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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Pro-Life Field Trip

There is currently a huge overturn-Roe v. Wade march outside my office on Capitol Hill, culminating at the Supreme Court. What's shocking is not the to-be-expected thousands of demonstrators marking the 33rd anniversary of Roe, nor the predictable signs: "Protect Life," "Abortion is Homicide," "Born and Reborn," yada yada yada. What's shocking is the number of young people in attendance, the new blood of the culture war--college students, teenagers, pre-teens, even six-year-olds holding signs with pictures of aborted fetuses. As a friend who teaches Sunday school to eighth graders said, "To them, this is a field trip." (For background, see our colleague Eyal Press's brilliant dispatch in the New York Times Magazine this week, "My Father's Abortion War.")

Mel Gibson's Newest: Apocalypto

I saw a preview yesterday for Mel Gibson's soon-to-be-summer-blockbuster "Apocalypto." It tells the story of the end of the Mayan civilization with the fit-for-contemporary-times tagline: "When the end comes, not everyone is ready." I think it's pretty clear what he's talking about.

What is less clear is why the title is in Spanish, given that Mayans didn't speak Spanish. What's also not overwhelmingly obvious is why Mr. Gibson maintains that "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destoyed itself from within," because as far as I remember, the Mayan civilization wasn't destroyed from within by body piercing and teenage sex. It was destroyed by smallpox, and gunpowder. From the Spanish. Who invaded.

Now, unlike a lot of people on the left, I a) saw The Passion of the Christ, and b) didn't think it was as terrible as it was made out to be. In fact, I think that the hysteria surrounding the film contributed to its success, which in turn fed the conviction that it was a watershed cultural event that bode ill for the future of progressives everywhere--a self-fulfilling prophesy which I would have had more patience for if half the people who claimed to be experts had bothered to see the thing. Of course, I can't speak with too much authority on Apocalypto, but the preview does promise a smattering of earth mother-conservatism, an orgy of violence and a boatload of the end-of-days pornography that so much current cinema dishes up with relish. How successful it is may ultimately say less about a cultural predilection for Judgment than a seemingly endless appetite for gore and warrior calls. Only time will tell. I, for one, am more than ready for Apocalypto, though perhaps not in quite the way that Mr. Gibson intends.

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Dems Divided Over Who Will Challenge Arnold

Four months out from the gubernatorial primary, California Democrats remain divided over who will be anointed to challenge Arnold Scwarzenegger's re-election. It's the State Treasurer versus the State Controller in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

The support of the party establishment has already been rounded up by Treasurer Phil Angelides, a wealthy San Francisco liberal. More than three dozen unions, 200 elected officials and a gaggle of party insiders have already endorsed Angelides. But his most prominent rival, state Controller and Silicon Valley businessman Steve Westly has vowed to spend as much as $20 million to take the nomination for himself.

While Angelides was among the most prominent Democrats to oppose and criticize Schwarzenegger from the outset, Westly was –until recently--more reserved in his opposition. Westly has been trying to fashion an appeal to the center. Angelides has been trying to capitalize on his more liberal Bay Area base. But as The Los Angeles Times has reported, the real political differences between the two are not substantial:

Though siding with liberals, Angelides in other ways has stuck to the political center. A death penalty supporter, he opposes a moratorium on capital punishment. He also has declined to criticize Schwarzenegger for denying clemency to death row inmates. And despite his call for massive new infrastructure spending, he advocates fiscal restraint.

Westly and Angelides also have another point in common: low name recognition. Especially in vote-rich Southern California. Early polls, nevertheless, show both Democrats to be highly competitive in a match-up with the Governator. But a knock-down drag-out spend-fest during the primary could bloody and weaken the eventual nominee. The fight is just beginning.

Where's Steny?

Notably absent from the Democrats much heralded unveiling of their new ethics and lobbying reform plan this week was Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat. Maybe that's because Hoyer's launched his own version of the Republican "K Street Project" so rightfully derided by many Democrats and good government-types. Back in May 2003, Roll Call reported that Hoyer "invited scores of business lobbyists to sit down with him in his Capitol Hill digs to discuss legislation, share information and just get to know him." The second phase of the outreach commenced this winter, when Hoyer and DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel hit up lobbyists for '06 campaign contributions.

When he's not cozying up to K Street, the House Minority Whip's busy undermining Democratic calls for a speedy withdrawal from Iraq. After Jack Murtha dramatically broke with President Bush's Iraq policy in November, Hoyer issued a press release stating that a "precipitous withdrawal" of troops "could lead to disaster." When Murtha later gave an impassioned speech before the House Democratic Caucus "he was looking right at Hoyer," one Congressional aide told The Hill. The pro-war, pro-lobbyist routine has earned Hoyer plaudits from the likes of conservative columnist Bob Novak. Imitation, after all, is the highest form of flattery.

The "New" Arnold

"I'll be back!" might be more than a toss-away movie line from Arnold Schwarzenegger. After his crushing defeat in the special election he called three months ago (all of his ballot measures going down in flames), the Governator has been zealously re-casting himself.

His eyes set on re-election next November in this very blue state of California, Arnold has quickly moved back to the center. Dropping his slash-and-burn economic austerity proposals of last year, the New Arnold has come up with an FDR-like $200 billion plus blueprint for rebuildinng the state infrastructure.

He's also playing a bizarre game of political pattycake with the very same unions that he attempted and failed to demonize throughout the course of 2005 (in this effort he's being assisted by a legendary Democrat: the former California Assembly Speaker and past Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown. Veteran L.A.-based political analyst Joe Scott does his own sift of California's shifting political sands and concludes that only a fool would rule out a successful comeback by Schwarzenegger.

On a related topic, Democratic operative-turned-journo/blogger Bill Bradley plumbs the inner workings of the Schwarzenegger political machine and asks just what's going on with the Gov's top consultant/guru Michael Murphy?

"Principled" Embrace of Abramoff

Best response to the Abramoff Scandal? That's easy.

As just about everyone else in Congress is rushing to dispose of campaign contributions received from GOP super-lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff, California Congressman John Doolittle says he's keeping his Abramoff-linked money. Doolittle, a Republican whose various campaign committees collected close $50,000 from Abramoff and the disgraced lobbyist's associates and clients, has been identified as a top target of the Justice Department investigation of Congressional corruption.

But, his office says, it wouldn't look right for the congressman to rid his campaign of Abramoff's dirty dollars. "Congressman Doolittle refuses to give even the slightest appearance of something wrong by returning money that was accepted legally and ethically," says Doolitte aide Laura Blackann. Keeping the money, explains Blackann, "is a matter of principle to the congressman." Suggested slogan for the congressman's reelection campaign: Doolittle's Got the Courage to be Corrupt.

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