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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana waits to be sworn in at the Capitol in Washington in this 2013 file photo. A Louisiana newspaper published a video that it says shows the congressman kissing a female staffer in his congressional office in Monroe, La. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

'Kissing congressman' Vance McAllister: Will voters forgive transgression? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.08.14

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana is in a lot of trouble. The married father of five was allegedly caught on surveillance tape kissing a staff member who was not his wife, and that tape has now been leaked to the world at large. Representative McAllister’s office in Washington was locked on Monday following the story’s release and in the afternoon he issued a lengthy apology.

“There is no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness. I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve,” said McAllister.

The alleged incident occurred in a district office in Monroe, La. The staff member was identified in the local Ouachita Citizen, which broke the story, as Melissa Peacock. Campaign finance records show that both Ms. Peacock and her husband have been staunch financial supporters of McAllister.

McAllister has only been in office a few months. He won a special election in a heavily Republican district in November to replace Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), who resigned to take a position in the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

McAllister upset a favored candidate with ties to the state GOP establishment to get his seat in Washington, riding an endorsement by the Robertson clan of "Duck Dynasty" fame. His ads emphasized his family and support for traditional values. While conservative, he has taken at least one surprising position: He has come out in favor of expanding Medicaid in the state as provided for by the Affordable Care Act, saying that to do otherwise would just divert some of his constituents’ taxes to other states.

On Tuesday, McAllister’s office announced that Peacock was no longer in his employ, and that the congressman planned to stay in office and run for reelection to a full two-year term in November. Will his apparent transgression hurt him with voters, making this effort an uphill climb?

Possibly not. In polls voters usually say they are less bothered by political extramarital incidents than by out-and-out monetary corruption.

A Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday (good timing) asked respondents to rate a hypothetical congressman who was only described as a married man of middle age who is working to develop policies to help middle-class families.

One group of respondents was told this congressman had been unfaithful to his wife. Of those, 49 percent said they would not, or probably would not, vote for him.

A separate group was told the congressman had created a new well-paid staff position to hire an unqualified family member. Of these voters, a whopping 67 percent said they would not or probably would not cast a ballot for the lawmaker.

“Voters clearly see a difference between personal and official scandals. Committing adultery is far less damaging to a politician than abusing their office,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement.

Other surveys have found broadly similar results. Last year a BusinessInsider poll found that only 28 percent of respondents would definitely stop supporting a candidate due to adultery.

Does that mean McAllister might win reelection? After all, he’s got a role model of sorts in Congress now. Rep. Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina won a House seat last fall despite the revelation when he was governor that he had a long-running affair with an Argentine woman.

Well, McAllister’s future depends heavily on the circumstances of his particular case, not just general approval or disapproval of political adultery. And right now those circumstances, for him, may be pushing the meter towards “loser.”

Representative Sanford’s transgression took place long prior to his congressional election, for instance. For McAllister, November really isn’t that far away. His emphasis on his family during the campaign could also cause voters to see him a harsher light, due to the apparent hypocrisy involved.

In the Quinnipiac survey, when respondents were told that the congressman facing a sex scandal had promoted family values in his campaign, his vote share cratered, with only 28 percent of voters saying they would continue to support him.

In addition, there is video. That matters in today’s social media age. Voters in his district will see the tape over and over prior to the 2014 election. And right now there is at least one aggrieved party: Peacock’s husband. He’s lashed out, saying his life has been “wrecked” by McAllister, according to CNN.

Voters do make a distinction between private and public behavior. Otherwise Bill Clinton’s presidency might have ended prematurely. Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana remains in office despite his phone number surfacing during investigation of the “DC Madam” prostitution ring. Senator Vitter has even declared that he will run for governor of Louisiana in 2015 to replace the term-limited Jindal.

