credit: John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images
Just how many kids do the GOP contenders -- and possible contenders -- have? Let's go to the chart:
That's an average of four kids each for those with kids, compared to an of average 1.86 for U.S. families with children, according to 2004 Census data.
As you might expect, a Mormon leads the pack with seven children, followed by a traditionalist Catholic, another Mormon, and the other more religiously conservative Christians.
Along with an op-ed in USA Today and the speech itself, advance excerpts of which were provided by the campaign, it amounts to perhaps the most thorough and orderly roll-out we've yet seen in the GOP presidential primary field. From the speech:
"I'm Tim Pawlenty, and I'm running for President of the United States. We live in the greatest country the world has ever known. But, as we all know, America is in big trouble, and it won't get fixed if we keep going down the same path. If we want a new and better direction, we need a new and better President."
"President Obama's policies have failed. But more than that, he won't even tell us the truth about what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in. ... I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth."
"We've tried Barack Obama's way -- and his way has failed. Three years into his term, we're no longer just running out of money. We're running out of time. It's time for new leadership. It's time for a new approach. And, it's time for America's president - and anyone who wants to be president - to look you in the eye and tell you the truth."
"The changes history is calling on America to make today cannot be shouldered only by people richer than us, or poorer than us - but by us, too. Politicians are often afraid that if they're too honest, they might lose an election. I'm afraid that in 2012, if we're not honest enough, we may lose our country. If we want to grow our economy, we need to shrink our government. If we want to create jobs, we need to encourage job creators. If we want our children to be free to pursue their dreams, we can't shackle them with our debts. This is a time for truth."
"No president deserves to win an election by dividing the American people - picking winners and losers, protecting his own party's spending and cutting only the other guys'; pitting classes, and ethnicities, and generations against each other. The truth is, we're all in this together. So we need to work to get out of this mess together. I'll unite our party and unite our nation, because to solve a fourteen-trillion-dollar problem, we're going to need three hundred million people."
"In Minnesota and in Washington, the issues were the same: taxes, spending, health care, unions, and the courts. But in Washington, Barack Obama has consistently stood for higher taxes, more spending, more government, more powerful special interests, and less individual freedom. In Minnesota, I cut taxes, cut spending, instituted health care choice and performance pay for teachers, reformed our union benefits, and appointed constitutional conservatives to the Supreme Court. That is how you lead a liberal state in a conservative direction."
Drop-down image credit: Reuters
The Republican presidential primary field looks to consist almost entirely of people who have been out of office for years
Republican politicians who are on the rise are sitting out the contest to challenge incumbent President Obama, by and large leaving it to those who've not successfully fought political battles in years.
Current office-holders and rising stars such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan have said they will not run. And with early possible contenders Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) all now having bowed out of the running, that could leave an eventual GOP field that contains only one person who currently holds elected office -- Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the anti-war libertarian who wants to eliminate the Federal Reserve -- as well as only one serious contender who has run a successful race in the social media era, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.
Why does this matter? Because to win the presidency it helps to have the well-known launching pad of a job as an elected official -- or, barring that, the support of a strong and growing political movement -- and be in tune with how contemporary campaigns are run.
The last time a candidate who was not an elected official at the time he ran for office won the presidency was when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980. Reagan was the GOP's next-in-line figure to seize the nomination that year, having run and lost the 1976 GOP primaries after the end of his second term as governor of California, and having built a power base as a leader of the ascendent conservative movement within the GOP. He was an early favorite in a way no GOP contender is today, according to polling data, when Republicans are facing a rare front-runnerless race, and the only intraparty movement of note, the tea party, appears to be flagging.
So far the field of Republicans vying to win the party's crown and challenge the incumbent president in 2012 has failed to excite the party's base -- perhaps because its entire top tier is made up of people who will have last held office between 2 and 14 years from the date of the next presidential inauguration.
That field includes: former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who left office under a cloud after the '98 election; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, last in office in January, 2007; and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who just stepped down this past January and is formally launching his presidential campaign today in Iowa.
