Melinda Henneberger Sets Washington's Week

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Melinda Henneberger, contributing editor to, rounds up the national news.

Fighting Shape for 2012

President Obama is gearing up his political campaign for the 2012 race. The New York Times reported that the campaign is expecting a tougher race than initially predicted as the president faces unhappiness over the economy and poor jobs numbers. Though the Obama administration had some recent successes, such as the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, the job now for the administration is to recapture the energy and enthusiasm that marked the 2008 campaign.

The reelection campaign could be a distraction for a president already working on so many fronts, both domestic and international, but Henneberger pointed out that that there is more overlap than distraction in the areas he will be focusing in on.

I mean, his job is bringing down the jobless rate, addressing the economy, and if he does that, that will help him politically, obviously.

The front runner of the GOP contenders at this point appears to be Mitt Romney, with his massive war chest. Henneberger said John Huntsman also has substantial funding, though he lacks Romney's name recognition. Huntsman was until a few weeks ago President Obama’s ambassador to China, and before that was governor of Utah. As governor Huntsman was very popular and left office with a high approval rate, but his views on the environment and his approval of same-sex civil unions have some conservatives calling him too moderate for the party. 

Palin’s History Lesson

Sarah Palin too continues to be a favorite of the Republican party and of the media. This weekend she drew ridicule for her command of history with a unique take on the story of Paul Revere.  Though the media poked fun at her muddled story, that mockery may only make those loyal to her stand firmer in their anti-establishment, anti-elitism support.

The more we say ha-ha, she didn’t know about Paul Revere’s ride, the better that is for Sarah Palin. She gets great mileage about of perceiving herself, and her followers believing, that she is treated very poorly by the so-called “lame stream media.” In a way she’s doing exactly what she promised, because she promised that this trip around America would be to get us talking and remembering and being grateful for American history, and I can’t remember when Paul Revere got more ink.

Weiner’s Tweet

The story about the risqué tweet sent from Congressman Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account refuses to die. Though Weiner has steadfastly denied that he sent the photo, he has been much less forthcoming about the origins of the photo. Henneberger said she thinks the scandal may have an effect on the congressman’s career. 

The question isn’t so much whether he sent it. It seems he did not send it, but he has acted squirrelly about the whole thing and won’t say it wasn’t him… He’s just sort of made this worse day by day, by behaving bizarrely about the whole thing.

Edwards Indictment

Yet another big story this week is the indictment of John Edwards on charges related to his affair and the child conceived during it. Henneberger said legally this calls into question the interpretation of campaign finance laws, and whether a personal gift from a campaign contributor is allowable. Though Edwards did try to negotiate a plea deal last week, Henneberger thinks he didn’t try hard enough. 

I’m disappointed, personally, that he wouldn’t find a way to avoid a trial for his kids’ sake, kids who have obviously been through so much.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Five service members were reported killed in military base in Baghdad this morning. Beyond the tragedy of the loss of life, Henneberger said there might be political implications for President Obama. The war has been declared over twice, she said, yet it continues.

[US Defense Secretary Robert] Gates just said again yesterday that we just need six more months and we’ll turn this baby around…We’ve really been hearing that for the last ten years, and politically there is not the will to continue.

Regarding Afghanistan there seems to be some disagreement within the administration. While some are pulling to reduce troops even more quickly than previously discussed, Secretary Gates has said that decisions must be based on the ground and should wait until later this summer. The trememdous cost to the US budget will contitnue to make drawdown an attractive option to the president.


The sudden departure of the wounded president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh has left Yemen with a sudden leadership vacuum. The opposition has said they are prepared to fight to keep Saleh from returning. Henneberger said the White House definitely does not want involvement in yet another conflict, yet the immediate future for Yemen is still very unclear.

 I think that Saudi Arabia probably won’t let Saleh back in to Yemen if they can help it, and I think they can.

Isrealis Fire on Palestinean Protesters

Israeli forces fired on Palestinian protesters on the Syrian border yesterday. While the Arab spring has brought new hope to the region, it continues to come at a very high cost.

This thing on the Syrian border is really so serious, and a lot of the hopes remain high, but so do the casualties, so it is certainly — going into a long hot summer — very unclear where we’re going.