Stark Raving Mad

Posted: May 11, 2004 12:00 AM

When Daniel Dow returned home Thursday evening, he noticed he had a voice mail message.  To his great surprise, it was left by his Congressman, Pete Stark (D-CA), in response to a fax he had sent in an hour earlier.

But to Dow?s even greater surprise, the message was a smarmy smear, one in which Congressman Stark essentially called him stupid and implied that the enlisted man, who had just returned from Kosovo, did not care about enlisted men and women.

And now compounding the Congressman?s callousness, he has released an ?apology? distinctly lacking anything resembling an apology.

Here?s a brief recap of the events:

- Thursday evening, the House voted on one of its typical resolutions supporting the troops in Iraq, but also condemning the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and calling for a full investigation.

- 16-term San Francisco liberal Pete ?Fortney? Stark was one of 50 Congressmen to oppose the non-controversial resolution.

- Daniel Dow wrote an intelligent, though strongly worded letter expressing his outrage and faxed it to Rep. Stark?s office at 4:30pm PST.

- Dow stepped out for some errands, and upon returning home, he listened to his voice mail.

Thankfully, Dow thought on his feet and provided the recording to San Francisco-based talk radio station KSFO.  (Listen here.)  The story caught fire, and by midday Friday, even Rush Limbaugh was talking about it.

Listening to the choice language Stark used, it?s easy to see why.  He started out his 53-second message telling Dow, ?You don?t know what you?re talking about.?  Stark then informs the enlisted man, ?So if you care about enlisted people, you wouldn?t have voted for that thing, either.?

Perhaps such ?stark? language might be acceptable responding to a blowhard or an ad hominem attack, but then again, no Congressman would ever waste his time calling such a constituent.  (As a practical matter, calls from Congressmen are extremely rare, and Stark is Exhibit A as to why.)

But Dow?s letter, though unequivocal in its criticism, was eloquent, passionate, and intelligent.  It might have savaged Stark?s nutty ?no? vote on the resolution, but there was not a single personal attack. 

If only the Congressman could say the same.

Stark stooped to name-calling, chastising his constituent as an idiot: ?Probably somebody put you up to this, and I?m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.  So I don?t pay too much attention to it.?

Near the middle of his rambling message, the Congressman promised Dow, ?But I?ll call you back later.?  Why?  Stark explained, ?[To] let you tell me why you think you?re such a great, god-damned hero.?  (Stark did not call back.)

Maybe a case could be made that Dow, like any American who commits to serving his or her country, is a hero.  But Dow didn?t.  The letter was as free of self-aggrandizement as it was personal invective against the Congressman.

Dow?s letter, in other words, was also the exact opposite of Stark?s ?apology? issued Friday.

When this columnist talked to Stark?s press secretary, there was no chance to get background information or talk off-the-record, never mind a chance to interview the Congressman.  No, the only thing available to the media was a carefully-drafted prepared statement.

Stark?s remarks were a collection of digs at both President Bush and Dow, a hearty pat on the back for himself, and a lamenting of the ?obscenity? of the response to the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Proving that class is beyond his reach even with the benefit of a cooling-off period and staffers who presumably possess common sense, Stark started his statement with a subtle poke at Dow, referring to the original letter as a ?personal letter.? 

The implication, of course, is that Dow was somehow wrong to release to the media ?personal? correspondence.  The two men, however, have never met, and there was nothing ?personal? about Dow?s note.  It was a letter from constituent to Congressman, period.

And what would a statement from a rabidly partisan Democrat be without a slap at Bush?  Stark accomplishes that obligatory goal and touts himself at the same time by announcing in the ?apology? that he is ?a veteran who honorably served in our military ? with no unexplained absences from duty.?

His only regret?  ?I wish I?d used less heated language in my message.?  Heated language, though, wasn?t the problem.  His condescending insults of a man who had just returned from serving his country in Kosovo were.  Rhetorically spitting in the face of a constituent cannot be dismissed as ?heated language.?

Even that worthless stab at an ?apology? was robbed of any meaning, though, as it was immediately followed with a cheap diversionary tactic: ?the real obscenity is this Administration?s continued failure to respond to these acts of torture and abuse.?

This is not the first time that Rep. Stark?s big mouth and short temper and gotten him in trouble.  Last summer, even the famously liberal San Francisco Chronicle all but called on Stark to leave public life for his well-documented ?legend of buffoonery.?

Stark should spare his constituents further embarrassment and simply apologize?for real.  His ?legend? doesn?t need yet another chapter.