Also in the running are former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who lost reelection in 2006; former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, out of office as of early 2003; and two men who have never held elected office, former pizza magnate Herman Cain and political consultant Fred Karger. Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, who last held office in 1992, also joined the pack in March, announcing a presidential exploratory committee in Baton Rouge. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has formed an exploratory committee but not formally launched a presidential campaign; he left office in mid-2009, abandoning the governor's chair early in his second term to become ambassador to China.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who stepped down in the middle of her first term, leaving office in 2009, might conceivably also join the field, as might Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, like Paul, won reelection in 2010.
These two members of Congress aside, the 2012 GOP presidential primary field is dominated by people who have stepped off their political stepping stones and lack the day-to-day governing responsibilities that might keep them in touch with the problems of the present -- not to mention any kind of geographic connection to voters who might hold them accountable in the near-term for shifting policy views or the adoption of radical stances. With the exceptions of Bachmann, Paul, and Hunstman they also, to a one, have not run successful political campaigns during the social media era.
Below, the declared and possible 2012 GOP presidential primary contenders and the year each last won a general election contest:
Hunstman: 2008 (resigned in office)
Palin: 2006 (resigned in office)
Gingrich: 1998 (resigned in office)
"I was eating souffle at Rise Restaurant with Laura and two buddies," Bush said Wednesday at a conference of hedge fund managers in Las Vegas.Turns out that Bush 43, the recent American president perhaps most associated with acts of theatrical machismo, is a frequent diner at soufflerie "rise n°1," a small French restaurant in the ritzy Dallas neighborhood of Inwood Village recently profiled by the local NBC affiliate for its environmentally conscious ways.
"I excused myself and went home to take the call," he added. "Obama simply said 'Osama Bin Laden is dead.'"
Bush told attendees the president described in detail the secret mission to raid bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and the decision he made to put the plan into motion.
Bush told Obama, "Good call."
"This is one of Laura's favorite restaurants," rise no. 1 general manager Tara Brahni told The Atlantic. For security reasons, she wasn't able to "disclose how often" the former first couple visits, but the duo are regulars at the West Lovers Lane spot, which is "basically around the corner from where George lives," she said.
On that fateful Sunday night, Bush most likely would have been eating a crab souffle, she said, though he had ordered the filet. A six ounce center cut, it is served with fingerling potatoes, haricots vert and bernaise sauce. Also at the table was a crab souffle, George W. Bush's favorite.
Laura Bush "mixes it up so much -- every time she's in she gets a different [souffle]," observed Brahni. But the former president always gets the crab.
"I asked him before if he was ever going to order something different and he told me he was a creature of habit," she said.
There was no exclaiming when the call came in. "At the time that he did receive the call, no one in the restaurant knew what the phone call was," she said. "He was really calm. He just said he needed to leave."
"I don't think anyone in the restaurant really knew that any thing was going on," she added.
The menu for the restaurant follows; the crab souffle is not listed on the permanent menu, but is a regular "specialty" item:
Image credit: Rise Souffle
Texas has not given its electoral votes to a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Ben Smith reports the Lone Star State is one of 12 whose maps grace the walls at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago.
Image credit: Getty Images
Q Okay. And also, I just got off the phone with singer, poet, philanthropist Jill Scott who's performing tonight for the poetry and prose. And she said she's very disappointed to hear about the critics of Common -- Sarah Palin and some of the GOP to include people in the New Jersey State Police -- about his stand and his comments. What does this White House have to say as Common is an invited guest to be able to deliver his poetry and prose to the group that's coming tonight?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'll make a couple of points about that, April. First of all, the President does not support and opposes the kinds of lyrics that have been written about, as he has in the past. He has spoken very forcefully out against violent and misogynist lyrics. Secondly, in regard to the concerns by some law enforcement, this President's record of support for law enforcement is extremely strong. He remains committed to the men and women who protect the American citizens and put themselves in harm's way all the time. He was able to express that appreciation and support just last week in New York when he met with police and firefighters.
And I would say that while the President doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, he does -- I mean, we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for, more broadly, in order to stoke a controversy. I mean, he is -- within the genre of hip-hop and rap, he is what's known as a conscience rapper -- or a conscious rapper, rather. And I would quote a report just six months ago from Fox News where he was described as a rap legend and quote, "Your music is very positive and you're known as the conscious rapper. How important is that to you, and how important do you think that is to our kids?"
And I think that one of the things that the President appreciates is the work that Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially in Chicago, trying to get them to focus on poetry, as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street.
