By Jefferson Flanders

As New York’s man-about-town columnist Jimmy Cannon used to say, nobody asked me, but…
DISTRICT ATTORNEY MIKE NIFONG’s request for a special prosecutor to take over the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case is long overdue. Nifong faces ethics charges over his handling of the controversial case—which centers on shifting allegations by an African-American exotic dancer that three white Duke lacrosse players assaulted her at a team party last March. The special prosecutor would be able to review the evidence (which appears increasingly weak) and decide whether to move forward with the case, or to drop it.

Since last March, the Duke case has attracted national attention, as I have noted before, “because it raises submerged questions of race, class disparity, campus cultural and sexual mores, and the workings of our criminal justice system” and “the sensationalizing role of the 24×7 media.”

As the case has unfolded, it has become clear that perhaps only a novelist like Tom Wolfe could do full justice to the bizarre situation, an observer, like Wolfe, “keenly sensitive to the social and cultural context, and the ironies, of the sordid episode.”

No matter how the case is legally resolved, there will be no winners. The Durham District Attorney’s office and the city’s police will, no doubt, face scrutiny for their flawed handling of the case; the embattled Nifong may lose his job and/or his license to practice law.

The accuser is reported to have battled depression and other mental health issues: her behavior to-date has suggested that she is deeply troubled. What will the future hold for her?

The three accused men, even if exonerated, will struggle to repair their reputations. There will be emotional scars left, no doubt, by their brush with national infamy (Newsweek magazine ran mugshots of the three on its front cover).

Duke University has been damaged as well. There are questions yet to be answered about the way Duke’s president, Richard Brodhead, reacted to the crisis; many Duke faculty members, eager to draw political conclusions from the scandal, did not grant the accused students the presumption of innocence. What does that say about divisions in the Duke community? There should be soul-searching aplenty on campus in the months ahead.

FORMER ORIOLES GREAT CAL RIPKEN JR. will now join baseball’s Hall of Fame; he’s a player whose sportsmanship on the field and personal conduct off it would make him a marvelous choice even if he hadn’t been one of the best shortstops in history. Hitter Tony Gwynn was also honored by election to the Hall of Fame; slugger Mark McGwire, dogged by suspicions of steroid use during his home-run hitting career, was not.

COMEDIAN DENNIS MILLER recently explained his changing politics: “Do you know why I’m no longer liberal? Because I wanted to stop my sentences one word short of the word ‘but.’” Miller will host his own three-hour radio talk show beginning in March.

DID SENATOR JOE BIDEN of Delaware actually say the following on “Meet the Press” in discussing his 2008 presidential candidacy: “I’m going to be Joe Biden, and I’m going to try to be the best Biden I can be. If I can, I got a shot. If I can’t, I lose.”? Yes, he did.

The best Biden he can be? Does the good Senator suffer from multiple personality disorder? Is there a bad Biden lurking inside? Or is he suggesting that he has a choice—to be, or not to be, Joe Biden? The mind boggles. Fortunately the Republic is safe from the threat of the best, or worst, Biden occupying the White House.

AMERICAN RAUNCH CULTURE HAS REACHED even England’s institutions of higher education, according to The First Post, which reports: “Pole-dancing exercise clubs, ‘frat-house’ sex games and ‘Pimp and Whore’ themed parties – washed down with gallons of discount lager – are all the rage.” The late New York senator and public intellectual Daniel Patrick Moynihan had it right about the dangers of “Defining Deviancy Down,” and that slippage appears now to be a global phenomenon.

Not well done, as the British would say (and traditionalists would echo), not well done at all. On this very subject, Kay. S. Hymowitz has an interesting Wall Street Journal column bemoaning the wave of female celebrity exhibitionism and noting the merits of modesty and “the logic of privacy.”

POLITICAL ANALYST STUART ROTHENBERG argues “it’s pretty clear that the 2008 presidential election is the Democrats’ to lose” and makes a convincing case at RealClear Politics that “given the closeness of the past two presidential contests, the difficulty of one party winning three consecutive elections and Bush’s poll numbers, the Democratic nominee ought to have a small but clear advantage.”

But, Rothenberg concedes, events can change that calculus. Much depends on how the Democrats handle control of Congress, and, I would argue, on whether the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains civil or not. For example, should elements of the hard Left and their netroots allies launch heavily negative attacks against frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton they may damage her for the general election.

One positive sign for Mrs. Clinton, however, is the potential for numerous “lower tier” candidates (Biden, Tom Vilsack, Al Sharpton, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich) who may siphon left-of-center primary votes from John Edwards and Barack Obama.

THE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK, from Iroquois lacrosse legend Oren Lyons: “Life will go on as long as there is someone to sing, to dance, to tell stories and to listen.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders

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