Cripes! Ted Kennedy Is Back

New Statesman (1996), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

Cripes! Ted Kennedy Is Back


ANDREW STEPHEN AMERICA

There are two rules of Washington life that old hands always bring up. First, never kick a man or woman when they are down, because -- if they stick around long enough -- they will surely come up again to a position of power. Second, never snub anybody by not inviting them to a party, because the slight will always be remembered, salted away, and then revenge sought when it is least expected. (I myself always traced the beginning of the end of the Major government to when I did not receive an invitation to the British embassy's traditional Christmas carol concert here -- but then I discovered, to my great sadness, that a predecessor of the present ambassador had abolished it.)

But nobody ever told Boy George how important these two Washington axioms are. With his unattractive combination of political inexperience and personal arrogance, Dubbya aggressively embarked on the screw-'em-all policy I described last week -- despite having failed to win a majority of the popular vote last year, let alone a political consensus. He campaigned, too, on a platform of bringing warring factions together and being the soothing healer that Washington needed. There has been no hint of either consensus or soothing ruffled feathers, however, since he took office.

Hence Boy George's first major political miscalculation -- which, at least in the short term, will cost him very dear. Senator Jim Jeffords, 67, was a Republican senator of the old school who became a congressman in 1974 -- at a time when Boy George was still wrestling with his drink (and drugs?) problems and had little or nothing on his CV. On 3 April, Jef fords went to the White House to discuss Boy George's proposed $1.6trn tax cut; extra funding for his pet subject, special education, was dismissed out of hand. But Jeffords was part of a small Republican rump that forced Dubbya to trim $250bn off the proposed tax cut, a move that enraged Boy George.

Three weeks later, on 23 April, the White House was holding its annual National Teacher of the Year Award ceremony. An invitation to Jeffords -- as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- was derigueur. But it never arrived. A member of the Jeffords office staff phoned the White House to point this out, but was assured that no mistake had been made. Boy George, his office could have pointed out, takes these things personally -- just like his dad.

For Jeffords, that little bit of venom was the last straw. He represents an old, dying breed of Republican; being from Vermont, he can trace his brand of Republicanism back to the country's earliest days. But now, more and more, the party's spiritual home is in the south and mountainous west; in the 1994 elections, the party increased its share of House seats in the south from 38 to 51, and in the Mountain West from 54 to 75.

Increasingly, old liberal gents from the north-east did not fit in with the Republican congressional attack dogs coming to DC from the south or west; Jeffords felt increasingly estranged from the likes of Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay in Congress, and from Boy George in the White House. …

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