Beltway Beat: Saint Albert

Posted: Jul 10, 2002 12:00 AM
Al Gore and his future job prospects are again in the news after the former vice president loaded up his truck and moved to Tennessee. This column will go on record and predict that Gore will make a third run for the presidency. After all, why else would Jonathan Coopersmith, associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, write to criticize this column for repeating the "old discredited line about Al Gore claiming he invented the Internet." The good professor forwards an article he has just penned for the Annals of the History of Computing. In the piece, he answers the question: "So what exactly did Al Gore do and claim he did?" In May 1999, Gore told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "During my service in the U.S. Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Coopersmith says: "This quickly was mutated into 'I created the Internet' and became ammunition for comedians, reporters too lazy to investigate what actually happened, and Republicans. What happened here may become a classic example of how the Internet enables the rapid spread of error and disinformation at the expense of the truth." The professor recalls computer scientist Joseph F. Traub, founder of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council, crediting Gore for being the "first political leader to grasp the importance of networking the country, and later the world." In fact, as early as 1986, during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences, Gore spoke of the importance of a national information infrastructure, particularly for promoting commerce and education. "Gore did not - or claim to - spend long days and nights coding or stringing fiber-optic cable," says Coopersmith. "Instead, we see a congressman, senator and later vice president trying to create and fund a national policy to transfer defense-funded computer research to the private and educational worlds and promote universal access. "And if that does not make him the political saint of the Internet, his years of promotion definitely qualify him as a major patron." In other words, as far as the professor is concerned, George W. Bush was wrong when he told Gore: "This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention." DRIFTING FROM D.C. The patriotic fervor generated by the Sept. 11 attacks is unfortunately not translating into increased political participation by Americans. Statewide primaries held in 18 states in recent weeks by both major parties resulted in record low levels of voter turnout, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. It's gotten so bad that average levels of voter turnout today are more than 50 percent lower than they were in the late 1960s and early '70s. Voter turnout in statewide primaries held in the spring averaged just 16 percent of eligible voters, compared with 18 percent in 1998 and down 51 percent from the high-water mark for turnout in 1966. Democrats and Republicans alike have every reason to be concerned. Turnout in the 18 states that held Democratic statewide primaries averaged just 8 percent of eligibles. And Republicans fared even worse: turnout in the 18 states averaged just 7 percent. "In the real world, no one should have expected that the events of Sept. 11 would have increased political participation," says CSAE Director Curtis Gans. "While there was an increase in patriotism, there was also an essential national unity that does not draw people into electoral contest. "And what the citizenry was asked to do was to return to normalcy, consume material goods and invest in the stock market, hardly clarion calls to civic involvement," he adds. "The only exhortation was for an increase in volunteerism, which tends to be a noblesse oblige apolitical act." EARTH OVER MAN We read where the Earth First Journal, in collaboration with the group Dictator Watch, intends to create a directory of "the individuals responsible for the widespread crimes against nature perpetrated by humanity upon the earth and its creatures." The directory, according to Earth First, will include "the sources of death and destruction that come from industry, government, and also other institutions. For example, many religious organizations, through their beliefs and practices, have terrible environmental consequences." The directory, which will be published in the Journal and also on the Journal and Dictator Watch's Web sites, is intended to serve as a resource and guide for activists worldwide. "This is scary stuff," says James W. Conrad Jr., counsel of the American Chemistry Council, who equates the directory to a "Nuremberg Files-type Web site, with names, photos, home addresses, etc., of people 'killing the earth.'" SHUNNING GOD Several U.S. senators have become "afraid" and "cowed into silence" when it comes to God and their faith, says Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), a practicing Catholic. "We have media and culture that beat us up continuously to drive God out of the public square," the senator said at a recent conference at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. "Systematically, they get people not to speak the truth - people get cowed into silence." One thing Santorum says he likes about George W. Bush is that he's "not afraid to say the G-word." JIM WHO? We have to laugh at the Democratic National Committee, which is wasting party faithfuls' time by asking them to send letters "to President Bush to let him know you're proud of the job Tom Daschle and the Democratic Senate is doing" more than a year after Vermont Sen. James Jeffords handed Democrats power by defecting from the Republican Party. Senate Majority Leader Daschle, of course, owes both title and throne to Jeffords, and insists the Jeffords defection "will go down in history as one of the great American declarations of political conscience." On the recent one-year anniversary of Jeffords' switching to independent and giving Democrats control - by one vote - of the Senate, we couldn't even get one of his former Republican colleagues to mention him by name. ANCHOR BABIES It's called birthright citizenship, and its related phenomenon has been dubbed "anchor babies." The United States, says immigration watchdog group Project USA, grants automatic citizenship to babies born in this country to illegal aliens, temporary workers, even tourists. The babies can eventually "anchor" their extended families in the United States, thus precipitating an unlimited number of "chain immigrants" with the right to immigrate. As a method of modernizing U.S. immigration policy, Project USA is proposing an end to birthright citizenship. It cites the Fourteenth Amendment, on which the practice of birthright citizenship is "wrongly" based (the salient part of the amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.") "To us, it seems obvious that a tourist or illegal alien and her newborn are not 'subject to' U.S. jurisdiction," the group argues. Others take exception, including University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor Thomas J. Archdeacon, who writes: "If aliens in the U.S. commit crimes or otherwise come into contact with the law, they may seek support from their home governments, but they are most definitely subject to U.S. jurisdiction." So the group put the same question to former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), who along with 80 co-sponsors introduced the Citizenship Reform Act of 1999. He points out that birthright citizenship is a concept rooted in English common law dating to a 1608 ruling called Calvin's Case. Since then, he says, being "subject to" has meant that a person could be tried for treason to the sovereign in question, or be drafted into its military. "Clearly," says Project USA, "neither a Korean tourist, nor a Saudi national with a temporary work visa, nor a Mexican illegal alien, can be tried for treason to the United States or be drafted into the U.S. military. And if these women are not 'subject to' the jurisdiction of the United States, their babies - at birth - must be even less so."