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Thomas Sowell

Usually this would be too early to tell what the political alignment will be like when the new Congress convenes in January, with both Houses under the control of the Democrats. However, both Democrats and Republicans have already shot themselves in the foot when choosing their new congressional leaders.

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By a one-vote margin, the Republicans brought Senator Trent Lott back from well-deserved obscurity to become their new assistant minority leader or “whip” when the Senate meets in January.

Once the Republicans’ majority leader, Senator Lott was dumped from that position after putting his foot in his mouth once too often by saying that the country might have been better off if we had elected Senator Strom Thurmond as president of the United States back in 1948, when he ran as a racial segregationist opposed to Harry Truman’s civil-rights platform.

The Republicans don’t have many black votes to lose but a lot of people who are not black found Senator Lott’s remark disturbing, if not disgusting. Nor is this the only issue on which Trent Lott has spouted off without regard for the implications of what he was saying.

Defenders of the selection of Senator Lott praise him as a savvy political technician who knows how to count votes and make deals. In other words, he is a pure politician, untainted by any tinge of statesman.

The same might be said of Nancy Pelosi, who will become the new Speaker of the House in January. The old political maxim to reward your friends and punish your enemies has dominated Congresswoman Pelosi’s choices of Congressman Jack Murtha as House majority leader and Congressman Alcee L. Hastings as chairman of the committee on intelligence.

Both are unbelievably bad choices from the standpoint of the interests of the country or even of the Democratic oarty. Their main qualification has been that their rivals for the posts were people to whom Nancy Pelosi has been hostile in the past.

Despite Pelosi’s glib talk about making this the most ethical House of Representatives in history, she chose two people for leadership positions who have pasts that could be called shady, at best.

Congressman Jack Murtha was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal — a fact that would undoubtedly have been brought out and repeated again and again in the media. Fortunately for Speaker-to-be Pelosi, her fellow Democrats voted down the nomination of Jack Murtha by an overwhelming majority.

An even worse decision by Nancy Pelosi was that of proposing Congressman Alcee L. Hastings to be chairman of the committee on intelligence. This man is one of only 13 federal judges in the entire history of the United States to be impeached and one of only seven to be removed from the bench.

The charge was accepting bribes and, though he was not convicted in a criminal trial, his fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives impeached him and the Senate, also controlled by Democrats, removed him from office.

In other words, he was too big a risk to leave on a federal court, whether or not the damning circumstantial evidence was enough for a jury. But now Speaker-to-be Pelosi apparently doesn’t think it is too big a risk to put Congressman Hastings in charge of the nation’s top-secret intelligence.

No doubt international terrorist networks could offer much larger bribes for such information than a federal district judge could get and the consequences could be infinitely worse.

Nancy Pelosi, however, seems to have her eye fixed on the little picture — how she can use her newfound power to show Congresswoman Jane Harman who is boss, since Ms. Harman would ordinarily get that chairmanship on the basis of seniority.

Moreover, Congressman Hastings is black and anyone who opposes someone who is black risks the charge of “racism.” Again, politics trumps statesmanship.

With North Korea and Iran both moving toward becoming nuclear powers while the United Nations chatters away, this is truly a time of enormous issues and petty “leaders.”

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
© 2006 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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