Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Defending Freedom of the Press

Gary Pruitt, the CEO of the Associated Press, ended his silence on the seizure of AP reporters' records by the Department of Justice Sunday.

It was about time. I was wondering if anyone at AP would step up to the plate and take a stand for freedom of the press. (While I was waiting, I was wondering if my faith in the Associated Press that was encouraged by everyone from my college journalism professors to my editors on the job had been misplaced.)

During an interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Pruitt said the move was "unconstitutional."

He'll get no argument from me on that.

And that comes from the CEO of a news organization that is perceived as friendly to the Obama administration — for which the Department of Justice works and from which the DoJ takes its marching orders. Can you imagine, I have asked people, the kind of treatment news organizations that are not perceived as friendly to the Obama administration can expect?

Actually, we don't have to wait for an answer to that question. Even before Pruitt made his remarks on Face the Nation, the Washington Post was reporting on Justice's surveillance of Fox News' James Rosen during a 2010 probe of suspected State Department leaks on North Korea.

It is no surprise to me that Garance Franke–Ruta wonders, in The Atlantic: Who else has been put under Justice's microscope?

That doesn't seem to me to be the question here. AP and Fox News occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, wouldn't you say? Consequently, doesn't it stand to reason that, if both have been subjected to this kind of scrutiny, anyone and everyone else could have been — or could still be — probed as well?

My question is more basic than that: Does freedom of the press still exist in this country?

When I was growing up, I felt confident in the answer to that question. It was such a preposterous question, though, that I never seriously pondered it. I took it for granted that America would always have a free press — even in the Nixon years, when the existence of an enemies' list became public knowledge, and the list included prominent names in the media.

But now, I'm not so sure. Intimidation of whistle blowers can have a chilling effect on sources, and the clear willingness of the administration to use Justice and the IRS as political weapons has the potential to make freedom of the press a thing of the past.

Without freedom of the press, there can be no freedom.

That is why it is so important for people like Pruitt to hold the administration accountable such abuses of power.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Those Second-Term Blues

About 7½ months ago, following Mitt Romney's decisive victory over Barack Obama in their first presidential debate, I observed that what Americans saw on their TV screens was completely at odds with the narrative they had been spoon fed by the Obama administration.

"And, in my experience," I wrote, "when people conclude that they have been deceived about one thing, they become suspicious of other things that are said by that person or whoever is authorized to speak on that person's behalf."

I still believe that even though the truth of it wasn't immediately apparent — because, also in my experience, it can take awhile for these things to sink in.

Obama went on to win the election, but I believe the seeds of distrust were planted in some voters' minds that night. I think that goes a long way toward explaining why Obama was the first president in nearly a century to win a second term by smaller popular and electoral vote margins than he received the first time.

(Note: I'm not saying that was the only reason why Romney lost. He made his share of mistakes, and the Republican Party has some problems that it needs to address with certain demographic groups. But the fact remains that the Obama campaign focused on negative campaigning to the exclusion of emphasizing a vision for the future to an extent that has rarely been seen in presidential politics — and seldom from Democrats.)

It was not a resounding victory for the president. It was a tepid endorsement, much like the one George W. Bush received in 2004. And, like Bush, Obama's residual good will appears to be eroding.

Comparisons to other presidents in recent memory who lost the confidence of the people may still be a bit premature, but I keep coming back to the fact that, in my lifetime, no other recently re–elected president has been hit with three major scandals at once so early in his second term.

All three of the scandals — the failure to even attempt to defend the embassy in Benghazi and the Americans in it; the use of the IRS as a weapon against organizations because of their political leanings; and the thoroughly unjustifiable seizure of reporters' phone records by the Department of Justice — are affronts to this country's commitment to freedom and justice.

Frankly, they all concern me — but, perhaps because I am a journalist, I am most offended by the misuse of the Department of Justice. If there is no freedom of the press, then there is no freedom. Period.

Who knows what else lurks just beneath the surface in this White House?

Second terms, as I have observed here before, are notorious for being disasters, but there is usually more of a honeymoon between the election and the onset of the administration's decline. This administration, however, seems to be intent on setting a record for rapid implosion.

