Lawmaker quick with quips

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman styles himself as a godfather of gab.

But he’s got nothing on the Las Vegas queen of quips, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

In an interview with the Review-Journal editorial board last week, Berkley cheerfully jabbed and weaved on every issue thrown her way, from health care to clean energy to Middle East policy.

At one point, the six-term congresswoman referred to the current state of health care in America with the under-utilized medical term, “bass ackwards.”

Berkley’s charisma and ability to remain good-natured while she gives as good as she gets will undoubtedly serve her well if she follows through on a promise to hold a town hall forum with constituents.

Lately, town hall events have become political hot potatoes, with video of angry constituents shouting at their representatives in Congress dominating much of the national debate on health care.

Much of the anger stems from genuine anxiety. Some of it is ginned up by media mischief-makers seeking to embarrass Democrats. All of it has helped politicians from both sides to create a distraction and shift the focus from substance to outrage and umbrage.

So far, none of the federal representatives from Nevada have held an open, non-prescreened, in-person town hall event to discuss health care.

After gamely confronting protesters before a recent meeting of the Clark County Democratic Black Caucus, Berkley says she’ll hold a town hall event in October, once there’s a comprehensive health care bill on the table for folks to discuss.

“I’ve got the message and I’ve got it loud and clear,” she told hecklers at the event.

If attendees respect each other’s right to speak and Berkley is on her game, it could be a lively and informative event.


Last week’s request for readers to send in their favorite political jokes netted some material from the left that made Republicans the punch line.

But since Republicans were the target of last week’s political humor, Political Notebook will hold off in the hopes that someone on the Republican side can even things out with a printable joke about Democrats.

In the meantime, here’s something from VegasRex .com, a local Web site that drips more sarcasm than a teen girl’s Twitter feed.

Rex riffed on the politics of climate change in the context of last week’s brutal, late summer heat wave.

“It was a comfortable 68 degrees in August in the Mojave Desert until hairspray was invented,” Rex wrote.


That didn’t take long.

Three weeks into the job and the current caretaker of Political Notebook was already named “jerk of the week,” by a local talk radio station.

The offense? Unwelcome use of the word “moderate” in reference to a local politician.

Apparently “moderate” is a fightin’ word in some circles.


By now most local political nerds have snapped up copies of, “The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” by Jeff Sharlet.

The book, released in paperback earlier this summer, documents the rise of a specific strain of Christian fundamentalism aimed at wooing elite politicians and business leaders into its global flock.

After poring through a few centuries of the history of American fundamentalism, the book gets around to the movement’s role in modern political culture and the C Street House in Washington, D.C.

The house is common territory for some enthusiastically Christian politicians later caught in extramarital affairs, including Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

No doubt, prurient interest in Ensign’s lifestyle and the desire by detractors to paint him as a hypocrite is driving some of the local interest in the book.

But don’t overlook other aspects of Sharlet’s book that, on a broader level, shows how political culture can value fear-mongering and willful ignorance above the introspection needed to confront personal and national prejudices.

It applies to every level of political engagement: politicians who point fingers but eschew accountability, constituents who demand wealth but oppose political sacrifice and nations that espouse peace but thrive on war.

Consider the following passage from page 180 at the end of Chapter Six, which is largely about the battle for cultural control of post-war Germany. Sharlet explains how American fundamentalists were drawn to some Germans whose idea for rebuilding the national identity included the politically expedient method of simply replacing the reality of the past with a pat, glossy version of history.

“But manifest destiny, the original westward thrust that erased a continent of Native souls, burns history like coal and knows no sin but that of its enemies,” Sharlet writes. “And in this regard, too, the Americans learned from the Germans, who understood that mythology makes the past a parable, smooth and enigmatic, best understood by those who ask no questions.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-477-3861.

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