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Commetary | COLUMN RIGHT / DOUG GAMBLE

Lott and GOP Are Clinton's Best Friends

First Trent Lott suggests censure, not impeachment, then caves on the budget.

October 20, 1998|DOUG GAMBLE | Doug Gamble is a humor and speech writer for prominent Republicans, including former Presidents Reagan and Bush

If you notice congressional Republicans walking a little stiffly on the campaign trail, it's because they have undergone operations to have their tails surgically removed from between their legs. With the party caving in on the budget and backtracking on the scope of the impeachment hearings, it appears the words "Republican principle" are now an oxymoron.

Yes, I'm bitter. The problem some of us Republicans who go back to the Reagan days have is that we became so used to our party taking positions on issues and fighting for them that we're having a tough time making the transition to wimp status. Grand Old Party? Gutless Obedient Party is more like it. If congressional Republicans were so frightened of becoming the majority, they should have asked for a recount after the 1994 election, in hopes the results would be overturned. Behaving like the minority does them or the country no good.

As the budget battle showed, Republican surrender has now joined death and taxes as an inevitability in life. The outcome was never in doubt because the Republicans were being held upside down by their ankles from the top of a high cliff, with Bill Clinton threatening to let go--that is, shut down the government--at any moment. That the Republicans would be blamed for any such shutdown was a given, because of the masterful use of demagoguery by the Democrats and the inability of the Republicans to communicate an effective message or response. It takes courage to fight for tax cuts in the face of Democratic TV commercials portraying the GOP as anti-education and anti-children. Unfortunately, courage is to the Republican caucus these days what strategy is to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

It was bad enough when Lott made a fool of himself with his transparent pandering to the female vote at the expense of the Air Force in the Kelly Flynn matter and with his outrageous anti-gay diatribes. But on top of that, he has proved himself to be a majority leader so inept that he makes his predecessor, Bob Dole, look like a genius. It wasn't a Democrat who first suggested that Clinton be censured rather than impeached; it was Lott. But the Democrats gratefully accepted his gift, muddying the impeachment question. And Lott couldn't even persuade his own caucus to fight for tax cuts, something similar to the manager of the San Diego Padres being unable to persuade his team they should score runs against the New York Yankees.

Lott's statement on the budget deal was a classic white flag. When a leader says, "It's not a question of who won and who lost," you don't need a degree in political science to figure out who the loser is.

What makes the Republican budget debacle all the more pathetic is that Clinton kicked our butts with one leg tied behind his back by scandal. Republicans have allowed the White House to accuse them of concentrating on the Lewinsky affair to the detriment of the nation's business, when it was Clinton being diverted from his responsibilities by cigars and such that created the problem in the first place. It's as if the Republican version of reading Clinton his Miranda rights is, "You have the right to avoid responsibility, you have the right to blame everything on us, you have the right to an excuse and if you don't have one, one will be provided for you, and anything you say can and will be used against us in the court of public opinion."

If the polls are to be believed, most voters want Congress to drop the impeachment inquiry, and it's now starting to look like queasy Republicans may actually be backing away from doing their duty out of fear of retribution at the ballot box. With the likelihood that the focus of the inquiry will narrow, it's as if the GOP won't stop making concessions until Henry Hyde is standing in the well of the House, accepting censure for his decades-old affair.

Newt Gingrich should challenge the polls head-on, declaring that the Republicans will see the impeachment process through, even if it means losing every single Republican seat in the House. He should tell the American people that they can ignore the Constitution if they want to, but Republicans won't. I'm not holding my breath, though.

If I were a Democrat in this election year, I'd be thinking that with enemies like the Republicans, who needs friends?

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