Panic button.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Jan. 20 2006 11:35 AM

Panic Button

At last, House Republicans learn to run for their lives.

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A decade ago, when Democrats held the White House and Republicans the Congress, both parties had to compete to deliver on their promises. In 1996, for example, Washington enjoyed one of its most productive years in recent memory—passing major legislation on welfare reform, the minimum wage, and health care—because Democrats and Republicans couldn't afford to forget the interests of the voters they were supposed to be working for.

It's easy to ridicule Congress for its historic tendency to do nothing for months on end and then hit the panic button when the voters catch on. Yet the trouble with the Republican Congress under DeLay was that it didn't panic enough, and certainly never when the American people did.

One-party rule and the explosive growth of the influence industry have proved to be a deadly combination. For a few members, the comfort of a safe seat may now give way to hard time in a cold, dark cell. For most, a self-perpetuating majority came with a different price: the frustration of not having much to show for their time in Washington.

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Five Down, Three To Go: With exactly three years left in the Bush presidency, Republicans still have to sort out the contradictions in big-government conservatism. Even without DeLay, they're still susceptible to the siren song of K Street. But if they decide to let the American people whisper in their ear for a change, they won't regret it.

Around this time last year, Tom DeLay was forcing Congress to try to save a brain-dead woman in Florida. This year, DeLay's implosion may force his colleagues to hear what voters have wanted all along: to pull the plug on the brain-dead politics of Washington. ... 11:28 A.M. (link)

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Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006

Bob Barr Goes to China: The first thing that struck me about Al Gore's rousing speech in Washington on Monday was that he never got that kind of applause when I was writing his speeches. In my first week on the job in 1985, he teased me about a lame joke in my draft that had drawn blank stares from a trade association crowd. "It wasn't meant as a joke—it was more of a smile," I lamely protested. "Maybe that's why nobody laughed," he said pointedly. On Monday, Gore still wasn't telling jokes, but the crowd at Constitution Hall was roaring its approval.

The second striking thing about the tone of Gore's speech and its reception was how much George W. Bush has morphed in Democratic minds into Richard Nixon. Gore dropped hints about impeachable offenses and recalled that warrantless wiretapping was part of the second article of impeachment against Nixon. As vice president, Al Gore used to joke that if you close one eye and tilt your head, the seal of his office read "President of the United States." On Monday, if you closed one ear and tilted your head, you could almost hear Peter Rodino.

If anyone has earned the right to despise both Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, it's Al Gore. The Nixon White House ended his father's proud career with a smear campaign in 1970. The Bushies made Gore out to be a serial liar in 2000 and in Florida claimed a victory they didn't deserve with a ruthlessness Nixon would envy.

But Gore isn't the only one with Nixon on his mind. Here's how the executive director of the ACLU explained his group's suit against the administration yesterday: "The current surveillance of Americans is a chilling assertion of presidential power that has not been seen since the days of Richard Nixon."

That '70s Show: Dick Cheney deserves a Golden Globe for best director of a period piece. On his watch, the Bush White House has done a masterful job of recreating the 1970s: from rogue intelligence-gathering, energy shocks, and widespread corruption to war protests and fears about Big Brother.

Cheney certainly isn't playing to the crowd. Parents want to relive the '50s; liberals want to relive the '60s; conservatives want to relive the '80s; Has-Beens want to relive the '90s—but nobody wants to relive the '70s.

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