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Inside Politics

Political Plays of the Year

Message of 2005: Plays are rarely predictable



John McCain
Ronnie Earle
Tom DeLay
John Roberts

(CNN) -- Before auld acquaintance is forgot, let's bring to mind the political Plays of the Year, for auld lang syne.

Play No. 5 is Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle bringing the hammer down on "The Hammer" Tom DeLay, announcing that the legislator conspired "to violate the Texas election code by contributing corporate money to candidates in the Texas Legislature."

It was a classic act of partisan score settling, as DeLay did not fail to observe, saying, "This act is the product of a coordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution."

But it was also a brilliant decapitation strategy. DeLay stepped aside as majority leader. House Republicans fell into leaderless disarray, and Democrats saw a chance to make ethics a partisan issue.

Play No. 4 involved another prosecutor leading another politically charged probe. But in the case of Patrick Fitzgerald, no one could find any partisan motive.

"This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer's identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person -- a person, Mr. Libby -- lied or not," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald convinced a grand jury to indict Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and he continues to threaten presidential adviser Karl Rove and has pretty much paralyzed the White House.

Fitzgerald, however, remains untouchable -- a political Eliot Ness.

Play No. 3 is conservatives declaring their independence as they rose up in revolt over the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"A number of us would have liked to have somebody who had a clear track record on these issues," said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

They brought Miers down. They also refused to toe the White House line on deficit spending, immigration, Medicare and torture -- and after four years, a conservative uprising loosened the White House grip on the Republican Congress.

Play No. 2 is John McCain managing to have it both ways by remaining a principled Bush-friendly maverick and keeping lines open to conservatives.

After beating the White House into submission on the torture issue, McCain somehow made it look like the president won.

"Thank you, Mr. President. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the effort you made to resolve this very difficult issue," he said.

McCain is one of the few figures in American politics who appeals to both Democrats and Republicans.

And the political Play of the Year? That would belong to John Roberts, who shut down what was supposed to be the ultimate political showdown.

Roberts trumped what could have been a bitter ideological dispute with strong credentials, a limited paper trail and considerable political finesse. Under close questioning, Roberts revealed almost nothing about how he might vote.

"There's nothing in my personal views based on faith or other sources that would prevent me from applying the precedents of the court faithfully," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate voted 78-22 to confirm Roberts as chief justice. Democrats were split down the middle. War was averted.

New Year's is the time for predictions, but the message of 2005 is that political plays are rarely predictable. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "Never make predictions. Especially about the future.''

Good advice for a happy new year.

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