Washington, DC -- Perhaps it can be written off to election-year madness. Maybe it's a case of political senility. Whatever it is, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, the junior senator from South Carolina, now in his seventh term, has it bad. The venerable chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, apparently forgetting his antipathy for special prosecutors like Ken Starr, now wants a "special counsel" appointed to investigate the Enron fiasco. If he persists in this lunacy, he could become the new poster child for the term limits movement.
There was a time when Hollings was widely regarded as an independent, if not irascible, voice in the Democrat Party. He once had a reputation for voting his conscience. When I was enduring my own particular hell with Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, Hollings stood by me and protected my daughter from the animus of hostile colleagues while she interned in his office. And that's why it's such a shame to see him dancing to the tune of James Carville and the "Daschlecrats."
Just a few days before Hollings stepped out of the crowd to become the chief shill for those who want to use Enron's collapse as a divisive political issue, I saw James Carville in California. The former Clinton campaign consultant was unapologetic about the policy guidance he had issued to his party's faithful, urging them to "exploit" the "Enron scandal" to "reduce confidence in the Bush administration and Republicans."
Forget about the war we've been waging since 9-11. Ignore the tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in harm's way. Overlook the increasing vulnerability of Americans in faraway places like the Philippines and Colombia. Disregard the rising unemployment, imploding markets and escalating violence in the Middle East. Apparently to Carville and his cronies, none of this matters. All that counts is winning the next election.
Evidently, that's enough for Hollings, as well. Using his Commerce Committee chairmanship as a bully pulpit, the white-maned solon accused President Bush of presiding over a "cash and carry administration" and an "Enron government." Then, without producing a shred of evidence, he proceeded to smear, by name, the vice president, the secretaries of treasury, energy and the army, the attorney general, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. trade representative, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and a host of lesser administration luminaries. In a perverse twist on history, Hollings' chose an auspicious day to deliver his unfounded imputations of corruption: the 48th anniversary of Sen. Joe McCarthy's infamous "Treason" speech in Charleston, W.V.
Back in 1954, in his zeal to root out communists and traitors, McCarthy said some terrible things about government officials. He was, of course, correct about some of them. There were traitors -- like Alger Hiss -- and somehow, we didn't need an "independent counsel" to convict him. Unfortunately, McCarthy was also very wrong in some of his other attacks.
Dwight Eisenhower wasn't a "pinko" and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, no matter how he dressed, wasn't the "Red Dean of Fashion." For his excesses, for going too far in trying to do the right thing, a hostile press corps and his Senate colleagues eventually brought Joe McCarthy down.
But that's not happening here. No master of the mainstream media has expressed shock or dismay at Hollings' unwarranted assault. No daring Democrat arose in the well of the Senate demanding decency or fairness. No cooler heads tried to tamp Hollings' loopy call for an Enron special prosecutor. Instead, others are jumping to participate in the perfidy.
When the Independent Counsel Statute finally expired at the age of 21 in 1999, almost nobody mourned its demise. Just three years ago, the abuses and expenses of more than a score of unaccountable, unconstitutional special prosecutors was so much on the minds of most members in both parties that they were willing to drive a stake through the heart of the legislation. Now, seemingly in response to the orders received from Field Marshall Carville, Democrats are preparing to set aside the needs of the nation to reap political advantage.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, once blistered Ken Starr for spending $52 million "going after" Bill Clinton. Now, apparently suffering from congressional dementia or legislative amnesia, Conyers has changed his mind and joined the "Special Prosecutor Chorus," saying, "It is time for this administration to appoint a special counsel."
David Walker, the man Bill Clinton picked to head the General Accounting Office, is "on board" with the Carville Plan. His unprecedented lawsuit against the White House seeks the release of all records from Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.
This kind of raw partisanship is to be expected of political consultants, party potentates and the many mindless morons who fill the dead air on the nightly talking head shows. It's beneath my old friend Sen. Fritz Hollings.