New establishment

John McCaslin
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Posted: Apr 20, 2004 12:00 AM

It's been exactly one decade since Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Elated conservative lawmakers quickly promised to change the way Congress did business, making government smaller and more accountable. Toward those ends, they drew up an unprecedented "Contract with America," the likes of which the hallowed body had never seen.

"I have read that there is one, but I have not read it," reacted Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). He refused, or so he said in this column, to read the opposition's 10-point plan.

"Some would say: 'Why have you not read it?' Well, I have never read the Democratic platform. Why? Because I did not have any part in writing that platform. I am going to be guided by my own conscience ... not by some party platform. Why waste my time on a party platform?"

Particularly one drawn up by Republicans.

"The general theme of the Class of 1994 was to restrain 'government that is too big, too intrusive and too easy with the public's money,'" notes the libertarian-minded Cato Institute, which has organized a Washington conference on May 20 to examine the successes and failures of the Republican revolution.

Presenting an overview of the revolution will be its leaders, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. The opening question: Do Americans have less government and more liberty after 10 years of Republican rule?

ENABLING AMERICA

At least one Bush administration program works.

In the two weeks since Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced a work-force recruitment program, 206 college students with disabilities have been placed in federal government jobs.

A free database, which the secretary announced on March 30, identifies qualified college students and recent grads with disabilities who seek summer and permanent jobs. The database is being made available to government and private employers.

"The Workforce Recruitment Program gives students with disabilities the opportunities they need to start successful careers," Chao says. "The program also fulfills President Bush's New Freedom Initiative pledge to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the nation."

PROTECTING SADDAM

A man dressed up in a Saddam Hussein "Ace of Spades" costume was chased from a New York City sidewalk Monday (April 19) by three of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's bodyguards as the former first lady signed copies of her new paperback book inside the Borders bookstore at Columbus Circle.

"They explained there was construction nearby and they didn't want me to get hurt," the Saddam impostor informed this column from a New York City phone booth.

WAKE US AT 5

Contracting federal jobs to the private sector looks good on paper, but at the Interior Department's Telecommunications Service Office, a trio of audiovisual contractors are "rediscovering the wheel."

An Interior official tells this column that in order to keep better track of the office's teleconferencing equipment lent out to other divisions and bureaus, the three contractors have announced that they will begin marking each device with nail polish.

"What happened to the labels used by the (U.S. government) for decades?" the official wonders.

And where better to administer the nail polish than in the "nap room" reportedly set up and furnished by the contractors in Room 1465 of the main Interior Building - "labeled as a computer room," reveals the official, who speaks on condition of anonymity.

"With the assistance of several other federal employees, they moved a comfortable couch into the room, along with an electric heater, blanket and two plump pillows - complete with pillow cases," he notes. "When the contractors are napping, the door is locked and cannot be opened from the outside."

The official says when other federal employees tried to put a stop to the "fledgling motel," nobody higher up would listen.

"I went to the (inspector general's) office, but they weren't interested," he says.

The Telecommunications Service Office is part of Interior's National Business Center.

TOASTING KERRY

Republican wise guys on Capitol Hill are distributing the "Official 2004 Democratic National Committee Convention Program," or so they insist.

The schedule of events includes a series of antiwar rallies, each followed by Sen. Ted Kennedy proposing a toast; a re-enactment of John Kerry's fake medal toss; tributes to Spain and France; and a homosexual "marriage" ceremony.

We'll let you know when Democrats obtain the "official" agenda of the Republican National Convention.

CONNIE'S MESSAGE

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate was rightfully concerned that inevitable mudslinging in the 2004 presidential campaign would commence early, causing many American voters to eschew the ballot box.

"The Bush presidency is the most polarizing of any since that of Lyndon Johnson," CSAE director Curtis Gans said last month. "Election 2004 will be played out on the field of ... strong emotions."

Thus, Gans conceded, it is in President Bush's interest to run a "relentlessly negative" campaign against Democratic challenger John Kerry, making his opponent the issue as much as possible. Yet it is not in Kerry's interest to respond in kind, he said, at least in his TV advertising.

If the Democrat did, he warned, the public would become buried by a barrage of negative campaigning, and come to believe neither candidate worthy of their votes. Here we are in mid-April and that scenario is playing out.

"In race for president, voter fatigue already sets in," blares the front-page headline in the Kansas City Star.

"Connie Greene, a Kansas City mother of three, has a message for the two major campaigns for president: 'I'm fed up with it. It's getting out of hand.' So far out of hand that Greene is tempted to turn off her TV before she sees any more," writes reporter Steve Kraske, who adds:

"If Greene is fed up now, imagine how she and much of America will feel come September, much less November. Never before have Americans been exposed to such an all-out, full-scale presidential campaign this early in an election year."

Republican pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies suggests that Americans will get a breather from the blitz of negative TV spots, at least until both parties' conventions convene this summer.

"I don't think we can sustain this level of intensity," Newhouse told the Star. "It's hard to believe that people aren't going to get burned out pretty quickly."

CANNABIS CALL

Marijuana remains one of this country's most popular highs, so this week the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws kicked off its 2004 National Conference Tuesday in Washington with the election-year slogan: "We're here, we smoke, we vote."

Day one had participants converging on Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of various marijuana-reform bills. Days two and three consist of panel discussions on everything from "pot and your health" to "how not to get busted."

"I urge those who oppose marijuana prohibition and the continuing arrest of hundreds of thousands of responsible marijuana smokers annually to join us in the nation's capital," said NORML President Keith Stroup.