Got hypocrisy?

Posted: Jul 18, 2004 12:00 AM

The sun is shining. The corn is growing in Iowa; there's rice in Arkansas; Idaho soil is preparing to offer up plenty of spuds. And in hot and muggy Washington, D.C., we can expect another bumper crop of hypocrisy.

Much of the hypocrisy in Washington politics involves partisanship. It appears that ideas don't matter nearly as much as whether there is an R or a D stitched onto the chest of the idea's advocate.

Partisanship is winning out: Politics has become a football game with a blue team and a red team competing for all the prizes of power and money. The goal is to win the game by staying in office and by getting or keeping your team in the majority ? so you as a congressman get the bigger and better slice of perks, pork, privileges, and power.

That's much different than the body of citizen representatives our Founders envisioned ? men who would act not as part of the factions so feared by Madison, but as an independent board of directors to run government according to the rules, the Constitution, and for the benefit of us all as shareholders.

But our Founders' dreams are not today's reality. This can be seen in the reckless disregard for principle, and in the routine trivialization of ideas. The issues that so animate the citizenry have become mere objects to be used to win the game by the partisan professional politicians populating the nation's capitol.

I can't help but wonder: If Bill Clinton were now president, and not George W. Bush, would congresspeople simply trade talking-point memos and restart the argument on opposite sides? Even on issues of war and peace?

Notice what really makes the Washington politicians hopping mad. Not the issues of life and death ? oh, no. Just last week, Democrats held a temper tantrum ? that is, "news conference" ? about the kind of issue they do indeed care deeply about: the rules Republicans are using to vote on legislation in the House of Representatives.

Democrats take offense at the Republican leadership extending the voting period on bills. GOP leaders pull this maneuver whenever they need to twist some arms to win. When a vote isn't going their way, leaders corner members of Congress to offer ? or threaten to take away ? pork and campaign cash until the recalcitrants change their votes. The vote closes only when the requisite number of arms have been bent back far enough.

In such cases, career politicians tend to be very "pragmatic" in changing their votes to please their team; by doing so, they boost their standing as players. But those in Congress who have voluntarily limited their terms (and who later step down, honoring their pledges) don't cow so easily. It's one reason the congressional leadership of both parties loves incumbency and hates term limits. Readers of my Common Sense e-letter are familiar with the stories of Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Nick Smith from Michigan standing up to partisan leadership to do the right thing.

Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland leveled the harshest criticism after Republicans turned a 15-minute vote into a 38-minute vote to avoid losing on an amendment to the Patriot Act. The Democratic leader charged:

House Republican leaders proved once again today that they will stop at virtually nothing to win a vote, even if that means running roughshod over the most basic principles of democracy such as letting Members vote their conscience and calling the vote after time has elapsed.

They ought to be ashamed of themselves, but when it comes to holding votes open and twisting the arms of their own Members they clearly have no shame.
These back-alley tactics have no place in the greatest deliberative body in the world. They might be the life-blood of a tin-horn dictator, but not a world leader.

Hoyer has a point. The rules don't seem quite fair. And Republican leaders don't have much of a defense. But they certainly are quick to point out that the Democrats had similar rules and exhibited as bad if not worse behavior when Democrats controlled the House before the 1994 elections.

You might be thinking, "Can't we put the past aside and have fair rules from this day forward? Isn't that simply the American way?" Yes it is, but don't hold your breath for Republican House leaders to reform this practice.

And what about the poor, victimized Democrats? Would they change the evil they are so busy assailing? Reporters asked Hoyer exactly that: Was Hoyer, as a member of the Democratic leadership, pledging not to do the very same thing for which he was attacking Republicans, should Democrats win enough seats to take the majority?

Mr. Hoyer replied, "I am not."

He explained with a straight face that the Republicans had called these tactics corrupt when Democrats had used them against Republicans. (Okay.) Therefore, for Republicans to now employ them is hypocritical. (Okay, right.) To what must have been a stunned and incredulous room of reporters, the righteous and honorable Mr. Hoyer further clarified his past support of Democratic vote extensions, "If I thought it was a corrupt practice, I would have opposed it."

Let's clarify the clarification. The Democratic whip opposes "corrupt" practices, but really doesn't oppose violating the "basic principles of democracy" or employing "back-alley tactics" or behaving like a "dictator" as long as these are done by Democrats to Republicans and not ? heaven forbid ? by Republicans to Democrats. Somehow, that's why Republicans are hypocritical and Hoyer is not.

His logic doesn't exactly make you want to grab a pennant or a pom-pom and holler, "Go Blue Team!" does it? Nor do the antics of the Republican leaders in the House inspire flag-waving for the Reds.

Of course, the only thing worse than partisanship is bipartisanship. Or, as I like to call it, another congressional pay raise.