Tags: History | Lesson

A History Lesson

Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM

And when I say "control" I mean it in the sense that dictators are in control - they ran things with an iron hand, and the only way Republicans got anything out of the Democrat leadership was to go along in the hopes of getting along and even, on occasion, to grovel.

It was an almost hopeless situation. Republicans had managed to convince themselves that they would always be in the minority in the House, and they shaped their agenda, such as it was, in the light of that belief.

As a result of what seemed to be their permanent minority status, Republican House members were forced to grin and bear it when they got their faces rubbed in the mud by the Democrats - an almost daily occurrence.

One of the more bothersome indignities was the GOP's inability to get a decent number of Republican staff members on the House committees. Some of the gutsier among them raised a stink about this stark example of Democrat tyranny, but for the most part, the ranking Republicans on the committees accepted this indignity meekly and went without the staff they needed to do their jobs.

I remember a meeting of the House Republican Policy Committee where I was one of the three staff members (the Democrats would allow this important committee, which made GOP policy on the House side, no funds or official staff - we subsisted by being placed on individual member's staffs - our tiny three-room office next to the House barber shop was officially listed on the architect's maps as a broom and mop closet, and we got our office supplies in what amounted to care packages from members' offices) where the ranking GOP member of the Judiciary Committee stood up and admitted that his chairman would probably allow him to have a Republican staffer ... he just couldn't seem to find the right man for the job.

This member, who belonged to the Ebeneezer Scrooge school of management, went on to lay out the qualifications he expected a candidate for this job to have - law degree, willingness to work around the clock and an ability to live on a pauper's salary, which is all the committee chairman would be willing to pay. Eventually he actually found someone willing to take the job under such coolie labor conditions - a young man I later encountered while working on a matter involving the Judiciary Committee.

I remember him well - he was the first man I had seen on Capitol Hill who had a hippie's long hair. Our meeting was unsatisfactory. He was anything but helpful or, for that matter, pleasant. He was our token GOP committee staffer.

His name was John Dean.

But I digress. This matter of minority staffing was only one area where the Democrats denied the GOP minority the tools required to be an effective opposition. Democrat committee chairmen were for the most part tyrants who ruled their committees as if they were their personal satrapies. The minority committees members were treated as children were once expected to be - seen and not heard.

And there was no quarter ever given. I remember hearing about a case where a young man with a serious disability had gotten a patronage job as an elevator operator in what was then called the New House Office Building. A student in need of an income while completing his education, he was hired during the last GOP-controlled House.

When the Democrats regained control of the House, the Republican House member who had gotten him the job went to the new Democrat chairman of the House Administration Committee and asked him to retain the young man because with his disability he would have a hard time getting a part-time job to permit him to finish his education.

The chairman, a member of the party that allegedly represents the poor, the disabled and the downtrodden, asked his colleague, "He's a Republican, isn't he?" When told that he was, the chairman said, "Then he's out!"

Everything changed when the Newt Gingrich-led GOP revolution took the House and Senate in 1994. Instead of retaliating against the Democrats for their years of tyrannical rule, Gingrich adopted a program that replaced the tyranny of the majority with a fairness doctrine that treated the new minority as near-equals with the majority.

I mention all of this because the GOP Senate leadership is now paying the price of being overly fair to the Democrats, who never treated them fairly when they were in control, because of the 50-50 split in Senate membership.

Instead of insisting on keeping full control of the upper body to which they are entitled, the GOP leadership caved in to Democrat demands and allowed them equal numbers on the committees - an act of mistaken generosity that has now resulted in the Democrats' determination to block Bush nominees to the federal courts and Cabinet departments and otherwise obstruct the Bush administration's programs.

As I have already written numerous times, politics to the Democrats is war. Unfortunately, in their zeal to be nice guys, the Republicans on the Hill are busy proving that nice guys really do finish last. To them, politics is what the Kennedy's were wont to say politics is not: beanbag.

If the Democrats manage to win control of Congress next year, Republicans had better be ready to see a return to the bad old days when they were treated as second-class legislators by the Democrats. And GOP staffers has better go looking for jobs - there won't be room for them on Democrat-controlled committees - or, for that matter, elevators.

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And when I say control I mean it in the sense that dictators are in control - they ran things with an iron hand, and the only way Republicans got anything out of the Democrat leadership was to go along in the hopes of getting along and even, on occasion, to grovel. It...
Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM
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