The question for McAllister will be whether voters make a similar distinction in his case.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks with the media following his address on education to the Texas Business Leadership Council in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2013. Bush's policies on education and immigration reform put him at odds with many GOP conservatives. (Eric Gay/AP/File)

Colbert says Jeb Bush White House hope 'over.' Joke or true? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.08.14

On “The Colbert Report” Monday night, comic Stephen Colbert pronounced Jeb Bush’s prospects for winning the White House to be zero, ended, kaput. The reason? Over the weekend the former Florida governor talked about illegal immigration during an appearance at his father’s presidential library and said that those who sneak into the US for work do so as an “act of love” to support their families.

Mr. Colbert played the Bush clip, then sat in silence for a beat. “He will be missed,” the funnyman said.

Republican primary voters know that illegal immigration is driven by something other than affection, Colbert added. We won’t go into that further; you can watch that part for yourself.

Colbert concluded this bit by saying that immigration made this country great, but only when driven by Nazis or potato famine.

“Nice try Jeb. It’s over,” he said.

Yes, Stephen Colbert is a performer playing the part of an aggrieved right-leaning host, so it’s not like this is informed political data analysis. He’s structuring his argument for maximum laughs as opposed to maximum insight.

But we bring this up because this opinion is, in fact, widely shared among certain types of Republicans. There’s an establishment core within the party that thinks Mr. Bush running for president would be a great idea, and they’re pressing hard to make it so. But grass-roots activists, tea party backers, and (some) neoconservatives have recoiled from this effort in general and Bush’s “love” remark in particular.

“I think there’s no way there will be a Bush-Clinton race in 2016,” said conservative commentator Bill Kristol on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday.

The pushback indeed centers on Bush’s immigration views. His opinions on this problem are not widely shared by conservative GOP base voters. It’s Republicans in the House who have bottled up comprehensive immigration reform, remember. In doing so, they’re just reflecting the leanings of their districts.

But that’s not all. Bush hasn’t been too involved in the struggle against Obamacare or other Obama-era policy disputes. He is in favor of Common Core educational standards, which aren’t popular in conservative localities. His surname stands for big government, according to many tea party-leaners. Medicare Part D and the Iraq War both came during his brother W.’s presidential watch.

“I’m treating the prospect of another Bush nomination as a test of whether the Republican grassroots, realistically, has any influence at all over who their party chooses,” writes right-leaning Allahpundit at Hot Air.

Bush’s potential 2016 rivals aren’t slamming him – yet. But they’re walking right up to the edge.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas said on CNN on Monday that it’s true that illegal immigrants endure “heartbreaking” conditions as they make their way through the desert along the southern border to reach the United States. However, they’re breaking the law by sneaking into the country, he added.

“Rule of law matters,” said Senator Cruz.

Asked whether ex-Governor Bush was a strong conservative, Cruz demurred.

“That’s a question for voters to say,” he said.

Bush said on Sunday that he’ll decide whether to run for the White House by the end of the year. One thing bearing on his decision will be whether he thinks he can avoid the “vortex of the mudfight” in the 2016 campaign.

Good luck with that. As Allahpundit points out, Bush will get asked about Iraq, and he’ll either have to defend W.’s choice to invade or disown his own brother. That could make the immigration debate look civil indeed.

Vice President Biden speaks at the American Association of Community Colleges' 94th Annual Convention in Washington, Monday, April 7, 2014. On Monday morning, Biden returned to Twitter just in time to fire up Democrats for 2014. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Joe Biden returns to Twitter. Democrats' 2014 secret weapon? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.07.14

Joe Biden is back on Twitter just in time to fire up Democrats for 2014. On Monday morning he suddenly reactivated his @JoeBiden account on the mini-blog social media site, which had gone radio silent following a happy holidays tweet in 2012.

“Dusting off the Twitter handle for a big midterm election year. Let’s get to it folks!” the US vice president tweeted.

The post was signed “Joe,” so Biden himself allegedly wrote it. Unsigned posts are the work of the Democratic Party, since it’s a campaign-related account.

