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The Summer Of Diversion

This column was written by Terence Samuel.
Where have you gone, Lightning-Bolt Bolton?

It was not so long ago that he was the most important man in town. He was the right man at the right time, going to New York to rescue the United Nations from its slide into historical obsolescence. Or he was going to further ruin America's reputation in the world with his Molotov-cocktail brand of diplomacy. But then the Gang of 14 stuck its deal and killed the "nuclear option," and that changed the subject. Anybody remember the nuclear option?

Which, of course, brings us to Karl Rove, who was the man of the moment until the mantle passed yet again to John Roberts, who will soon pass it on to someone else. It would be cynical in the extreme -- and I am neither cynical nor extreme, except in the way I feel about the New York Yankees (not telling) -- to suggest that President Bush would have chosen a nominee for the Supreme Court with an eye toward deflecting the political beating his chief political adviser is taking in the press. So I do not suggest it. Though the possibility has been on people's minds. Ted Kennedy, for example, has even said he hoped the president did not rush the nomination in order to shift the focus away from Rove.

There is no denying that working at the White House these days has to be better than during the time when Rove was Unavoidable Topic A. At the time, Rove seemed glum; the president seemed glummer; and Scott McClellan seemed ready to go off the 14th Street bridge. But as Keats' old men say, "Everything alters."

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I remember the summer of 2002: Enron and corporate-accounting scandals galore. The business-friendly White House was taking a hit, the Senate was in Democratic hands because of Jim Jeffords, and the midterm elections loomed large.

Late that summer, I asked a GOP aide how Republicans were going to handle the corporate scandals and whether he was worried that it would hurt them at the polls. His response was partly what I expected: "The election is five months away. A lot could happen in five months. We could be talking about something completely different in five months."

Then he said something I found utterly improbable. He said, "We could be talking about Iraq." And in November we were.

I have never figured out whether I had been leaked the plans for the war in Iraq or whether the guy was just a political seer. In either case, he understood the importance of changing the subject.

Sometimes it doesn't work, because some things never go away, and that is what must be of most concern to the White House. Some special prosecutors never go away. Grand juries seem to sit forever; disband one, empanel another. And television tape, Mr. McClellan, never goes away. Yet now we have the congenial and photogenic Roberts leading the Good News Bandwagon.

In August, all of these issues could come to a head. John Bolton could get a recess appointment. Democrats could figure out what they don't like about Roberts and begin taking him down a bit. And who knows what's going on with Patrick Fitzgerald as he probes the Valerie Plame leak, if that's what he's still interested in.

Frankly, I hope all the drama takes off in August, because for my money, the best story in Washington all summer has been a surprising little pastrami sandwich of a baseball team called the Washington Nationals. In their first season in Washington, the former abominable from Canada have lifted the spirits of this often dismal city, and they have given us something to care about that doesn't have to do with the future of the republic. They are a largely faceless bunch of guys who know how to hit and run and make great plays in the outfield. They've been great to watch, and when real-life conversations (politics) get too ridiculous, we can now say, "How "bout dem Nats?"

At first we were just happy to have baseball, a team to call our own. Then we liked that they were winning. But they have spent much of the first half of the season at the top of their division, and that has given us hope. Now we want to win every night. Alas, things are not going as well as they have been. The hitting is not holding up, but we have just traded for a big bat named Preston Wilson. He may be the right man at the right time. If they fall too far behind, though, I'll change the subject.

Terence Samuel is the chief congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. His column about politics appears each week in the Prospect's online edition.

By Terence Samuel
Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. All rights reserved

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