WASHINGTON -- I am told that there is a move afoot in Congress to make hypocrisy the national flower. Some of you will object that hypocrisy is not a flower. Doubtless there are those in Congress who would respond that it all depends on the meaning of the word "flower." Our president applied similar metaphysical reasoning to the word "is," as did his understudy Al Gore to the meaning of "raising." Both were responding to government investigators.
Yes, Washington is filled with odd fellows and linguists. We who live here are used to them. Returning to the subject of hypocrisy, consider this. Off and on for nearly eight years Congressional Democrats led by the linguist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have complained about the Republicans' penchant for partisanship, for name calling, for "the politics of personal destruction." Now, Gov. George W. Bush taps a mild-mannered former congressman from a western state, known for his wide-ranging public service, to be his running mate, and what is the response of the party that despairs of the Republicans' partisanship and name calling?
"He is probably as far right as anybody in the Republican Party today," purrs Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic minority leader. Meanwhile Bush's mild-mannered choice, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, does not sound all that "far right." In Austin, Texas, after being introduced by Bush, he said: "I look forward to working with you, governor, to change the tone in Washington, to restore a spirit of civility and respect and cooperation. It's time for America's leaders to stop pointing the finger of blame and to begin sharing the credit for success."
Poor Cheney, he apparently really believes that the Democrats seek "to change the tone" and "to restore a spirit of civility." Now he is being dismissed as a member of the "far right." The Honorable Daschle, the Democratic pack and their allies in the press are all in accord that Cheney is shockingly conservative. His selection by Bush confirms their suspicion that Bush is, too. It is only a matter of time before Hillary identifies both men as members of "the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy."
Why is it that in recent years Democrats such as Daschle and Clinton have chosen to call those with whom they disagree "far right"? "Far right" in American history means racist, reactionary, intolerant, and given to activity beyond the bounds of the law and of the Constitution. Historians and sociologists have written volumes on the subject. Is it believable that Cheney, a former cabinet member, aide to three presidents, and five-term congressman is a member of the "far right"?
Daschle and his colleagues even cite Cheney's service to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Bush and his years as a Republican Congressman as evidence that he is far-right. Perhaps they have not noticed that during those years the Democrats moved from being the majority party to being the minority party. They have been reduced to courting militant minorities among the environmentalists, the feminists and various ethnic groups. They stoke fears and hurl epithets. Meanwhile their president loses political battles when he attempts their more extreme policies and wins only when he resorts to Republican policies such as free trade, balanced budgets, and welfare reform.
Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan the Republican Party has steadily gained on the declining Democrats. The Democrats nationally and at the local level are at the weakest they have been since 1930. Are they saying that the country which increasingly supports Republicans is becoming "far right"? After all, the Republicans have been democratically elected.
Bush and former Secretary of Defense Cheney are center-right conservatives. To call them far-right is to play on the ignorance of ignorant voters or on the hysteria of the Democrats' far left. The Democrats' far left may think Cheney's votes cast over a decade ago on abortion and gun control are the most important issues in this election, but times have changed. The country has grown more Republican, more conservative. The only politicians who call their opponents extremists today are demagogues or extremists themselves. After all, one has to stand pretty far to the left on the political spectrum to perceive the Republican ticket of Bush-Cheney as extreme.