In a way, Biden never really left Twitter. His official vice presidential handle, @VP, has stayed up throughout the Obama administration. But the official feed has to remain pretty strait-laced, while the campaign site gets to loosen up. So in that sense it’s the real Joe that’s being resurrected.

As the Washington Post’s own un-tight political analyst Chris Cillizza wrote today, “This is going to be good.” Then he ran through all his favorite Joe Biden Twitter memes (twemes?) from years past, such as photos of Biden in aviator sunglasses, and Joe Biden carrying pumpkins.

Great, but is this really going to help? Democrats have obviously worked hard at outreach via modern electronic means, such as social media or the Comedy Central fake talk show “Between Two Ferns.” Biden’s got 550,000 Twitter followers, which isn’t bad.

But the Democrats are facing a tough election this November; political prognosticators generally now rate the GOP as having a good chance to retake the Senate while holding the House.

Sure, Biden gets a lot of ink for being Biden, a long-talking glad-hander who uses the word “literally” more than anybody in Washington. A lot of his coverage deals with the latest unusual thing he said, though, and right now the Democrats don’t need ironic, winking attention. They need somebody to fire up the base.

Biden can be good at that, as he’s an emotional guy. He’s popular with Democratic core constituencies, such as minorities and unions. The bad news for Dems is that the Veep is liked, but not well-liked. His favorable ratings are similar to President Obama’s, or a little worse, depending on the poll. That’s going to limit his ability to serve as a secret weapon.

In February, 46 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll had a favorable view of Biden, while 42 percent were unfavorable. (Seven percent said they’d never heard of him. That’s something we literally cannot believe.)

In March a survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polls had Biden underwater, with a 40 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable rating.

This means that in the upcoming campaign Biden will almost certainly serve the traditional vice presidential role, acting as a leading surrogate speaker around the country, particularly in places where the president cannot go for political reasons (red state) or does not want to go to because it’s too much trouble.

There is a possible social media powerhouse for the Democrats out there, however. He’s always ready, if not particularly rested. He’s got three times as many Twitter followers as Biden, at 1.74 million, and right now he’s more popular than at any other point in his long national political career.

That’s Bill Clinton, of course. While Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning for 2014 might be constrained by her need to plan a possible presidential run, Bill Clinton won’t have that problem, and it’s he – not Joe Biden – who’s going to be the most popular and asked-for Democratic speaker in the months to come.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, here speaking at an education panel discussion at Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas on March 27, said on Sunday that he will announce a decision whether or not to run for the presidency by the end of the year. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP)

Immigration reform 'love': Did Jeb Bush comment change shape of 2016 race? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.07.14

Jeb Bush is going to run for president in 2016, unless he decides that he won’t. Or is it the other way around – he’s out, but reserves the right to jump in? In any case that’s the (hazy) bottom line from the ex-Florida governor’s appearance on Sunday at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. At the talk, Mr. Bush did not announce a candidacy but said he’ll decide whether or not to try for the presidency by the end of this year.

“It turns out that not running has generated way more interest than running,” he said, to laughter from the crowd assembled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his father George H.W. Bush’s administration. “I’m not that smart, it just kind of happened that way.”

Bush said his decision would depend upon two “simple things”: whether he could run a campaign with an optimistic message and not get sucked into the “vortex of the mud fight” and whether it’s OK for his family.

“All the tactics of a campaign aren’t nearly as relevant because I don’t think you can predict the context of a campaign this far out,” said Bush, the son of one president and brother of another.

However, for all his studied indecision as to whether he’ll throw his heritage in the ring and try for a Bush three-peat, Bush did do something which could well reverberate throughout the GOP primary season. He repeated that he’s a strong defender of the nationalized Common Core education standards, and that he supports immigration reform over the objections of the conservative wing of the party.

“We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point,” said Bush to a Fox News interviewer on stage at his dad’s presidential library. “Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way.”

What Bush is doing here is preemptively discussing his weaknesses within the GOP, write Chuck Todd and the rest of the NBC “First Read” gang this morning.

