In Washington, every electoral loss seems to yield a new think tank. It’s no surprise that with the election over and President Obama preparing for his reinauguration, Republicans have moved from licking their wounds to strategizing about how they can take back the White House in 2016 and beyond. If this list of past efforts is any guide, look soon for a new GOP “strategic nerve center” to welcome “different ideas”—with Bill Kristol involved in some capacity.
Electoral Loss: 1971 (legislative setback)
Founder/Head: Ed Feulner
Goal: Heritage resolved to provide conservative perspective to lawmakers in a timely manner.
Sign of Success: Politically minded think tanks have been copying Heritage, to one degree or another, ever since.
Progressive Policy Institute
Electoral Loss: Michael Dukakis, 1988
Founders/Heads: Al From, Will Marshall
Goal: Centrist Democrats founded the Democratic Leadership Council and PPI to pull the party in a moderate direction.
Sign of Success: The Washington Post called PPI Bill Clinton’s “brain shop of choice,” saying it was “wired into the fledgling Clinton administration like a microchip.”
Project for the Republican Future
Electoral Loss: George H.W. Bush, 1992
Founder/Head: Bill Kristol
Goal: PRF was founded to serve as a “strategic nerve center”for “a coherent agenda of conservative reform.”
Sign of Success: PRF helped solidify GOP opposition to Clinton’s health-care plan. In 1995, it morphed into the still-influential Weekly Standard, which Kristol edits.
Center for American Progress
Electoral Loss: Al Gore, 2000
Founder/Head: John Podesta
Goal: CAP was to be a Heritage Foundation for the left, unabashedly defending and promoting Democratic Party interests.
Sign of Success: It was key to the ’06 Democratic congressional takeover and Obama’s 2008 victory. Podesta even chaired the Obama transition, which hired many CAP alums.
The 94 new members of Congress were sworn in today, beginning at noon in ceremonies on Capitol Hill. In the Senate chamber, 12 freshmen took the oath. In the House, 82 new representatives were sworn in.
Here’s a look at the freshman class of 2013 by the numbers:
Number of Democrats: 55 (8 in the Senate, 47 in the House)
Number of Republicans: 38 (3 in the Senate, 35 in the House)
Number of Independents: 1 (Representative Angus King of Maine)
Number of women: 24 (5 in the Senate, 19 in the House)
Number of minorities: 22
Number with a record of military service: 12 (including 2 women)
Number of Kennedys: 1 (Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Joseph Kennedy)
71: Age of oldest member, California Democrat Rep. Alan Lowenthal
31: Age of youngest member, Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
$290,759: Smallest total spent on election, by Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman
$39,309,855: Largest total spent on election, by Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine
First openly bisexual member: Arizona Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (also the first member to list her religion as “none”)
First openly gay member elected to Senate: Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin
First Hindu member: Tulsi Gabbard
First state with an all-woman delegation: New Hampshire
First Buddhist senator: Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono
The guy crusading to legalize pot in Washington, DC, is neither stoner nor hipster, pot entrepreneur nor college senior on a lark.
Paul Zukerberg is a 55-year-old attorney, the father of two young boys, a supporter of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, and a longtime DC resident.
“I’m not even a politician,” he tells me. “I don’t know much about DC politics. But I am committed to reforming our marijuana laws. We’re way behind other cities and states.”
So Zukerberg is running for the open at-large seat on the DC City Council, in the hopes of using his seat to reform the city’s marijuana laws. It will be filled by special election in April. You might see Zukerberg and his volunteers collecting signatures at Metro stops. He needs 3,000.
“No,” he says, “We’re not going to put Cheech and Chong on our posters. I am not a fringe candidate. My position is the only one that makes sense.”
After defending clients from marijuana possession raps for the past 27 years, and seeing “heartbreaking cases along the way,” Zukerberg wants to change laws in the District to align them with ones passed in November that decriminalized personal use of marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado.
“Personal use becomes a civil infraction,” he says. “You get a citation, similar to a speeding ticket. No criminal record. Maybe a fine.”