Obama took the oath of office to begin his second term almost four months ago, and he started suffering legislative setbacks almost immediately. He has never articulated an agenda for the second term — he avoided doing so during the campaign — and the scandals that are now overwhelming his presidency all appear to have begun with a narcissistic obsession with himself rather than a desire to further a political ideology.

Certainly, he was never motivated by anything resembling a desire to serve the will of the people. That is something that appears to be dawning on some Americans for the first time.

Even so, it should surprise no one when this presidency collapses like a house of cards.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reasserting That the People Rule

"We are beginning these hearings today in an atmosphere of the utmost gravity. The questions that have been raised in the wake of the June 17 break–in strike at the very undergirding of our democracy. If the many allegations made to this date are true, then the burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee ... were in effect breaking into the home of every citizen of the United States. And if these allegations prove to be true, what they were seeking to steal was not the jewels, money or other property of American citizens but something much more valuable — their most precious heritage, the right to vote in a free election."

Sen. Sam Ervin
May 17, 1973

Forty years ago today, the Senate Watergate Committee held its first session.

(I'm going to resist the temptation to compare what began four decades ago today to the scandals that have been erupting in Washington recently — even though there are many initial similarities. The scandals will only prove to be truly comparable if they play out like Watergate did.)

I doubt that very many Americans realized at the time where the road on which the committee had taken the nation would lead. Initially, President Nixon appeared to be insulated from the unsavory activities that had led to the Watergate break–in — just as Barack Obama today claims to have beeen unaware of what was done in his name. All the highest–ranking officials insisted that, even if they acknowledged their own culpability, the president was guiltless.

It would be more than a month before John Dean's testimony would directly challenge Nixon's stated version of events. It would be about two months before the existence of a taping system in the Oval Office — and, therefore, the existence of evidence that could confirm whether Dean's version or Nixon's was correct — became public knowledge.

Those things happened during the Watergate Committee's work in the summer of 1973.

The hearings that summer were a genuine sensation. Years before cable TV, decades before the internet, people were bringing portable TVs to their workplaces to follow the testimony. Drivers were listening to the hearings on their car radios.

On a retrospective on Watergate I watched once, I heard Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee say that, at the height of the hearings, he could walk from his newsroom to the street, where he could get a taxi and take it anywhere in the city, and he could get out and walk along any street and never miss a beat in the coverage, so pervasive was the coverage by the media of the day.

But that was later.

On this day in 1973, I couldn't say how many Americans were watching. In my hometown, school had not yet dismissed for the summer — as I recall, the dismissal of school came in late May — so I would have been in school on the day the hearings began. My mother was at home in those days, but I have no memory of coming in from school that afternoon and finding her watching the TV. Perhaps she was, but I was a child and the weather was probably nice, and I probably did what I usually did after school on nice days at that time in my life.

I probably played baseball with the neighborhood kids until our parents called us in for dinner or until the sun went down.

Which means I probably made a beeline for my room, put on my rattiest clothes and went back outside to take advantage of what remained of daylight.

I have no memory of the opening statement by the chairman of the committee, Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina.

But, as I read it now, four decades after the fact, I am struck by the timelessness of the message — Ervin's assertion that "the right to vote in a free election" is more valuable than jewels or money or property.

Over time, fame and fortune have become part of the American dream, but the original American dream was to have a land where power resides with the people. Individual affluence has nothing to do with that.

It just doesn't get any more basic than that. It has always been at the heart of America, from the earliest days when America was little more than an idea right up to modern times, that the people rule here — and they wield their power through the ballot box.

That isn't always good news for incumbent officeholders — but America isn't about them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Caught in the Cross Hairs of History

A picture is worth a thousand words, the old saying goes.

And some pictures are worth a lot more than that. Some pictures are iconic. They are the images that come springing to mind when one thinks of an important event — like the 9/11 attacks or the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Or the JFK assassination.

As you may or may not know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. It's a big event here in Dallas. For months now, the Dallas Morning News website has been featuring a special link to an observance of the anniversary. A local commemoration is planned around the anniversary.

I expect, when the anniversary is only days or weeks away, many TV stations/networks will run retrospectives on the assassination and the Kennedy presidency. Schoolchildren may write essays on the Kennedy presidency and/or the assassination.