Both issues are so controversial among Republicans that, if he runs, some of his competitors will surely try to use his stances against him.

“These issues could be two Achilles' heels for him in a competitive Republican primary, in part because they are such raw, emotional issues,” write Mr. Todd and his compatriots.

In particular, immigration reform has already tied the party’s elected members in knots, as conservatives who oppose any sort of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants fight with establishment Republicans who believe that the GOP must deal with the reality of the problem and the growing importance of the Hispanic vote.

So in raising immigration again – and repeating his assertion that immigrants sneak into the country as an “act of love” to help provide for their families – Bush may have ensured that the party will settle this internal dispute once and for all in the 2016 race, whether he runs or not.

That’s because Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida pretty much shares Bush’s view on this issue, and has fought to pass some sort of immigration reform in Congress. He’s gotten battered by the right in the process.

Senator Rubio is likely to run, especially if Bush does not. And Bush has now laid down a marker on immigration for both of them.

Bush’s statements on the issue “will answer the question about his own electability in a contest that tests the most conservative credentials of its contenders. Or it will provide some running room for people closer to his own views on immigration," according to Bloomberg’s Mark Silva.

Thus Bush on Sunday may have issued a direct challenge to the tea party wing of the Republicans: Let’s see what you’ve got. Their response, and how that plays out in polls over the coming months, could well be a major influence on whether he ends up running or not.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz takes a selfie with President Obama, holding a Boston Red Sox jersey presented to the president during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Tuesday, where the president honored the 2013 World Series baseball champions. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

David Ortiz might have ended the presidential selfie, White House aide says

By Staff writer / 04.06.14

David Ortiz, it appears, has left his mark on political history. This week, he may have killed the presidential selfie.

Ever since the World Series champion Boston Red Sox visited the White House Tuesday, with Ortiz snapping a self-portrait with President Obama on his smartphone, D.C. has been set to vibrate. Ortiz, it turned out, had a social media deal with Samsung, and the Korean phonemaker said in statement after Ortiz tweeted his photo: “When we heard about the visit to the White House, we worked with David and the team on how to share images with fans.”

Yes, that would be the president unwittingly shilling for the Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. The White House was not pleased. 

Now, White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday: "Maybe this will be the end of all selfies. [Obama] obviously didn’t know anything about Samsung’s connection to this."

At this rate, Doris Kearns Goodwin could add an entire selfies chapter in a retrospective on the Obama presidency. In December, it was the president who was criticized for taking a selfie – with the prime ministers of Britain and Denmark at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

For the president who has essentially invented the political social media playbook, there is some irony in all this.

Obama has certainly embraced the power of Twitter to promote his image. His selfie in South Africa at the time set a record on Twitter for the most retweets. But comedian Ellen DeGeneres broke that record last month with a selfie she took at the Oscars with actors including Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, and Jennifer Lawrence.

When Obama later appeared on Ms. DeGeneres’s talk show, “Ellen,” he quipped: “I thought it was a pretty cheap stunt myself – getting a lot of celebrities in the background, you feeding them pizza.”

The DeGeneres selfie, appropriately enough, was also coordinated by Samsung as a promotion for the exact same device Ortiz used.

For his part, Ortiz has defended himself, saying the photo was not part of a marketing ploy.

“I don’t understand where that stuff is coming from," he told The Boston Globe. “That was one of those things that just happened. I gave him the jersey, and the photographers were going to take their pictures and I thought, really at the last second, maybe I should snap a shot with my phone while I have the chance ... It had nothing to do with no deals.”

Alex Radetsky, whose Radegen Sports Management represents Ortiz, insisted to Mashable that "it certainly was not part of the [Samsung] deal. It was spontaneous on his part."

As for the White House? Mr. Pfeiffer, at least, apparently did think the photo was a pretty cheap stunt.