In June 1989, Marion Barry—then in his third term as DC mayor—sat at a witness table before a Senate committee and took a few verbal punches.
New Hampshire senator Warren Rudman: “You can’t have blood running in the streets like a third-world capital run by a despot.”
Rudman was referring to the homicide rate, fueled by crack cocaine wars, approaching 500 that year. The “despot” was at the witness table.
Missouri senator John Danforth bracketed his critique with this line: “Some governments are corrupt but are known for their competency in running the city; others are incompetent but considered clean.” The tall former minister looked at Barry and said his government was “scandalously corrupt and hopelessly incompetent.”
Danforth had reason for his diatribe. The city’s finances were in disarray. Basic public services were spotty. And Barry was suspected of being addicted to crack. DC police and FBI agents were closing in on the mayor, who would be taken down in the infamous sting at the Vista Hotel in January 1990.
Up to that point, 1990 was the nadir for the Home Rule government that had been running the capital city since 1974. It was a low point for both the city and its relatively young government.
The past year was worse. In my view, 2012 will go down as the lowest year for DC’s brand of limited self-government.
For the first time, a sitting council member pleaded guilty to a felony, resigned, and is now in federal prison. Harry Thomas Jr. admitted to stealing upward of $300,000 in public funds that were supposed to go to athletic programs for poor kids.
How do you make a portrait of a city—its industries, residents, nuances, trends, and sense of purpose? “The Network,” a groundbreaking video portrait being unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery on December 11, tries to encapsulate modern Washington in a single cutting-edge work. Chicago multimedia artist Lincoln Schatz has been working on the project for four years, interviewing 89 Washingtonians, each representing a sphere of influence.
The list is a who’s who spanning politics, media, law, science, the military, arts, and sports. Schatz filmed Internet pioneer and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis describing his interests in technology and literature; Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser talking about how his grandfather, a New York Philharmonic violinist, fostered his love of the arts; and former undersecretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy discussing the ways she thinks the George W. Bush administration flouted the rule of law.
Schatz—whose fascination with Washington started when he arrived here at age 19 to intern for Senator Ted Kennedy—also interviewed some of the most powerful people in government, from Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi to Ray LaHood and Barney Frank. The first challenge, Schatz says, was “trying to figure out who the portrait should be of.” He did the natural Washington thing: hired a pollster to research who was most widely regarded as influential. The answers? Mostly Barack Obama.
Next, Schatz made a list of names of people high up in the federal workforce, but the sheer scale of it made him queasy. So he started with a core of people he dubbed the “seed group” and asked them for recommendations. One of the most responsive was Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, who called Schatz so regularly that Schatz’s wife started telling the artist his “boyfriend” was on the phone.
Before filming his subjects, Schatz set about researching their histories, reading books they’d written, looking for interviews they’d done, trying to ascertain key moments in their lives and their main achievements.
During Schatz’s interviews, the subjects were filmed by three cameras, and the topics they discussed were sorted and tagged into more than 9,000 video files. When the work is displayed, it randomly selects a segment of one person discussing an issue, then segues to another person talking about the same thing.
Schatz recalls being surprised when the software presented National Rifle Association president David A. Keene immediately followed by Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock. They were paired because both spent time talking passionately about freedom.
The portrait itself constantly recalibrates, presenting people in different order. “You can tell a story a lot of ways, and by changing the order you can change the story significantly,” says Schatz. “I want this piece to offer a different way of understanding these people.”
This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Even in retirement, Bob Gates is giving advice. And he has some for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: Do not underestimate Barack Obama.
The ex-Pentagon chief popped in for a conversation with Charlie Rose last night and addressed reports that Syria is moving ever-closer to using chemical weapons against opposition forces. If the Syrian regime attempted even to move chemical weapons, “I think based on what the President has said, we would have no alternative to some kind of military response,” Gates predicted. In that case, the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs “would present the President with a rich menu of options,” Gates said, declining to name any specifically, but offering a confident smile.
