Washington Babylon — April 18, 2008, 12:45 pm

Top Democratic Strategist Ensnared in Scandal (Not Really)

I’m just kidding with that headline–if it had been true–if, say, one of Barack Obama’s senior advisors had sought help for a failed brothel owner and convicted felon, you would have heard about it. However–one of Senator John McCain’s top campaign strategists is embroiled in precisely such a situation. Which raises the question: why isn’t it front-page news?

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

In 2005, Charlie Black, currently a chief strategist to Senator John McCain, wrote a pair of letters to federal officials aggressively defending Wayne Drizin, a convicted felon, disbarred lawyer, and failed brothel owner with substantial business ties to the controversial Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi. The letters, obtained by The Huffington Post, were sent to a U.S. district court judge and the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general’s office. They are scrupulously detailed and, at times, personal notes, praising Drizin and alleging that a conspiracy of zealous federal investigators was to blame for his legal woes. At the time, Black was a consultant for e-Smart Technologies, a biometric security technology company that Drizin helped start. Drizin was mired in legal battles over his past convictions. The Republican insider and lobbying powerhouse went to bat on the founder’s behalf.

(Note that Aram Roston wrote about the Black-Drizin connection in The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi.)

For the record, I don’t think the media is in the tank for the GOP, but I do think reporters are generally fond of McCain, and that his ties to lobbyists have thus far received far less attention than they should have. Obama did not get seriously scrutinized until recently, and the scrutiny now taking place is for the most part moronic: Is he a closet radical Black Muslim and America-hater who won’t even wear a flag lapel? And no one likes Hillary Clinton–if Charlie Black were working for her campaign, the major networks would already be working on documentaries about his checkered past. But McCain gets a pass.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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