Since January alone, I've already seen part or all of Oliver Stone's "JFK" more times than I can count.

Some of the images from that event are iconic — shots of the Kennedy motorcade as it approaches the killing zone, shots of the Schoolbook Depository, the shot of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on board Air Force One, shots from the day JFK was buried.

I've heard some people say that the photo of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, being gunned down in the basement of the Dallas city jail two days after the assassination by Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby is an iconic shot for them — and, to a certain extent, it is for me, too. A photo of that moment won a Pulitzer Prize.

I suppose the iconic part for me is the way the cop on the left is kind of pulling away at an angle, as if he wants to be sure he is out of range of the bullet — with his mouth contorted in that sort of semi–grimace.

The gun, of course, was aimed right at Oswald's belly and at close range. There was no conceivable way that the cop could have been shot. Must have been an instinctive thing — like when the folks in Dealey Plaza hit the deck when shots rang out. I suppose no one could be expected to process so much information that efficiently in a second or two.

Back in November, when the sacrifice of Officer J.D. Tippit on Nov. 22, 1963 was commemorated with a state historical marker, former Dallas homicide detective Jim Leavelle was there and said, when asked about his response to the shooting of Oswald, "You don't have time to let things go through your mind, you react. You do what you got to do. You don't stop to think."

That second or two has taken on a life of its own.

For 50 years, that second in Leavelle's life has been in the cross hairs of history. And today that moment brought the 92–year–old Leavelle more notoriety. Dallas' police chief gave him the Police Commendation Award and renamed the department's Detective of the Year Award in his honor.

"Police Commendation Award" must be something akin to a lifetime achievement award — because Leavelle has been retired since 1975. And I suppose this year was chosen to give it to him because it is the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

And not to be too indelicate about this, but Leavelle is 92 years old. There is certainly no guarantee that he will be around in six months when the actual anniversary comes up. If he is, I'm sure he will be among those who are recognized for the roles they played, however minor, on that day. Can't be that many of them left.

While I readily admit that the image of Leavelle at the moment that Oswald was fatally wounded is dramatic and memorable and will always summarize the shock and confusion of that time in American history, I have to feel Leavelle's role in the assassination was minor.

He was the first to interview Oswald in custody and may have been the last to speak to him — at least when he was conscious. As they were making their way down to the basement and their rendezvous with history, Leavelle said, "Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they're as good a shot as you are."

Oswald replied, "Nobody's going to shoot at me."

But, of course, someone did.

Other than that, other than being handcuffed to Oswald when he was mortally wounded, I know of no other accomplishments in Leavelle's career as a detective. I'm sure he had some in a quarter of a century of service. Most people have accomplishments in their lives.

But few have the photographs to prove it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Of Course, It's Political

It seems oddly appropriate that the House hearings into Benghazi began last week — less than two weeks before the 40th anniversary of the start of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings.

I've heard Benghazi compared to Watergate. I've heard some defenders of the Obama administration protest that "other administrations" did worse, which was, perhaps, the most egregious non–denial denial that was used during the Watergate investigation. And my answer to those Obama supporters who have used it is the same one I heard my parents give to Nixon's defenders 40 years ago — "This isn't about what other administrations did. This is about what this administration did."

Perhaps the most persistent question I've heard has been, "Is it political?" And the obvious answer is: Well, of course, it's political.

I believe Tip O'Neill was right when he said, "All politics is local." But the flip side is that there is, at the very least, a political aspect to everything. Thus, everything is politics. It may not be politics as many people understand the term. It can loosely be described as some kind of policy or protocol — maybe it is sexual politics or racial politics, not necessarily governmental politics — whatever one person or group uses for leverage over another.

Ever since Benghazi, I have heard defenders of the Obama administration use feeble excuses to deflect attention — and they were successful enough to win a narrow re–election in November — but the more we learn about what really happened, the more unavoidable becomes the conclusion that the handling of the attack on the U.S. embassy was motivated entirely by politics.

That was what motivated Richard Nixon and his subordinates as well — politics. It is what motivates every officeholder who ends up being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Barack Obama is not an exception.

