Who Is/Was Robert Gibbs? Tuesday, Feb 22 2011 

It’s hardly news that over the past half-century the city of Washington, once described by John F. Kennedy as a community “with Northern charm and Southern efficiency,” has been transformed — some would say transmogrified — into Hollywood East.

George Clooney sightings on Capitol Hill, Tom Cruise eating peanuts in the owner’s box at Redskin games — but that’s only the half of it. What’s really changed, thanks to the impact of television and cable news, is the ga-ga elevation of mere political functionaries into five-star celebrities.

Reverse reel, back to the future: It’s February, 2009, a mere month after the inauguration of the forty-fourth president, Barack Obama. Most Americans know who his Vice President is —Joe Biden.  An even greater number know who his Secretary of State is — Hillary Clinton.  A large number can even identify the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. But who, tell me, is this fellow Robert Gibbs? If one out of a hundred Americans could identify him two years ago, I’d have been surprised. (more…)

Political Wisdom (circa 1952) Tuesday, Feb 22 2011 

“That’s not enough. I’m going to need a majority.”

— Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, on seeing a placard reading, “You have the support of all thinking Americans.”

Hail to the Chiefs Tuesday, Feb 1 2011 

Re the White House re-staffing, a little history to remind us how far we’ve come in pursuit of administrative efficiency at the Executive level.

Before Eisenhower there was no such office as “chief of staff” in the White House. There were presidential assistants like FDR’s Marvin McIntire and Truman’s Clark Clifford but no administrative boss over the president’s staff. Ike introduced the chief of staff concept because, having served his entire life in the military, he liked things channeled through a single deputy.

The idea took hold and all succeeding presidents have had chiefs of staff, including Jimmy Carter who, in typical Carteresque fashion, said he was abolishing the position, then appointed Hamilton Jordan to carry out its function. Nixon had his Haldeman, Reagan his Jim Baker and Donald Regan, Bush 41 his John Sununu and Bush 43 his Andy Card.

Now comes Barack Obama’s second chief of staff, William Daley, said to be a business-oriented functionary with an eye to carrying out his President’s State of the Union pledge to give the American people “a government that’s more competent and more efficient.”

Daley’s first act? He has, according to the Washington Post, “hired his own chief of staff, Emmett Beliveau.”

So now we have a chief of staff to the chief of staff. What, I wonder, would General Ike think?

Not a Dime’s Worth of Difference Tuesday, Feb 1 2011 

Back in vogue as the new Congress convenes is the schoolyard habit of some Republicans’ referring to their opposition as “the Democrat Party.” It traces back to the 1930s and Forties, so irritating the Speaker of the House at the time, Sam Rayburn, that he threatened to retaliate by knocking off the first syllable of their name and calling it “the Publican party” (Pint o’ ale, anyone?).

Ah, but all that runs counter to the new spirit of collegiality on Capitol Hill, reflected by mixed party seating during the State of the Union address. What’s that? You aren’t yet convinced that Democrats and Republicans can put aside their differences when larger interests are at stake? Then consider this:

Faced with a rebellion by contrarian Democrats opposed to rules that have turned the United States Senate into the World’s Most Undeliberative Deliberative  Body, Harry Reid and other Liberal Elders met behind closed doors with Mitch McConnell and other Conservative Elders to work out an agreement whereby, whichever party has a Senate majority, the rule will stand that the mere threat of a filibuster can put a stop to any such legislative foolishness as judicial confirmations, treaties, etc.

Meaning that no matter who’s in the White House, Democrat or Republican, members of the Senate won’t have to cancel their plans to attend fundraisers in order to enjoy the benefit of filibustering without having to stand on the Senate floor and actually filibuster.

Conclusion: Whether members of the Democrat or Publican party, when it comes to what’s truly important to the Reids and McConnells – the retention of personal power – it’s like that uncollegial third-party candidate said many years ago: “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between ’em.”

Memorable Insight (circa 1985) Tuesday, Feb 1 2011 

“Vanity is an actor’s courage.” – Jackie Gleason