I have had occasion, in previous columns, to deplore the decline in simple standards of civility that has recently overtaken debates in Congress. Congress is inevitably a quarrelsome place, and the House of Representatives, consisting of 435 members with wildly differing views on just about everything, has long been a hotbed where they hurl furious charges at each other and outsiders they dislike. The Senate is generally a calmer chamber, though here, too, the rhetoric sometimes gets out of hand.
But, as I say, the situation in this regard has recently deteriorated badly, and it reached a record low earlier this month when Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., rose to criticize President Bush for not agreeing to the amount of money the House Democrats wanted to spend on child health insurance. His point seemed to be that the difference between the Democratic and Republican proposals was chicken feed compared to the cost of the war in Iraq -- which, he suggested, the president also couldn't finance. Here were his exact words, spoken on the floor of the House:
"First of all, I'm amazed that the Republicans are worried that we can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? You're going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war?
"You don't have money to fund the war or children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
A Democratic friend of mine, confronted with that statement, first tried to defuse it by calling it "amusing." When I told him I didn't see the humor in it, he offered the defense that it was simply a thoughtless remark tossed off in the heat of debate. But I had seen Stark on television, and the remark wasn't "in the heat of debate." He was out there making a speech, all by himself.
So there we have it: an 18-term Congressman felt perfectly comfortable telling his colleagues and the American people that the president of the United States actually wants to send youngsters to Iraq to get their heads blown off for his amusement.
Does he seriously believe that? I have no idea. A congressman capable of saying such a thing may be equally capable of believing it. On the other hand, he may not believe a word of it. Maybe, in Stark's universe, if you hate somebody enough you can say anything you want to about them, the falser the better.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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