I don't know if Obama is paranoid — or, if he is, if he is as paranoid as Nixon was. Most presidents wind up being psychoanalyzed after their presidencies are over; accordingly, I prefer to leave such evaluations to future historians/psychologists.

It does seem to me, though, that anyone who seeks the presidency must have an enormous ego simply to think he (or she) can handle what must be unrelenting pressure. In a democracy, most such pressure is bound to come from the president's loyal opposition — and each president has plenty of that.

Consequently, any president who seeks a second term must have an ego that is so big we mere mortals can't comprehend it. Because that person has already faced the unique challenges of the presidency — and has concluded that he (and perhaps he alone) is qualified to face them.

I'm no psychiatrist, but it seems to me that an ego can be a powerful — as well as a fragile — thing. Protecting it becomes essential in an election year. I understand that. It was necessary for Nixon 41 years ago, when the burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters threatened to derail his re–election campaign.

Basically the same thing happened with Benghazi.

Nixon's actions were harder for me to fathom. He enjoyed a much higher approval rating than Obama, but, beneath it all, he was not well liked — and he knew it. He really was paranoid — and I suppose he knew that, too. Self–loathing seemed to stream from his pores.

And Nixon never enjoyed the fawning adulation of the media that Obama has. As much as the modern media (mostly the broadcast media) adores Obama, it hated Nixon that much.

But he must have had a huge ego to think he could handle all the problems that existed in the United States and the world when he was elected to the presidency. I have come to believe that it was all politics to him.

Politics is a dirty word in many circles. Some folks voted for Obama when he first ran for president because they didn't perceive him as being — wait for it — political. Isn't that a quaint notion?

I suppose it is a truism, however, that nearly everything in life is driven by politics — even if it isn't overtly so.

Accordingly, even the most modestly realistic person must acknowledge that Washington, D.C., is a political place. It is occupied by politicians. They may not have started adult life as politicians. They may have started as lawyers or doctors or community organizers, but if they have been elected to a federal post, they're politicians.

And that, I think, makes them more sensitive to political concerns than most — no matter how clumsily they may try to appease those considerations.

The Benghazi coverup worked for awhile, but it has been unraveling.

Perhaps the foremost political analyst in America today, Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, has been critical of the Obama presidency in the past, but this weekend he was asking what Obama and Hillary Clinton were thinking when they were blaming an allegedly offensive video for a protest that spiraled out of control.

That isn't a bad question to be asking, even though we know — don't we? — the answer: Politics.

As it was with the Nixon administration, though, I suppose we'll have to be subjected to months of non–denial denials before we figure out for ourselves what the truth is.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Does Sanford's Victory Mean?

Be honest. You aren't really surprised by this, are you?

Because, if you are, you don't know much about American history and politics.

Mark Sanford, the Republican former governor of South Carolina who resigned nearly four years ago when his extramarital affair with an Argentinian woman was revealed, apparently has won the special election to fill the House vacancy that was created when Rep. Tim Scott was selected to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint.

When Sanford resigned in 2009, most political experts thought his political career was over. Certainly, his marriage was over.

And recent polls suggested that Sanford's comeback race with Elizabeth Colbert Busch (the sister of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert) was a dead heat.

Democrats face an uphill battle to gain a majority in the House, as I observed the other day, and many were tantalized by the prospect of winning the open district in South Carolina. It has been in Republican hands since 1981 (including the years when Sanford represented the district prior to being elected governor).

Such a victory wouldn't have assured Democrats that they would win control of the House in next year's midterms, but it would have reduced the number of seats they need to win to achieve that goal — and it would have given the Democrats a shot of confidence when worries about the implementation of Obamacare and hearings on Benghazi are bringing that confidence level down, especially among Democrats who must face the voters next year.

But it wasn't to be.

Not only didn't Colbert Busch win, it wasn't even as close as polls had suggested. With nearly all the votes counted, Sanford has a comfortable 54%–45% lead.

If you're a Democrat and you want to take some kind of victory from this, Colbert Busch did get a higher share of the vote than anyone who has challenged Sanford in the First District in the past.

It's no disgrace for a Democrat to lose in South Carolina. Most of them do. This isn't the same thing as when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in dark–blue Massachusetts. That was a clear sign of trouble ahead for Democrats in the 2010 midterms.

