The few remaining newspaper-reading residents of our nations capital were greeted, yesterday morning, with a large, unavoidable picture, in the Washington Post, of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia).
And his dog.
Dont get me wrong: I like dogs. At least, my own. At least, most of the time.
But both the picture and the Style section article (detailing the pooch paradise on Capitol Hill) bug me. Where to begin?
For starters, it never ceases to amaze that Mr. Byrd is still a high-level decision-maker in our government. At 92, Byrd is one of 100 U.S. senators, and currently the longest serving (52 years). His overall congressional tenure is the longest in American history.
His accomplishments in the last half century? The Robert C. Byrd Highway. The Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advance Flexible Manufacturing. The Robert C. Byrd Academic and Technology Center. The Robert C. Byrd United Technical Center. The Robert C. Byrd Federal Building. The Robert C. Byrd Hilltop Office Complex. Et cetera.
Oh, and lets not diminish his mighty contributions to our national debt of $13 trillion . . . and growing.
(For the record, the enthusiasm of some for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) amazed and perturbed me as well.)
Add to this, Byrd has never been able honestly to account for his past involvement as a Ku Klux Klan organizer, where he rose to the rank of Exalted Cyclops. Somehow, neither his party nor the media have forced an apology from him. As late as 2001, in a rare public interview in which the subject of racism was raised with the Senator, Byrd informed the world: There are white niggers.
But hey, that was nearly two Senate terms ago. What racial slur has he hurled lately?
The photo in question — of Byrd and his Shih Tzu, Baby — really says more about the sorry state of the media, specifically the Washington Post, than it does about Byrd. The Post is fiddling with front page dog stories while the people of our fair land are burning mad about economic collapse, entrenched corruption and environmental disasters.
But lets move past the merely symbolic, to address more consequential and ominous examples.
The $23 billion education bailout proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is, well, educational. The goal of the bailout is to prevent layoffs of school personnel, including teachers. If estimates are to be believed — and theyre not — somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 school workers nationally could lose their jobs.
Give or take 200,000.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan declares, This is a real emergency. What were trying to avert is an education catastrophe. Of course, he uses the term real to distinguish this from the pretend emergencies were routinely fed.
Sen. Harkins bill has been held up, however, on the grounds it would further balloon already unsustainable deficits and debt. To which the Senator argues: How can you argue on the one hand that its okay for kids to borrow to go to college, but its not all right to borrow to make sure theres a college for them to go to? That there are teachers in our high schools and grade schools to prepare these kids for the future? It seems to me if theres one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, its in education.
But I for one argue that any kid already $13 trillion in debt should not seek to top it off with a student loan.
And I wonder, if indeed this is a catastrophe, why Mr. Harkin, the Democratic Congress, Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration have not been able to find $23 billion in savings out of a $3.8 trillion 2011 budget (roughly half a percent) to save education without further deficit spending.
Of course, this $23 billion in extra spending isnt just a one-time matter, either. As Katherine Mangu-Ward astutely observed months ago on Reasons Hit-and-Run blog, Teachers arent like whales. They dont stay saved. You have to keep saving them over and over again. And when Harkins billions run out, well be right back where we started.
We see barrels of unreality daily flooding to the surface regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (With all the myriad finger-pointing, too bad it isnt as simple as filling a hole in a dyke.) One big whopper was President Obamas statement during his prime time TV address this past week that he approved new offshore drilling (just weeks before the oil rig exploded) under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe.
Byron York of the Washington Examiner actually took the trouble to ask various top-ranking Administration officials where the President got such unreal advice. Most simply did not respond to his queries.
The oil spill is the fault of BP. But the mystique of Mr. Obama as a brilliant Mr. Fix-It has been shown to be fantasy.
Last, but not least, is the recent developments concerning the Disclose Act, a measure to re-regulate campaign spending in congressional campaigns (read: silence critics) in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision. The entire bill is an unconstitutional injury to of our First Amendment right to freely criticize our government and officials in government.
But adding insult upon injury, the bill was amended to exempt some of the biggest political players — the National Rifle Association and big labor, to name two. Seems the sponsors wanted to buy off the support of powerful groups they complain might be trying to buy them. The irony is interesting, though disgusting.
No longer can there be even a pretense that congressional campaign regulators are earnestly, if unconstitutionally, trying to even the playing field.
Never mind that our country may be going to the dogs. Instead, look at Sen. Byrds cute little Shih Tzu.