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Jewish World Review
June 8, 2010
/ 26 Sivan 5770
When politicians say the dumbest things
Art Linkletter, who died the other day at 97 after an illustrious career as a radio and television interviewer, discovered to his considerable profit that "kids say the darndest things." He knew better than to confine himself to politicians, who only say the dumbest things. Kids are often cute, politicians never.
Sometimes politicians suffer for it, but not often enough. The lucky ones acquire an immunity, and can say outrageous things and live a long life. Joe Biden, for example, has acquired such immunity. He regularly says things ranging from goofy to merely silly to outrageous, but the passage of the years has made him a lovable old uncle that nobody any longer takes seriously, which is what every president wants for his vice president. But not everybody can be good ol' Joe.
Campaigning in 2008, good ol' Joe was trying to ingratiate himself with the folks listening to a speech in Virginia, and reminded them that he was from Delaware, which was one of the four slave states that remained loyal to the Union in "the late unpleasantness." There was a strong implication, or inference anyway, that old slavers should stick together. Since slave-owning went out of fashion in Virginia like everywhere else, good ol' Joe's appeal to shared tradition fell to the floor with a thud heard from Fort Sumter to Appomattox. Barack Obama (who has slave-owning ancestors himself) took good ol' Joe as his bumbling mate, anyway.
Rand Paul, the surprise winner of the Republican primary to choose a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, similarly tried musing out loud about race and politics and for his trouble took several hard licks about the head and shoulders. He learned, as good ol' Joe didn't have to, that abstract discussions about certain points of constitutional law, such as whether the Civil Rights Act guaranteeing everyone access to public accommodations might have run afoul of the Constitution, is not only a no-no, but a triple no-no-no. Mr. Paul was hardly advocating repeal, or disagreement with the aims of the Civil Rights Act; he just forgot who and where he was. Such discussions are only for law professors, and then only law professors meeting in the middle of the night in sealed caves. He evaded a lynch mob, barely, but a Republican slam dunk in Kentucky was overnight turned into an attempted lay-up.
Another Republican candidate can't resist the temptation to think out loud about whether Social Security should be dismantled as a way to shave the size of the federal government. Because the candidate is new to big-league politics, she had never heard of Social Security as "the third rail of politics" you touch it and you die. Other conservative candidates have ruminated about repealing the 17th Amendment, which took the election of U.S. senators away from the state legislatures, where the founding fathers put it, and established popular elections as the way to elect the Senate. Returning these elections to the states is a good idea, but only newspaper columnists and eccentric law professors should risk saying so until the public is better educated.
Congress, whose brighter bulbs understand the risks of free speech and saying something dumb, thinks it has devised a way to avoid disaster. Growing numbers of congressmen have fled to Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location," where neither reporters nor constituents can find them. The New York Times reports that the timid and the cowardly are skipping town-hall meetings and retreating to small gatherings with bankers and friendly businessmen. They're determined to know which way the wind is blowing before they put a finger to it.
Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., a Maryland Democrat, for example, is avoiding anything like the tea parties he had to endure last summer, when he was hanged in effigy. He's allergic to tea and none is served at his parties. "This time," The Times reports, "a round of applause [is] followed by a glass of chilled wine, a plate of crackers and crudités as he mingled with an invitation-only audience at the Point Breeze Credit Union [in Bel Air, Md.], a vastly different scene than last year's wide-open televised free-for-alls. . . . If the time-honored tradition of the political meeting is not quite dead, it seems to be teetering closer to extinction. Of the 255 Democrats who make up the majority in the House, only a handful held town-hall forums as legislators spent last week at home in their districts."
They're taking a lesson familiar to the nerds and weenies in the schoolyard: "If you can't beat 'em, run and hide."
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