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Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2004/ 11 Kislev 5765

Kathleen Parker

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Hubris watch | Democrats seeking therapy for PEST (Post-Election Selection Trauma) can relax and follow these simple instructions: Shut up and wait. Republicans, apparently afflicted with THS (Toxic Hubristic Syndrome), will do themselves in nicely without any help from bin Laden, terrorists or Hollywood.

Emboldened by power and blinded by its own myth, the party in charge has wasted no time answering the question on everyone's mind: Will Republicans be hubristic? That would be a "yes."

In less than three weeks, Republicans have demonstrated that they have no interest in building a bridge to the other half of America that didn't vote for President George W. Bush, or in disabusing critics of their belief that Republicans are not to be trusted.

Not that Democrats in power are, or would be, any better. The lesson here isn't that Republicans are bad and Democrats good, or vice versa, but that Lord Acton was right (absolutely) when he said: "Every class is unfit to govern."

This season Republicans hold all the cards with their man in the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress, and they're wasting no time spending political capital.

You couldn't charge them with betrayal, exactly. We expect politicians to act like politicians. But during wartime, when the country is split wide open, transcending partisanship for the greater goodwill would be a noble gesture as well as a deft political move.

As one Democrat friend said: "Those of us who got behind the president because of the war are quickly reminded of why we're Democrats."

First, House Republicans changed their own rules to protect their leader, Tom DeLay, from having to step down if he were indicted following an investigation in Texas. The party of rectitude found it easy to relax standards when one of its own players was at risk.

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The rule was passed in the 1990s when Republicans were in the minority and happy to call attention to the foibles of Democrats. But perspectives - and apparently principles - shift as does the light. Straight-faced Republicans say the rule change is justified because the investigation into DeLay's possible involvement in the misuse of corporate campaign donations is politically motivated.

The investigation indeed may be political - DeLay's real offense may have been gerrymandering Democrats out of power - but "da rules is da rules," said the goose to the gander. And politics, of course, are never involved when Democrats are under investigation. DeLay, echoing Bill Clinton, charged Democrats with engaging in the "politics of personal destruction." Perhaps the definition of "principle" depends on whose personal politics are being destroyed. As of Monday, it appeared that DeLay wouldn't be indicted. Even so, Republicans can't claim moral supremacy when their own principled rules flex with political expediency.

To heap insult onto hubris, two odd provisions were tacked onto an omnibus budget bill that passed over the weekend. One - a single line in a 1,000-page, 14-pound document - would have made people's income tax returns available to two committee chairmen and their assistants.

The line is doomed - the Senate already nullified it and the House was expected to vote against it Wednesday - and no one claims to know where it came from. Perhaps it was a little prank, like slipping porn into a Disney movie. Apologies have been issued and "accountability will be carried out," says Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Whatever turns up, the soft impression that Republicans are becoming increasingly cavalier about Americans' privacy hardens with the careless inclusion of such an outrageous provision.

The other stealth budget provision would expand the right of health-care providers to refuse to perform abortions or offer abortion information. While some of the provision's particulars might be defensible - how would we know without debate? - inserting such a polarizing "extra" into a budget that had to be rushed to passage is disingenuous and feeds the impression that Republicans are sneaky.

Politics as usual, perhaps, but haven't we all had enough of that gruel?

Frist has promised to schedule a vote to repeal the abortion provision so that one is left wondering: Why not skip the subterfuge in the first place and try to engender a little trust? Instead, two provisions that were slipped into the budget will be yanked out, leaving Democrats distrustful, moderate Republicans alienated and hardliners headed for the hubris heap.

Intoxicated Republicans might have capital to spend, but even the wealthy can max out. If they're not careful, they're likely to wake up in four years, hung over and broke.

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