This loss is hardly a harbinger of things to come. If anything, though, it supports what I wrote the other day. Barring any unexpected developments, I think 2014 will be a status quo election in which any gain for either party will be small.

So what does this special election mean — if anything?

I'm inclined to think it doesn't mean nearly as much as some pundits are making it out to mean.

Remember, we're talking about South Carolina here — not North Carolina, the state that unexpectedly voted narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008.

South Carolina is a Republican state. It has voted for Republican nominees for president in nine consecutive elections — and in 12 of the last 13. Eight of the nine members of the state's congressional delegation are Republicans.

Since 1987, only one Democrat has been elected to a single four–year term as governor — and he lost his bid for a second term to none other than Sanford.

OK, Sanford has some personal issues stemming from his extramarital relationship (for the record, his mistress is now his fiancee). He addressed those issues openly and candidly early in the campaign and focused on other subjects later in the race.

You may not like what he had to say, and, if you are registered to vote in South Carolina's First District, you had the opportunity today to vote against him on the basis of his personal life — or for any other reason. Apparently, not many did. At least, as far as Democrats are concerned, not enough did.

Colbert Busch and the Democrats continued to try to make an issue of Sanford's relationship. But it just wasn't compelling enough for voters to turn their backs on more than three decades of electoral history — not for a Democrat with no political experience at all.

If Democrats want something to worry about, it's this.

The national Republican Party abandoned Sanford in this campaign. He was on his own. Meanwhile, Colbert Busch had the active support of the national Democrat Party — as well as other prominent organizations — and still fell short by about 13,000 votes (out of about 142,000 votes cast). Sanford also carried every county in the district.

If the Democrats were ever going to pull off an upset in the First District, this was the time for it. Such an opportunity is not likely to come again any time soon.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Limping Along to the Midterms

It is my understanding that the term lame duck has been in use for more than 250 years.

It hasn't always been applied to politics. In fact, I've heard its origin was financial. Sometime during the Civil War, it began to be applied to politicians.

Usually, the term is applied to officeholders who are leaving office when their current terms expire — whether they are doing so voluntarily or involuntarily.

Ever since the passage of the 22nd Amendment, which imposed term limits on the office of president, a chief executive is said to be a lame duck — one who loses influence the closer he gets to to the end of his tenure — immediately after his re–election campaign ends, whether he wins or loses.

If he loses (i.e., Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush), he will be a lame duck for a couple of months. It is, of course, humiliating for an incumbent to be rejected by the voters. But, in many ways, it is worse to win re–election. Historically, presidents have enjoyed more power in their first terms than in their second, presumably because the aura of invincibility is gone. The loyal opposition is no longer cowed by an incumbent who will be gone in a few years.

Once the second–term midterms are over, both parties are pretty much in full election mode in anticipation of the open seat in the Oval Office — and the incumbent president becomes largely irrelevant.

(The 22nd Amendment was approved in the 1940s. Until then, presidential tenures were limited only by tradition — and voter preferences.)

That might change if term limits were imposed on all members of Congress. I don't know if such a thing would be constitutional. It might be unsustainable as a violation of states' rights. But if members of Congress were term–limited and faced the possibility of having to deal with only one president for most of their tenures, it might have a profound effect on the implementation of federal policy.

But that is another discussion for another time.

Today I want to address the chances for the president's party to take control of the House in next year's midterms — and give Barack Obama Democrat majorities in both chambers of Congress for the last two years of his presidency.

(That assumes, of course, that the Democrats will hold on to their majority in the Senate, which will be a tall order by itself, given that Democrat–held seats will be on the ballots in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and South Dakota.)

At the very least, Democrats need to win 17 seats to take the majority in the House. The situation would be far from ideal if they won only 17. The razor–thin margin would leave no room for error in our polarized democracy, and, as the Democrats' recent setback in the gun–control debate demonstrated, Obama needs that margin for error.

Clearly, the ideal situation would be for the Democrats to have a little breathing room, which probably would require them to capture at least two dozen GOP–held seats.

