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Jewish World Review March 28, 2000 / 21 Adar II, 5760

Cal Thomas

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GOPers vs. Dems: The weak vs. the strong --
THE REV. CHARLES WRIGHT, the chaplain-designate of the House, was forced to withdraw his name last week after one of the rawest displays of political power ever seen in Washington. Wright wrote Speaker Dennis Hastert, "I humbly ask that members put aside any misuse of religion for political advantage.'' Democrats, who are determined to retake the House with little regard for G-d or their fellow man, sensed that they could use religion to gain political points by lobbying for a Catholic chaplain instead of settling for another Protestant.

The problem for Hastert, which has been the problem for Republicans for some time, is that he (and they) have bought the Democrats' "bipartisanship'' pitch, only to discover for the umpteenth time that the Dems don't mean it.

As speaker, Hastert had the prerogative of naming anyone to be chaplain. Instead, he appointed a bipartisan committee to make the selection.

Every time the Republicans take this Democrat bait, they get hooked and cooked for dinner. During his 1988 inaugural address, George Bush extended his hand to then-Speaker Jim Wright, who cut it off by pledging a deal on spending cuts if Bush would agree to tax increases. Wright knew his fellow Democrats wouldn't go for spending cuts, but would go for new taxes that would undermine public support for Bush who had asked voters to "read my lips'' and believed him when he promised "no new taxes.''

Republicans are naive when they believe polls and they believe Democrats. Hastert delivered a floor speech after selecting The Rev. Daniel Coughlin, a Catholic priest from Chicago, without consulting the "bipartisan committee,'' something he could and should have done with Rev. Wright and avoided controversy. Hastert lamented the "unseemly political game'' played by Democrats and said never in all his years in Congress had he witnessed a "more cynical or destructive campaign.''

Well, Mr. Speaker, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Democrats, who view political power as the only power there is and government as their exclusive domain, will stop at nothing to hold onto the White House and take back the House of Representatives. Republicans stupidly believe that good manners will be reciprocated. Apparently, they learned nothing during their 40 years in the minority. Politics is hardball, not badminton.

But perhaps Gov. George W. Bush has learned this lesson. After he clinched the GOP nomination, some Washington Post reporters journeyed to Austin to see if Bush might like to follow Jack Kemp's 1996 debate script with Al Gore in which Kemp pledged that he would be nice to Gore if Gore would be nice to him. Gov. Bush charged that Gore is an "obstacle to reform'' and said the vice president has "a major credibility problem.''

Even though the Post reporters offered him "several opportunities to offer any kind words about his rival,'' Bush repeatedly said he neither believes, nor trusts Gore. And he said he intends to keep pounding away at him.

Look for polls showing that voters don't like "negative campaigning'' and reports from "soccer moms'' that women want politicians (meaning Republicans) to be nice to each other -- just as they teach their children that it is not important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

If that's the line Republicans take in this election, they will lose and will deserve to lose. They don't give congeniality awards to politicians. It's victory or nothing. Speaker Hastert wants to get along, and that's what Democrats will tell him to do should Richard Gephardt become speaker: Get along to your place and repent of your arrogance for thinking you could run the House.

If Republicans behave as they did for 40 years when they were happy with the few bones tossed to them by Sam Rayburn, Tom Foley and Jim Wright, Democrats might occasionally let the neutered GOP puppies come up on the porch to see how the big dogs live. But they'd better not ever think they're good enough to be the top dog again.

The chaplaincy debacle is the latest in many lessons of what "reaching out'' to Democrats gets Republicans. It gets them nothing.

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