 

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz takes a selfie with President Obama, holding a Boston Red Sox jersey presented to the president during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Tuesday, where the president honored the 2013 World Series baseball champions. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama-Ortiz selfie: Is White House really that mad? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.04.14

Is the White House really that mad about the selfie that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took with President Obama earlier this week? On the surface, it sure sounds so. Administration officials say they are not happy about finding out Mr. Ortiz had inked a deal with Samsung days before taking the shot during a Rose Garden celebration of the Sox’s 2013 world championship.

After all, a Samsung division put the now-iconic photo up on social media, and it got picked up and spread around by users tens of thousands of times in following days.

“As a rule, the White House objects to attempts to use the president’s likeness for commercial purposes. And we certainly object in this case,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday.

Translation: Ortiz should not expect an invitation to a state dinner anytime soon.

But look, the White House almost has to show umbrage about this incident. It’s been widely reported and framed in such a manner as to present the president as being fooled by Ortiz into helping him make money. There is no way the White House can just say “no biggie” while perhaps pointing out that Mr. Obama is actually a White Sox fan.

If they just went along with it, other more crass self-promoters might be emboldened. From a legal point of view, officials have to at least try to discourage the use of the president’s image for commercial purposes.

Though there are copyright issues involved and various state and federal laws on the ability of individuals to control their image for commercial purposes, the application of this law to presidents may be a murky area. The First Amendment gives a free expression overtone to uses of the chief executive’s image, notes Katie Zezima of The Washington Post in an interesting post on the legal aspects of the selfie.

Public dissuasion may be the Oval Office’s best weapon here. It's talked a toy company into pulling dolls named “Sasha” and “Malia” from the market. It got a clothing company to take down a big Times Square photo of Obama wearing one of the company's coats.

The photo itself does not make Obama look bad. He appears smiling and spontaneous and approachable, and White House press aides spend lots of time trying to project just that image for the president in the media. It’s not like he’s holding up a sign that says, “Buy a Galaxy Note 3, I would but the NSA won’t let me.”

Trust us, there are officials in the West Wing who are very happy about the attention this incident has received, since the attention makes it even more likely that the photo goes viral.

Plus, as we wrote earlier, all presidents are complicit in publicity for particular commercial endeavors. When Obama chooses Costco for a presidential speech, it’s publicity for Costco over other big-box stores. When he (or any other chief executive) makes the standard stop-at-a-regular-lunch-spot appearance and buys food, the publicity can be life-changing. A few years ago, Obama and family spent a few days in Bar Harbor, Maine. Every ice cream store they patronized still has up pictures and signs to the effect that “Obama ate here.”

So, yeah, the White House probably wishes Ortiz had handled this whole thing better. But are they furious? That might be going too far.

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, painted by former President George W. Bush, is displayed at 'The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy' exhibit at the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas, April 4, 2014. Mr. Bush on Friday revealed a series of his paintings of world leaders during an interview on NBC’s 'Today' show with daughter Jenna Bush Hager. (Brandon Wade/Reuters)

George W. Bush unveils his paintings of world leaders. Who looks best? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.04.14

George W. Bush unveiled his paintings of world leaders on Friday during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show with daughter Jenna Bush Hager. The occasion for their display was the opening of a new exhibit called “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy," at ex-President Bush’s library in Dallas. As he strolled though the gallery with Ms. Hager and camera in tow, Mr. Bush said he’s pretty sure his subjects don’t have high hopes for their portraits.

“I’m sure they’re going to say ... I look forward to seeing the stick figure he painted,” said Bush.

They weren’t, in fact, stick figures. Bush’s painting skills seem to be developing from his early self-portraits and depictions of pets. Art critics have taken a fairly charitable view of W.’s efforts, given he’s been at it for only a short time. Bush’s work is “surprisingly non-terrible,” wrote Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner last year.

Bush’s self-portrait leads off the exhibit and looks pretty good. His painting of Vladimir Putin is a bit cartoon-like, but then President Putin himself is a bit of a cartoon depiction of an authoritarian post-Soviet leader, so maybe that’s intentional. On “Today,” Bush retold the story of how he got along with Putin fine, but that at one point the Russian president dissed Bush’s dog, Barney the Scottish terrier.