That may not sound like an impossible task to modern voters, who have seen three elections in just the last decade in which that many seats (or more) flipped to the opposition party — but consider this.

In each of those elections (and two of them were midterms), the flips went against the party that held the White House.

That's the way midterm elections tend to go — and, in more than two centuries of American history, midterm elections have almost always gone against the party in the White House.

Sure, there are exceptions to that — recent ones, in fact — but there were unusual forces at work each time.

In 2002, George W. Bush's Republicans gained ground in the congressional midterms, thanks in large part to Bush's popularity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his appeal to patriotism in the buildup for the invasion of Iraq.

And four years earlier, Bill Clinton's Democrats picked up some congressional seats. The economy was booming, and Republicans were seen as having overreached with their attempt to remove Clinton from office.

Besides, after the historic Republican landslide in the 1994 midterms, Democrats really didn't have too many vulnerable congressional seats to defend in 1998.

If you insist on being one of those "the glass is half full" kinds of people — or if you've been drinking a lot of Kool–Aid from that glass — you might see conditions in America being considerably different a year from now than I do.

But I don't see anything like an economic boom on the horizon, not with the implementation of Obamacare coming up and the staggering unemployment crisis that has been allowed to fester (and will, in all probability, grow as a consequence of Obamacare). And, while Republicans don't speak of Obama in glowing terms, neither have they been overreaching the way their forebears did with impeachment 15 years ago; I see no similar backlash that could benefit Democrats.

Barring any unforeseen changes in the next year, 2014 is shaping up to be more like most midterms — and, historically speaking, the second midterm of a president's presidency is worse than the first.

That could be devastating for Obama. He barely clung to his party's Senate majority in his first midterm elections, losing his bullet–proof filibuster–proof advantage in the process, and the House swung to the opposition party by historic proportions.

Just because midterms typically go against the incumbent president's party doesn't mean 2014 will. But my point here is that when incumbents do post midterm gains, it is because circumstances are unusually favorable for them. The circumstances for 2014 don't look too favorable for Obama.

But let's assume that economic circumstances do change for the better. Historically speaking, the tendency for electoral adjustment in American midterms is so strong that such a change probably would not be enough. In 2002 and 1998 — and in 1934, the only other exception I have found — House gains for the incumbent's party were, at best, half of what Obama needs.

Double–digit midterm seat gains in the House have never happened for an incumbent president's party before. Does that mean it can't happen? No. But it does make it exceedingly unlikely, especially since we really only know in hypothetical terms how secure each House district really is since the redistricting that always follows a census. We probably won't have a feel for that until the next presidential election — in 2016.

But we do know a few things about the current House district alignment.

For example, only nine Democrats currently represent districts that Mitt Romney carried in last year's presidential election, and only 17 Republicans currently represent districts that Obama carried. That kind of math doesn't seem particularly favorable for a Democratic takeover.

Of course, the Democrats might not need 17 seats. If Republican former Gov. Mark Sanford's political comeback comes up short in Tuesday's special election in South Carolina's First District, the Democrats might need 16 House seats.

The math still doesn't seem to be there, though, even if Sanford loses.

Short of a dramatic improvement in the economy and/or another instance of overreaching by the Republicans in Congress, the Democrats' best bet is Obama — but he hasn't shown much inclination to campaign for others. Besides, the incumbent's popularity the last two times when the president's party prospered in midterm election was in the 60s — far above Obama, who hovers in 50–50 territory.

Is it impossible for Obama's approval rating to get into 60% territory in the next 18 months? No. Something truly remarkable could happen — the implementation of Obamacare, which is now being characterized as a "train wreck" by members of his own party, could go much better than expected — but right now it looks like a mountain too high.

I wouldn't bet the farm on double–digit gains for Democrats in 2014.

At the same time, though, I wouldn't bet the farm on double–digit gains for Republicans, either. The economy would have to worsen considerably for Republicans to have a realistic shot at that. Some people are predicting that will happen — and, after what we have seen in the last five years, I'm not about to dismiss it — but a kind of acceptable inadequacy is in force.

Unless the acceptable inadequacy becomes unacceptable — and who can say where that line is now? — I expect modest gains for one side or the other in next year's midterms, but nothing approaching double digits.