WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At one time in the history of our grand republic, political discourse was a much more civil endeavor. While politicians have disagreed, debated, argued and even on occasion, fought on the floor of Congress, there has generally been a certain level of decorum between the two major political parties and among the three branches of government. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case -- and it's hurting our country.
"Mr. President, congratulations. You're a tough adversary," Tip O'Neill said in a 1981 telephone call to President Ronald Reagan after Congress voted to approve the President's economic package. The very liberal Mr. O'Neill had strenuously opposed the Reagan tax cuts, but the speaker went on to say, "I want to wish you all the success in the world."
Who in today's Democrat party would offer such words to President Bush? Who on "the Hill" -- which liberal pundit -- what Democrat party leader -- would adhere to what once was an unwritten rule of mutual respect between political rivals? Extremists in today's Democrat Party are so full of anger that even the horrific devastation and human suffering brought on by Hurricane Katrina have failed to produce any discernible detente in their torrent of viscera.
Katrina has created a humanitarian crisis worse than any natural disaster in U.S. history. Yet, while hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are mourning dead family and friends and trying to comprehend their losses in the flooded streets, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is blaming Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi, and the GOP for the devastation caused by the hurricane.
"Now we are all learning what it's like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged," read Kennedy's post on Ariana Huffington's anti-Bush website. The eco-evangelist went on to suggest to his disciples that God may have been offended by a memorandum Barbour -- former Chairman of the Republican Party -- had written to President Bush about flaws in the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on global warming. "Perhaps," Kennedy wrote, "it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings (sic) for the Mississippi coast."
Set aside for a moment whether the people of New Orleans consider themselves "spared" the worst of Katrina. The Kennedy screed is not only theologically offensive -- it is at best, outrageously insensitive to the plight of countless Americans now searching through waterlogged rubble for the bodies of loved ones and treasured belongings. At worst, it ranks with Sen. Richard "Dick" Durbin's likening American soldiers to the armies of Hitler, Stalin or Cambodia's Pol Pot.
Regrettably, Kennedy is not alone in ignoring the humanitarian and refugee crisis occurring along America's Gulf Coast to further a narrow political agenda. On Wednesday, as government, Salvation Army and Red Cross officials were appealing for every possible kind of help, a coalition of liberal activists brushed aside the plight of Katrina's victims to demand media attention for their opposition to John Roberts, Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is the kind of press-prompted vitriol that has been evident for much of the summer outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Aided and abetted by the so-called mainstream media, Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, has been reduced to the role of center-piece for aging, '60s-era, anti-military radicals. Surrounded by a coterie of sound-bite savvy activists, she deviated from her "Get Out of Iraq Now" script this week to join Kennedy in blaming President Bush for the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
All of this in the midst of the Katrina crisis is enough to make one wary of what Washington will be like for administration officials when Congress returns from their month-long vacation next week. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has already been summoned to appear before the Armed Services committees to "answer questions" about the war.
Rumsfeld, a regular target of rhetorical abuse from the left, has been through this before. When he last testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 23rd, the defense secretary was subjected to a disgusting verbal barrage from Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., that was shamefully personal. Had it not taken place in "the world's greatest deliberative body," it could have been branded as "hate speech."
The record of the hearing is replete with rancorous character attacks against a man who has worked tirelessly to prosecute a war against enemies who behead hostages and kill innocents. Sen. Kennedy's hypocrisy was boundless: "I'm talking about misjudgments, gross errors and mistakes. Those are on your watch. Isn't it time for you to resign?" he shouted. "Our troops deserve better, the American people deserve better." The Massachusetts liberal concluded his diatribe with a comment that might have been introspective: "They deserve competency and they deserve facts. In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out."
Byrd was equally shrill and contemptible, but he may simply have forgotten that Mr. Rumsfeld once served as a naval officer and a member of Congress. "I've just heard enough of your smart answers to these people here who are elected. We are elected. You're not elected," said the West Virginia Senator who never served in any uniform except the white cloak of the Ku Klux Klan. He then ordered the defense secretary: "So get off your high horse when you come up here … Have a little respect for what we try to do."
As they used to tell us in the Marines: You cannot demand respect. You have to earn it.