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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