Politics & Policy

Message in a Ballot

Conservatives don't want a Democratic Congress. Just think about it.

When I was a kid we made things in this country. Cars, refrigerators, TV sets, B-52 bombers. You know — big, substantial, useful things that lots of people wanted to buy. Not surprisingly, American wages and benefits back then were the envy of the world. Life was good; things made sense.

Then something odd happened, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, at least not to me: About 20 years ago we got out of the manufacturing business and took up a new pursuit: sending messages. Suddenly every initiative, every proposal, seemingly every conscious act (public or private, large or small) came to be judged based solely on what sort of message it sent, and to whom. This torrent of messages covered a variety of subjects, but most signified either limitless or zero tolerance for a given activity, and quite a few of them mentioned an apparently mythical group known as “the children.” We went from being a nation of laws to being a nation of gestures, each delivered with the clunky flourish of an inebriated conjurer and acknowledged with the sort of applause usually reserved for golfers. Our principal export used to be durable goods; now it’s teachable moments, with predictable effects on employment, our tax base, and, some would argue, our moral standing in the universe. While many participated in the message-sending free-for-all (and you can probably imagine what kind of message that sent), its most spirited advocates were always on the Left — understandable, given that side of the aisle’s preference for style over substance.

That’s why it was so disheartening to hear that many conservative voters are expected to stay home this Election Day so as to “send a message” to President Bush. Which just goes to show you how out of step I am with politics today. When I want to send someone a message I usually go with flowers. Come to think of it: Doesn’t FTD offer floral arrangements designed for just this sort of occasion? Like a “More Boots On The Ground In Baghdad!” arrangement, or a dozen red roses in the complimentary “Abolish Earmarks Now!” vase? In other words, the kind of floral arrangements you send because you disagree with the president on spending, because you’re still mad about the Harriet Miers nomination, or, you know…just because.

It’s understandable why some conservatives aren’t happy with the president’s positions on things like spending or immigration reform. But do the president’s GOP critics really imagine that spending, immigration, and other such policies would actually improve under a Democratic Congress? That’s like trying to fix a hole in the bottom of your rowboat by poking six more of them in it. In fact, let’s take a look at some of the messages GOP voters would be sending President Bush if enough of them stay home this today to give Congress back to the Democrats.

The main message Republicans who sit this one out will be sending the president is “Please raise my taxes by $2.4 trillion,” the cost to U.S. taxpayers over the next ten years if new Ways and Means chairman Charlie Rangel carries out his promise to let all of the Bush tax cuts expire. Add in the cost of bringing back the death tax, as Rangel will also try to do, and the size of the Democrats’ tax increase goes even higher. Nancy Pelosi may have recently, bizarrely announced, “I love tax cuts!,” but judging from her voting record so far it might be more accurate to say that she’s been admiring those tax cuts from afar.

Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, it’s noteworthy that turning the House over to the Democrats would make Pelosi the first woman in U.S. history to become a really, really bad Speaker of the House. What message would that send? Try “We don’t want leadership!” on for size, fussy Republicans. As Pelosi told Newsweek recently, “I’m not saying I’m great, I’m just saying I don’t think everybody else is that great, either.” A ringing endorsement, indeed — if one is running, unopposed, for president of a sixth grade class. Presumably as Speaker Pelosi could afford to hire better speechwriters than the hacks who fed her this bon mot: “Mr. President,’ stay the course’ isn’t a strategy, it’s a slogan”– a statement which (apart from its inanity) is, of course, also a slogan. Then there was this inadvertently revealing Pelosi offering: “The gavel of the Speaker of the House is in the hands of special interests, and now [after Democrats take over] it will be in the hands of America’s children.” True in the sense that the gavel would be in the hands of someone with Pelosi’s childishly simplistic view of the world. Politics aside, making someone as inarticulate as Nancy Pelosi the “Speaker” would send a bad message to anyone who cared about speech even in the abstract.   

What message would dissatisfied GOP voters be sending the president on Iraq? Let’s see: In a Democrat-controlled House, the majority (you should pardon the expression) “leader” would be John Murtha, whose plan for victory in Iraq is to have all U.S. troops drop their weapons and run screaming for the nearest exit. Given Murtha’s preference for what he’s creatively dubbed “re-deployment” the pace of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq under the Democrats might charitably be described as “brisk.” To put it more bluntly, departing U.S. forces would probably leave skid marks. Message sent to President Bush and other supporters of a peaceful, democratic Middle East: “Drop dead.”

In a Democratic House John Conyers of Michigan — the House’s version of a senile uncle puttering around the place with his bathrobe open muttering about Mamie van Doren’s chest or fluoridated water– would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Yep, the same John Conyers who every year since 1989 has introduced legislation calling for slavery reparations, a cause just slightly more unrealistic than that of bringing back slavery itself. Last year Mr. Conyers and some like-minded kooks held make-believe judiciary-committee hearings in the basement of the Capital at which everyone was required to address Conyers as “chairman” (which would be roughly the equivalent of requiring everyone reading this article to address yours truly as “Monsignor”). In 1983 Conyers and six other, different kooks tried to impeach President Reagan for sending troops into Grenada to rescue U.S. medical students. And Conyers shows every sign that his first act as chairman will be to initiate impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush. Want more proof that John Conyers is a delusional crackpot? He regularly appears on Air America Radio as a policy expert. Need I say more?

As a new Democratic chairman of the Government Reform Committee, Hollywood’s congressman Henry Waxman would take a break from his life’s primary mission– finding out who was on Dick Cheney’s energy task force six years ago– and turn his attention to abolishing the surveillance of terrorists operating within the U.S., a practice he considers illegal. In other words, Chairman Waxman would use his subpoena powers to impede and obstruct the work of government agencies working to prevent another 9/11 by monitoring phone calls to and from al Qaeda operatives in the U.S. Message we’d be sending al Qaeda by making Henry Waxman a chairman? “Can you hear me now? How about now? How about now?”

And that’s just what would happen if the Democrats take back the House, folks. As for what message we’d send by letting them take over the Senate, ask yourself this question: Would you trust a Democrat-controlled Senate to ratify the next nuclear-arms treaty with North Korea? How about to confirm President Bush’s next choice for the Supreme Court? Or, for that matter, to confirm the president’s next likely Cabinet-level appointment: secretary of the Department of Peace? Let’s be clear: There’s a time for hissy-fits, shouting, and the stamping of feet, and then there’s a time to say to the grown-ups in the room, “Okay, we’ve had our say, now get back to work– and no more funny business!” My fellow Americans, this is that time. As much in need of revisiting as certain Bush administration policies may currently be, things can only get worse if we put the inmates back in charge of the asylum. So get out there and vote next today as if your life depended on it, Republicans– because, in truth, it kind of does.

And if you’re still hell-bent on sending the president a message, try doing it with a muffin basket.  

 – Ned Rice is a Los Angeles-based, Emmy nominated television writer whose credits include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Real Time with Bill Maher.  


The Latest