“You really call that dog?” Putin said, according to Bush.

Later Putin introduced Bush to his own pet, a large hound-like dog that bounded across the lawn of his dacha as if it were retaking Crimea.

“Putin looks and me and says, ‘Bigger, stronger, faster than Barney,’ ” said Bush.

Other world leader portraits by W. included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who looked surprisingly trustworthy in oil; Tony Blair of Great Britain, a Bush friend who looked resolute in W.’s depiction; the Dalai Lama; Junichiro Koizuma, former prime minister of Japan; and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States.

“That’s my husband?” joked Barbara Bush upon seeing the painting of her husband on “Today." Yes, the network landed the whole family. It’s not that hard when you employ one of them. (Hager is an NBC correspondent.)

Actually, the painting of Bush’s dad was pretty good. Bush said it was his favorite.

“It was a joyful experience to paint him,” said Bush.

The fact that his dad got such a big mention is surely not happenstance. Bush is promoting his paintings at a time when the whole Bush family is on something of a public relations upswing. A big part of this is the growing recognition, with the passage of time, that George H.W. Bush was a pretty good chief executive at a pivotal moment in history.

He handled the Gulf War skillfully, holding together a broad international coalition and limiting US aims. (Yes, you can compare that with his son’s Iraq war diplomacy if you want.) He did not mess up the US response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This weekend, George H.W. Bush’s own presidential library is holding a three-day reunion to mark the 25th anniversary of his administration.

George H.W. Bush “has benefited from a wave of historical revisionism that has transformed him from the biggest incumbent loser since William Howard Taft to, by at least one measure, the most popular former president of the past half century,” writes Peter Baker of The New York Times on Friday.

Meanwhile, W.’s brother Jeb Bush is getting some attention from GOP establishment figures as somebody who might be the party’s best choice as a nominee for 2016.

Gee, do you think that’s got anything to do with the big rollout for the painting exhibit? Maybe that’s cynical Washington thinking. Maybe it isn’t.

Finally, George P. Bush, Jeb's son, ran away with the Texas GOP primary for land commissioner, in a vote widely viewed as the launch of yet another generation of Bushes in politics.

“The former first family has been making a splash lately.... Given that the family might put forth another presidential candidate, all this publicity can’t be a bad thing, right?” writes Katie Zezima on the Washington Post “Fix” political blog Friday.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel (l.) and former President Bill Clinton discuss how technology has enabled change within the world during the closing plenary session on the second day of the 2014 Meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University in Tempe March 22, 2014. Clinton was on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' Wednesday night, April 2, and engaged in an interesting discussion with Kimmel. (Samantha Sais/Reuters)

Bill Clinton talks aliens with Jimmy Kimmel. And what else? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.03.14

Bill Clinton was on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Wednesday night and engaged in an interesting discussion that was rather wide-ranging for an ex-president. For instance, he talked about aliens. No, not illegal immigrants: He meant space aliens, as in possibly green things with long fingers, and maybe ovoid heads and glowing eyes.

President Clinton told Mr. Kimmel that around an anniversary of an alleged alien sighting in Roswell, N.M., he’d asked aides to investigate what actually occurred at secret sites in the area.

“First, I had people go look at the records on Area 51 to make sure there was no alien down there,” Clinton said.

We hasten to add that he did not say he was expecting to find some kind of smoking gun, as it were. As president, he knew there was a lot of secret military testing in the area that may have stoked the rumors.

Nobody found anything in Roswell, so the administration was prepared to answer the deluge of inquiries it got on the incident anniversary. But Clinton, being the speculative sort, did not end the discussion there. He mused that aliens might exist, even if the US government does not have them in its custody, stored in a secret warehouse next to the lost Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail.

“Just in the last two years, more than 20 planets have been identified outside our solar system that seem to be far enough away from their sun and dense enough that they might be able to support some form of life. So it makes it increasingly less likely that we’re alone,” said Clinton.

