WASHINGTON -- With George W. Bush's Republicans preparing to take over the White House, after duly fumigating the place, we seasoned Washington observers are preparing for a change of temperament in the media. A sudden sense of alarm will begin to radiate from the most commonplace White House news reports. Matters hitherto accorded no significance whatsoever will suddenly be reported with timpani rumbling off stage by White House reporters grim with foreboding for the Bush presidency.
Today's high-level news speculations over what President-elect Bush might do about the presidential limousine license plate that President Bill Clinton has stuck him with is a perfect example of the media's change of attitude -- or to be more precise, the return of the Black Cat News Story.
The Black Cat News Story is a Republican problem. The Black Cat News Story is a media report of some inconsequential phenomenon that supposedly will prove disastrous for a rising politician, usually a Republican. Outgoing President Clinton has ordered new license plates for the White House limo. Playful fellow that he is, he ordered license plates that carry the local Democrats' slogan "Taxation without Representation." It is the slogan of District of Columbia activists who believe that their 70-square-mile tract of land should have the same congressional representation as that of the 50 states, though since adoption of the Constitution D.C. has not had any congressional representation.
Had Clinton's ploy been attempted by an outgoing Republican president it would have been reported for the cheap piece of partisanship that it is. With all the important decisions regarding appointments and policies that have to be made by the incoming president, his automobile's license plate would simply be a ho-hum news story. Its sub-theme would emphasize how typically partisan the outgoing Gingrich-like Republicans are. Naturally, because Democrats such as Clinton are never accused of partisanship and because they claim solely to be devoted to "public service," the story is reported differently when they're in power.
As The Washington Post reports it, President-elect Bush will insult all D.C. residents if he removes the "Taxation without Representation" plates from his car, though statehood for the District is opposed by Bush. And, adds the Post, many D.C. residents are black -- here we have that ominous tone that I told you would be seeping into White House news stories.
I would have liked to have been in the Oval Office when the Boy President and his cronies dreamt up his license plate gambit. I bet there were hoots of laughter. Imagine, either President Bush would be forced to drive around the District in a car protesting the local Democrats' lack of congressional representation or he would spend weeks, maybe months, denying the charges of local black Democrats that he is racist. You know that the media would be a sucker for every permutation of this Black Cat News Story.
Fortunately the incoming president has an equally clever response to Clinton's gambit. It has the virtue of demonstrating GWB's respect for civil rights while granting the inhabitants of the District their request for congressional representation. Still, the country would be spared the idiotic spectacle of two senators representing an area smaller than many counties. President George W. Bush on Jan. 21 can by executive order return the District of Columbia to Maryland and change his license plate accordingly.
There is a historic precedent here. Originally the District of Columbia included a 30-square mile area of what is now called Northern Virginia, specifically Arlington and Alexandria. In 1847 the disfranchised inhabitants of that area were returned their Virginia citizenship, and they have had representation in Congress ever since. Casting himself in a heroic role GWB can raise up the lowly District of Columbians from their servitude and return them to their rightful status as inhabitants of the Maryland Free State. For senators, they would have the liberal leadership of the illustrious Senator Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes. As their congressional representatives I see such possibilities as the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the Hon. Kweisi Mfume.
GWB's first act as president would be a blow for liberty and justice. If the present injustice practiced against the District is as grave asJackson says it is, GWB's executive order making the District part of Maryland might put the new president in the running for a Noble Peace Prize. Who knows, Jackson might even return to that spot on the political spectrum where his ancestors resided, the party of Lincoln. I call for a simple reform, but one more constructive than Boy Clinton's license plate gambit.