Q Jay, "conscious" was the word you used?
MR. CARNEY: Conscious.
MR. CARNEY: Conscious, yes. Conscious rapper -- as in socially conscious.
MR. CARNEY: So going back to my conversation with Jill Scott just literally a few minutes ago, she said it's about freedoms and it's about creativity, and it's his thoughts, his opinions. She's supporting his thought.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look --
Q And then -- but wait a minute. But also, at the same time, did this White House vet any of the poetry that the poets are delivering tonight before they deliver them?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know specifically about the vetting process. The fact is, Mr. Lynn has participated in other events in the past, including the lighting of the Christmas Tree, I believe. I mean, he's a Grammy award-winning -- multi Grammy-award winning artist. And he's been invited to this event about poetry, and partly because of his efforts to bring poetry to audiences that don't get to experience it. And we think that's a positive thing.
Q Can I follow on that? I mean what --
MR. CARNEY: If you must. (Laughter.)
Q Well, somewhat must. I mean, why would it that someone who has made statements threatening to kill police officers get invited to --
MR. CARNEY: Keith, let me just make clear that we oppose --
Q -- is it an appropriate thing for him to be here?
MR. CARNEY: He has spoken out about -- very strongly against -- as an elected official, as an American and as a father, against those kinds of lyrics. And he opposes them. But he does not think that that is the sum total of this particular artist's work, which has been recognized by a lot of mainstream organizations and fair and balanced organizations like Fox News, which described his music as very positive.
Q Are you sarcastic when you say that?
Q -- but I mean, is it then possible that whatever your overriding message -- that killing cops is a very serious matter -- you can basically say anything as long as your overriding message is positive and get invited to the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I've addressed this. We -- the President opposes those kinds of lyrics. He thinks they're harmful. Again, I think that taking that -- it's ironic to pick out those particular lyrics about this particular artist, when in fact, he's known as a socially conscious hip-hop artist or rapper who has done a lot of good things. He's not -- you can oppose some of what he's done and appreciate some of the other things he's done.
Q Is there concern he'll get associated with that?
MR. CARNEY: I think that's all I can say on that.
President Obama and the first lady love to tease each other in public. Sometimes the digs seem a little pointed.
Anyone who's ever attended a dinner party knows it's one of the quirks of coupledom that its members will say things about each other in public they wouldn't in private.
On Cinco de Mayo, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama held a celebration of the Mexican holiday at the White House and proved that to be true even of the first couple.
"You do not want to be between Michelle and a tamale," the leader of the free world quipped about his wife, discussing her love of Mexican food.
As the audience laughed and hooted, the first lady smiled, wrinkled her nose and shot her husband a theatrically questioning look.
"It is true. It's true. But, she's moving, though, so she can afford to have as many tamales as she wants," he backtracked. She shimmied off the dig with a little dance.
The Obamas have been teasing each other in public like this since he was campaigning for the Democratic nomination in 2007.
Below, some of the more memorable examples:
Drop-down image credit: Reuters
The White House Tuesday blamed "the fog of war" for conflicting statements in its recounting of the events surrounding the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but the history of misstatements from U.S. government officials about various combat operations raises questions about whether briefers also were subjecting us to a counterterrorism strategy and not just completely confused in their initial statements.
Consider the narrative put forward by John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, in a televised briefing the Associated Press described as an "uncharacteristically candid exchange with reporters."
"Thinking about that from a visual perspective, here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield," Brennan told the world from the White House podium Monday. "I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years."
There was a firefight and the al-Qaeda leader was "killed in that firefight," Brennan said. There was a woman who was used "to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire." The woman killed in the raid was bin Laden's wife, Brennan said: "She was positioned in a way that indicated that she was being used as a shield."
And bin Laden was killed because he resisted capture. "If we had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have done that," Brennan told reporters at the briefing.
"Looking at what bin Laden was doing hiding there while he's putting other people out there to carry out attacks again just speaks to, I think, the nature of the individual he was," Brennan said.
