Magazine article The Spectator

What Did They Do to Deserve This?

Magazine article The Spectator

What Did They Do to Deserve This?

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

IT'S BEEN, as they say, `politics as usual'. In New York, Republican Senator Al D'Amato called his opponent Chuck Schumer a 'putzhead', prompting howls of outrage from aggrieved Democrats, with the exception of Ed Koch, who pointed out that, technically, being a 'putz' isn't as bad as being a 'schmuck'. In South Carolina, Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings, invited by Republican Bob Inglis to sign a `Contract for a Courteous Campaign', instead dismissed him as 'a goddamned skunk who can kiss my fanny'. In Michigan, Democrat Geoffrey Fieger asserted that Governor John Engler was `the product of miscegenation with barnyard animals'. In California, in the parking lot of Ralph's grocery store in Santa Ana, Republican Bob Doran gatecrashed a photo-op for congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who, with an impressive forcefulness for such a perky Latin cutie, responded by whacking Battlin' Bob in the solar plexus.

And then there's Tennessee's Senate District 15, where, on Tuesday, voters will find just one candidate's name on the ballot. The dynamic of the race changed on Monday 19 October, when incumbent State Senator Tommy Burks was found dead with a single bullet-hole in his forehead, in the cab of his truck, not far from the pumpkin patch on his hog farm in Dripping Springs. On Friday, his Republican opponent, Putnam County Tax Assessor Byron (`Low Tax') Looper, was arrested and charged with Senator Burks's murder. `We feel real comfortable we've got the right person,' says Sheriff Butch Burgess. Under Tennessee law, a dead man cannot be listed on a ballot, but a man charged with a felony can. However, Mr Looper is unlikely to be giving any victory speeches from his gaol cell. Republicans have urged citizens not to vote for their nominee, the Democrats are organising a `write-in' campaign for the State Senator's widow - in other words, by writing her name on the ballot form, you can get her elected to her late husband's seat.

One State Senate race in Tennessee is not of any great significance and Low Tax Looper would seem to be an obvious fruitcake. But then according to the mainstream media, so are most other Republicans (see Newt, Jesse, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who in an effort at sympathetic outreach to gays, suggested they just need treatment, `like kleptomaniacs'). Indeed, it's tempting to see the sad end of Senator Burks and the incarceration of the County Tax Assessor as a parable of Republican strategy: you think you've got the Democrats in your sights, you blast away, but, when the dust clears, you're the one in the dock and the Dems are a shoo-in for re-election. In the sixth year of a presidency, the non-White House party usually makes electoral gains. When that sixth-year president has done you the favour of confessing to oral sex with an intern barely out of her teens, lying under oath, lying on videotape to the American people and leaving his DNA on a cocktail dress for FBI crime-label analysis, any barely competent party should be able to clean up at the polls. Unfortunately, the Republican party rarely rises to the level of barely competent.

Earlier this month, it was the Democrats who were in trouble. During the House debate on impeachment they had to figure out a line that would neither demoralise core supporters nor turn off swing voters. So they came up with a hypocritical amendment solemnly proposing to restrict the inquiry to Monica matters and wrap it up before New Year. The GOP should have called their bluff. After all, unlike Watergate, most of the investigating has already been done: everyone agrees on the facts, they just dispute whether they're impeachable. Besides, it's likely that Ken Starr will submit additional reports on the First Lady, Travelgate, Kathleen Willey and the mysterious disappearance of the cat, etc., and, when he does, the House can easily vote to extend the inquiry. In the meantime, by signing up to the Democratic amendment the Republicans would have dealt the President a body blow almost as powerful as Loretta's to Battlin' Bob: instead of splitting along party lines, the motion to subject Bill Clinton to only the third impeachment inquiry into a president in US history would have passed by 430 votes to 5 - `non-partisan' enough even for the most portentous network anchorman. …

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