He joked that when the aliens come, he just hopes it won’t be like the movie “Independence Day,” where the White House gets blown up. Kimmel joked that in that event, Clinton and Bill O’Reilly would be sharing a bunker together. Now there’s a great premise for a buddy action movie!

Clinton also talked about the need for more people to vote in midterm elections. And he said that he had no idea whether his wife will run for president in 2016, but that he won’t be running for vice president. So the appearance wasn’t all fun and “E.T.” nostalgia.

But his admission that, as chief executive, he’d actually investigated this subject makes you wonder: What else did he look into?

I mean, you’re the leader of what used to be called the Free World. You are cloaked in immense power, according to Steven Spielberg’s version of Abraham Lincoln. You can look into anything.

Elvis. Come on, if Clinton asked about aliens, it’s likely that he also asked if Elvis Presley is still alive. We wish Kimmel had asked about that. In fact, maybe the aliens are really stored in Graceland and The King is living in Roswell.

JFK. Clinton probably knows the real story about the CIA, the Mafia, LBJ, RFK, the Soviets, and Castro, and how they conspired with the Queen to kill John F. Kennedy, because he was going to de-escalate the secret war on aliens. That would have been a great discussion.

Hitler. Another lost opportunity. Kimmel should have asked if Clinton had aides track Adolf Hitler to his alleged Bolivian hide-out. Then, whether the president of the United States and House Speaker Newt Gingrich choppered in and personally arrested the Führer. 

And the Clinton-era government shutdown? That was part of the Hitler mission coverup.

President Obama poses with star player David Ortiz for a 'selfie' as he welcomes the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Tuesday. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Did David Ortiz dupe President Obama on selfie? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.02.14

The Boston Red Sox visited the White House this week so President Obama could honor them for their 2013 World Series victory. Such big league sports team appearances are always a festive occasion for administration staffers and the players themselves, and this one was no exception. Everybody was laughing and having a good time and Mr. Obama himself poked fun at the fact that many of the BoSox appeared shorn of the Amish-quality beards they sported during last year’s playoffs.

“Now, I thought I invited the Red Sox here today, but there must be a mistake because I don’t recognize all these clean-shaven guys,” said the president.

In the scrum after the remarks everybody got to shake Obama’s hand and so forth, and then slugger David Ortiz whipped out his cellphone and took a selfie with the president. Maybe you’ve seen it on Twitter or Instagram. It was an instant classic of the genre, with the two men holding up an “Obama” Sox jersey (number 44, get it?) while the rest of the team grinned in the background.

But here’s the problem: Ortiz had just signed a promotion deal with Samsung. The electronic giant thanked him on Twitter and picked up the shot for all its social media feeds. In essence, the player had suckered the president of the United States into appearing in his ad.

And as an ad, it worked. The photo was retweeted over 34,000 times from the Samsung Mobile USA twitter feed alone. To anyone who asked, Samsung officials replied that the picture had been taken with a Galaxy Note 3, according to The Boston Globe.

But as a matter of public relations, this may have been a big mistake. Reaction on sports radio and elsewhere to Ortiz’s move has been pretty heated. Over at Business Insider Joshua Green had a pretty typical reaction.

“Duping the president of the United States into participating with your social media campaign has to be a new low for advertising,” writes Mr. Green, adding that Ortiz should be embarrassed for “a Yankee move.”

OK, calm down, here are some thoughts on this.

First, if Obama wants this to stop, it will. The president of the United States controls their own image for licensing purposes. A call from the White House counsel’s office to Samsung is all it takes. That’s what happened in 2010 when a clothing firm posted a giant photo in Times Square showing Obama wearing one of its coats.

But, second, does Obama really care? He’s got lots of better things to worry about, and in any case all presidents are complicit to some extent in publicity for particular firms, if it suits their purposes. Broadcast appearances on talk shows, for instance, are huge for the broadcasters involved, and often occur only after specific lobbying, as Politico made clear Wednesday in a piece about how Obama ended up on actor Zach Galifianakis’s satirical “Between Two Ferns” talks show.