And that's the message our counterterrorism officials would, I expect, like the world -- and especially any potential followers of al-Qaeda's anti-American ideology -- to get about our newly vanquished enemy, responsible to the single deadliest attack on American soil. The leader of the terrorist group was soft, a coward in the end who hid behind a woman's skirts like a little girl, having grown accustomed to living in luxury in a mansion. Almost everything about this narrative seemed calculated to diminish any possible perception of strength or masculinity in bin Laden's reaction to the raid by an elite team of U.S. Navy Seals -- men who are in contrast among the most mythic and valorized in our armed forces, known for slogans like "pain is just weakness leaving the body."
It wasn't just Brennan, either. Politico's Josh Gerstein reports:
At a Pentagon briefing earlier in the day, a senior defense official said bin Laden used a woman as a human shield so he could fire shots. "He was firing behind her," the official said.By end of day, that narrative -- much like the narrative of Jessica Lynch's heroism in 2003 -- was being picked apart. Reported Politico:
In another background briefing early Monday morning, a senior administration official also said bin Laden put up a fight. "He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight," the official said.
"A different guy's wife was killed," a different official familiar with the briefing for TV reporters said Monday night. Bin Laden's wife was "injured but not killed," the official said.Whether bin Laden was armed when he was shot also was initially unclear:
Another official familiar with the operation said it did not appear that any woman was used as a human shield, but that the woman killed and the one injured were hurt in the crossfire. The official said he believed Brennan had mixed up the episode involving bin Laden's wife with another encounter elsewhere in the compound.
"Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up," said the U.S. official. "This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed."
...during a background, off-camera briefing for television reporters later Monday, a senior White House official said bin Laden was not armed when he was killed, apparently by the U.S. raid team.As for the claim that bin Laden was living in a mansion, as opposed to just a big house, all that's needed to debunk that description is some pictures of the house. A Wall Street Journal reporter went to the scene and gave this eye-witness account, concluding there was nothing mansion-like about it:
Another White House official familiar with the TV briefing confirmed the change to POLITICO, adding, "I'm not aware of him having a weapon."
The size and fortress-like nature of the compound stood out in the area, though many of the houses in Abbottabad, built by ex-servicemen and business people, also have high walls. Homes are separated by empty plots where people grow crops like potatoes and wheat.White House spokesman Jay Carney at Tuesday's briefing provided a fresh official "narrative" of the assault, noting "What is true is that we provided a great deal of information in great haste" yesterday "and obviously some of the information came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated."
The top two floors of bin Laden's three-story house are visible above the high perimeter walls. The house, built in 2005, appears run-down. Grass grows off a ledge below the roof. The outside walls are scarred with damp and mold. A hand-painted advertisement for Jamia Girls College, in Urdu and English, decorates one of the outside walls of the compound.
One of the awnings on an outdoor window hung down at an angle, perhaps after being damaged during the attack. Otherwise, the house stood intact, with few signs a major firefight only two days earlier.
There were no visible airconditioning units to keep residents cool through the Pakistan summer. At the back of the house was a small, private triangular garden with a towering fir tree, where bin Laden could have gotten air without being seen by outsiders.
As the U.S. assault team entered the room where bin Laden was with his wife, she rushed the "assaulter" and was shot in the leg, Carney said. Bin Laden was also shot as he resisted the "assaulter." He "was not armed" but "resistance does not require a firearm," Carney said.
"It was a highly volatile firefight. He resisted. The U.S. personnel on the ground handled themselves with the utmost professionalism," Carney said.
The special forces involved in the attack work under the aegis of the Joint Special Operations Command, which does not routinely provide accurate public information about its activities or "secret warriors," according to National Journal's Marc Ambinder. He reported Monday:
Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story -- generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That's the code.The new "narrative" laid out by Tuesday was written by the Department of Defense, Carney said.
I don't imagine that many Americans will care whether bin Laden was armed or not when he resisted the individual who confronted him in Abbottabad. His "nature" was revealed to us long ago.
But the "narrative" of his death remains of significance to those who might seek to follow in his foot-steps. That's why its worth looking at these early reports with a skeptical eye.
Image credit: Alexis Madrigal
1. Vice President Biden
2. President Obama
3. Air Force Brigadier General Marshall Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command
4. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough
5. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
6. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
7. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
8. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon
9. Chief of Staff William Daley
10. Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden
11. Audrey Tomason, Director for Counterterrorism
12. John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
13. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
Sign up to receive our free newsletters