WS>>Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak
carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Sun Feb 18 17:04:03 MST 2001
by Wes Pruden
George Nethercutt is the poster boy of the fragile
Republican majority in the House of Representatives. He's
what the Great Revolution of '94 was all about and what that
revolution has dwindled away to in the double aughts.
Mr. Nethercutt was the giant killer of Spokane, the
man who bounced Tom Foley, the Democratic speaker of the
House, out of office with the cry that the speaker was out
of tune, out of touch and out of gas.
Elect him instead, Mr. Nethercutt said, and he would
serve three terms and return to Spokane. Term limits, he
said without equivocation, was the only way to return the
House to the people.
Well, that was then, and this is now. The giant
killer with the big noise has shrunk to an anxious incumbent
on whom the frightened and frail Republican majority is
counting for mere survival. Mr. Nethercutt has served
his three terms and, just like Tom Foley before him, he's
terrified of having to go home and get a job. He never
bothered to encourage a successor.
Naturally, he doesn't put it quite that way. Selfless
pols never do. He's running for a fourth term not because
he wants to or because there's anything in it for him, but
because it's "best for the district."
"It would be easiest to say the heck with it and not
run," he says. "But I feel an obligation to finish some of
the things I've started. The farm bill and sanctions re-
lief." (Not to mention the struggle for National Clean-up,
Paint-up, Fix-up Week, Ingrown Toenail Awareness Month, and
maybe a Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.)
Mr. Nethercutt is one of three members who ran in '94
on his sacred word that he would get out and go home after
three terms and who now dismisses all that as a joke on
whoever was dumb enough to believe him. The other two are
Martin Meehan of Massachusetts, a Democrat, and Scott McIn-
nis of Colorado, a Republican.
"Of the three who broke their promises, George Nether-
cutt is the one who far and away made the pledge a central
issue in his campaign," says a spokesman for U.S. Term
Limits, which campaigned for the three in '94, but which
now, sticking to principle, opposes all three.
U.S. Term Limits is making Mr. Nethercutt a partic-
ular target. The organization brought to life Garry Tru-
deau's cartoon figure, "Weasel King," which is based on Mr.
Nethercutt and his broken promise. Weasel King has been
following him around his district in costume, applying the
needle successfully enough that the Nethercutt staff tries
to slip their candidate in and out of Spokane at odd times
unknown to Weasel King.
Further rising to take the bait, Mr. Nethercutt is
making himself the issue in his campaign with radio commer-
cials accusing U.S. Term Limits of "lying" and "distort-
ing" his record. He has even described Paul Jacob, presi-
dent of U.S. Term Limits, as "a convicted felon who served
a long prison sentence." Mr. Jacob, who says he does not
believe in forced military service, served 5 and 1/2
months months, not years in prison in 1980 after refusing to
register for a nonexistent draft.
Mr. Nethercutt may continue to get the last laugh.
His consultants are confident that his constituents have
short attention spans and may not be conscious enough to
remember what happened way back in a previous century. "I
think term limits as an issue has receded in voters' minds,"
says Brett Bader, a Republican political consultant. "It's
still a concept they tend to support, but it's no longer
something folks feel must be accomplished this year."
Mr. Nethercutt is a perfect emblem of the Republican
campaign for the House. The Republicans took the House in
'94 by drawing a vivid line between themselves and the
Democrats, promising that things would be different if the
Republicans controlled the House. The voters, no doubt in
a different mood than they're in this year, responded with a
mandate of fire and thunder. The Groggy Old Party spent
the mandate in six months and the fire and thunder have
become a tiny bubble and an occasional squeak.
The party elders have learned the Democratic game well.
They celebrated their victory on the China trade vote as if
it were something to be proud of, rather than onerous duty
done, and Dennis Hastert and his bag men didn't bother to
hide their anticipation of the tsunami of corporate campaign
contributions they now expect as their due. This, as it
turns out, was what the revolution of '94 was about.
Blinded by the glitter of the coin, for the moment they
could put aside the prospect of losing the House. But not
for long. Vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think
may be a slogan to comfort the rich and toothless, but it's
not a battle cry to make the troops run for the ramparts of
September and the trenches of October.
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