And third, the Red Sox are really popular. Really, really popular. This kills us to say, as we are not fans of either the Sox or the Yankees, to put it mildly. But as Nate Silver writes Wednesday on his new FiveThirtyEight site, if you take the number of Google searches related to each major league team, and divide it by the size of its metro TV market, Boston wins. It beats the Yankees, the Mets, the Braves, everybody.

“The Red Sox are a clear No. 1 and are about three times as popular as you’d guess from the size of the Boston media market,” writes Mr. Silver.

Sob. Well, at least they lost on opening day to the Baltimore Orioles.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, here leaving a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, is reportedly about to sign a $1.5 million book deal – a typical rite of passage for a presidential contender. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Ted Cruz book contract: Is he worth that much cash? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.02.14

Ted Cruz has landed a big book deal. According to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner, the freshman US senator and possible (OK, probable) 2016 presidential candidate has inked a $1.5 million contract with HarperCollins for a personal memoir that will also contain a vision for fixing the mess in Washington.

That’s a lot of money for a political figure who is not universally famous. Last October, a Gallup poll showed that 23 percent of respondents had never heard of Senator Cruz, despite all the news coverage surrounding his leading role in the government shutdown.

In fact, it’s Sarah Palin money. It’s more than Sarah Palin money: She got a bit less for her memoir, “Going Rogue,” after she shot to fame in 2008 as John McCain’s running mate.

Is Cruz worth that much? After all, the conservative book market has been trending downward, according to a recent lengthy piece in BuzzFeed by McKay Coppins. There have been too many titles and too many conservative publishers competing for the same tea party, constitutional conservative readers.

Well, the book business is fickle. But given Cruz’s current position in the conservative firmament, we’d say that advance is worth the gamble. Palin is a good comparison: “Going Rogue” sold more than 3 million copies in hardback, and the former Alaska governor ended up earning much, much more from the book than her $1.25 million advance. That means co-publishers Harper and Zondervan ended up making beaucoup bucks, too.

As we’ve written before, Cruz is the new Palin, a tough-talking and media-friendly figure who perhaps occupies the amorphous post of president of conservative America. While Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is also a tea party favorite, his libertarianism limits his appeal, and, in any case, Senator Paul appears to be reaching out to the GOP establishment ahead of a possible presidential bid.

Not so for Cruz. When it comes to the Texan's relationship with the Republican powers-that-be, he has crossed the Rubicon over bridges he has burned. He has infuriated Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator McCain (who has called him a “wacko bird”), and other Republican colleagues with his obstructionist maneuverings in the Senate itself.

The tea party/populist/cast-iron conservative base is enthusiastic about this. They distrust Washington Republicans, whom they feel have given them nothing but moderate presidential candidates who lost, while allowing government spending to continue to rise. Consider Palin’s critique of the GOP budget released by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin on Tuesday: She called it a “joke” because it would balance the federal budget over a decade, instead of immediately.

Plus, Cruz has an interesting personal story to tell. His father escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba and earned a college degree while working as a dishwasher; today, dad is a garrulous fixture on the conservative talk circuit. Cruz himself went to Harvard and then Princeton Law School and was a top debater before knocking off a heavily favored establishment Republican on the way to his victory in a 2012 Senate campaign in Texas.

A presidential bid would obviously boost book sales, so this contract may be a harbinger of things to come. The problem for Cruz (and his likely ghost-writer) will be to avoid the leaden dullness of policy prescriptions, which so often turns presidential candidate campaign books into clunkers.

An interesting question is whether it is the book, or the presidential bid, that is most important to Cruz’s future. He stands at a junction similar to the one Palin faced prior to 2012. Actual candidacy is one road, leading to a continued effort to engage directly in US politics. The other road leads to Fox News contracts, reality shows, and the money of what might be called politainment.

Which road will Cruz choose?

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