Obama warned Assad this week that “the world is watching,” and that if he crossed that metaphorical red line and used a weapon of mass destruction on his own people "there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
Rose asked Gates, “Based on everything you know about this President, is he prepared” to take action against Assad?
"Oh, yes,” Gates replied. “One of the things about President Obama, he is very tough minded...this is a guy who actually relishes making decisions.” Gates cited the President’s risky call to send in Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden. “[Obama] is very deliberative when he has the time to be deliberative. But I have seen instances also where he had to react very quickly and he didn’t hesitate. So I think it would be a mistake, particularly on Bashar al-Assad’s part, to underestimate him.”
But Gates, who was also once the Director of Central Intelligence, had some cautionary advice about trying to predict when, whether, or how events might unfold.
I spent most of my career in the CIA trying to forecast what people would do, and how things would turn out. And when it comes to saying what is going to happen, we have every reason to be very modest about our abilities to do that. Because the truth is, we can monitor weapons, we can monitor movements of military forces, but the decision [by a foreign leader] to use them or how to use them is something that often is a mystery to us. And sometimes because the protagonist himself doesn't know what he is going to do.
The whole interview is worth watching to hear Gates talk about the limits of intelligence gathering and analysis, and of trying to intuit the moves of an adversary. Gates cut his teeth in the Cold War, and like many intelligence officers of his generation worried back then that America’s spies would become too dependent on surveillance technology to take the place of human agents on the ground. He still worries about that today, in the era of drones and global electronic eavesdropping.
"This is an era in which human intelligence is every bit as important as it ever was during the Cold War,” Gates said. The successful operation against bin Laden, which hinged on human sources, would seem to bear that out. (As an aside, we were bummed to learn that a DC preview screening of the new movie about the bin Laden raid, Zero Dark Thirty, which was scheduled for last night, has been postponed until January.)
Another timely comment: Gates said he didn’t have a problem with the CIA evolving into a paramilitary organization, one that has become very good at hunting and killing its enemies the world over. “But I do have a problem if that is all the [CIA] director is paying attention to,” he said. There's been a provocative debate this week over at the New York Times about that very subject. It seems the unexpected departure of David Petraeus, who was closely involved in counterterrorism operations with the CIA as a military commander, has occasioned some soul searching at Langley.
Gates left the Pentagon in July 2011, and since then, he said, he’s been “doing some speaking, but staying as far from Washington, DC, as I can.” He's also writing a memoir, which he said he’ll send to his publisher in February.
“We would go months without bathing, except when we could stand naked among each other . . .”
Those words are how Jim Webb, before he became Secretary of the Navy and then a United States Senator, started his 1979 Washingtonian magazine article “Women Can’t Fight.” The story caused Webb endless headaches as the Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps officer in Vietnam became more political and had to first face congressional hearings and then take part in them as the Democratic senator from Virginia.
Contrast what Webb wrote 33 years ago with this new look at the subject of women in combat, described below in an e-mail from Foreign Affairs magazine.
“Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 percent of total service members. Around 280,000 women have worn American uniforms in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 144 have died and over 600 have been injured.”
“Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions.”
So writes international relations expert Megan H. MacKenzie in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. According to MacKenzie, arguments against female soldiers are simply outdated.
“Proponents of the policy, who include Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), former chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), rely on three central arguments: thatwomen cannot meet the physical requirements necessary to fight, that they simply don’t belong in combat, and that their inclusion in fighting units would disrupt those units’ cohesion and battle readiness. Yet these arguments do not stand up to current data on women’s performance in combat or their impact on troop dynamics.”
“Banning women from combat does not ensure military effectiveness. It only perpetuates counterproductive gender stereotypes and biases. It is time for the U.S. military to get over its hang-ups and acknowledge women’s rightful place on the battlefield.”
Read “Let Women Fight.”
Jack Limpert, former editor of Washingtonian now a writer at large for the magazine, can be found at his blog, jacklimpert.com.