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Jewish World Review May 23, 2001 / 1 Sivan, 5761

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

Romance is back in Washington -- SPRING is here and romance is back in Washington. This week some hundreds of Republicans came to town for a two-day celebration of their love for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Love, that is, Washington-style: By the time the tryst is over, Republican campaign accounts should be at least $15 million fatter.

The big event of the two-night stand was a black-tie gala at Washington's National Guard Armory last night starring the president. But it is another, lesser event that has attracted critical attention: a reception for $100,000 and $250,000 donors held at the vice president's official residence, a mansion on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

It seems like only yesterday -- doesn't it? -- that Bush and Cheney and every other good Republican were howling at the moon and at the voters in their outrage over the terrible damage that Bill Clinton and Al Gore inflicted upon the sacred institution of the presidency with their cheap and tawdry and shameless and tacky and shocking and profane exploitation of the White House for the low purpose of truffling for campaign bucks. The infamous coffees (some of which were held at the vice president's residence), the renting of the Lincoln Bedroom, the Charlie Tries and Johnny Chungs, the Riady laundry machine, the endless parade of bottom-feeders who tramped through the halls, greasy checks grasped in grubby paws. It pained Republicans just to look at these things.

What those people from Dogpatch didn't understand, the Bush crowd sniffed all through the campaign, was that the White House was not their house. It was the People's House. It was not theirs to trash, not theirs to turn into a party function hall. It might be legal. There might indeed be, as then-Vice President Gore helpfully explained, no controlling legal authority, but it was wrong nevertheless. It violated every tenet of honor, integrity and dignity, not to mention class and simple good taste.

The Bushes, famously, knew all about honor and integrity and dignity and class and taste. They had honor and integrity and dignity and class and taste the way the Clintons had special prosecutors. And they would use these precious gifts to restore to the White House its dear, lost virginity. Bush made his promise to "restore honor, integrity and dignity to the White House" a staple of his rather limited campaigning vocabulary. His running mate, Cheney, also swore to wage a "tough fight" to "restore honor, integrity and dignity to the White House."

So it was something of a surprise to read that Cheney's version of a "tough fight" included throwing open the doors to the vice president's house -- which of course is just as much the People's House as is the White House -- to the GOP's sweetest sugar daddies. The people who care about this sort of thing (all four of them) pointed out the obvious: "The Bush administration appears to be doing what it accused the Clinton administration of doing, which is using government property to raise money for its own campaign and for the party," said Steve Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

No, no, said various spokesmen for Cheney, Bush and the GOP. "This is absolutely not a fundraiser," said RNC spokesman Trent Duffy. "A fundraiser is an event where there is a contribution expected as a result of attendance." In this case, he pointed out, the donors had already given, or agreed to give. Originality is hard to come by, but it would be nice if the Bush-Cheney mouthpieces could come up with an excuse that was not precisely identical to the one used by the Clinton-Gore mouthpieces.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who bayed for years over the scandal of the Clinton-Gore fundraising, saw another crucial distinction between then and now. Then, it was done by them; now it was being done by us. And that made it all okay. "I'm sure it's being done in an appropriate way, or Dick Cheney wouldn't be doing it," Lott assured us.

But to be fair, there is one real difference between the Clinton-Gores' renting of the vice president's residence and the Bush-Cheneys' renting of the vice president's residence. The low-rent Dogpatchers set the price for entry at $50,000. The Bushies jacked up the minimum to $100,000.

That's tough on the donors; $50,000 is pretty serious inflation, even allowing for the difference in size between Democratic and Republican wallets. But suck it up and give, patriots -- it's a small price to pay for restoring honor, integrity and dignity.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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