Sunday, January 10, 1999

Trip to D.C. leaves me cold

Capital's air full of harsh politics

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WASHINGTON — I arrived here last week hoping to witness our federal government on the eve of making history, to rub shoulders with great men and women making tough decisions, to actually see our republic work in the fashion that is laid out in the hallowed document we call the Constitution.

        What I got was politics. No different from what I've seen a thousand times before in places like the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kenton County Courthouse or Alexandria City Hall.

        Brazen, partisan, shameless, reckless politics. The Democrats, for the most part, saying no because the Republicans are saying yes.

        This may have been Capitol Hill, but it reminded me of Fancy Farm without the shouting or the mutton. The etiquette is better but the bitterness is the same.

        I came to Washington to cover Democrat Ken Lucas being sworn into the House and Republican Jim Bunning being sworn into the Senate. That I can't say enough about. As cliched as it sounds, it was awesome.

        But I was equally energized to be in the Capitol just three weeks after President Clinton was impeached and just a few hours before his trial would begin in the Senate.

GOP on the town
        Three Northern Kentucky Republicans — Hayes Robertson, Jay Hall and Damon Thayer — were with me, laughing and talking all at once about how they dined at the Capitol Hill Club, a tony GOP hangout.

        “(Ohio U.S. Rep.) John Boehner asked me when we're going to get a Republican candidate for the 4th District, and then he asked me when I'm going to run,” Mr. Thayer gushed.

        “I told him when I get a John Boehner,” laughed Mr. Thayer, poking some fun at Mr. Boehner's perpetual George Hamilton-like skin hue.

        I told them how that from my press seat in the House chamber that day, I could have spat on — not that I would do such a thing — Democrat Dick Gephardt as he passed the gavel to the new speaker, Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert.

        “Let's bury the hatchet,” Mr. Gephardt said to loud applause.

        What he didn't say was, “Let's bury it in our opponent's head.”

        That's the tone here; that's the feeling. It's not as if, or it sure didn't seem like, a grave constitutional crisis were at hand. It seemed like an expensive, contrived witch hunt for somebody who deserves all he gets.

Not like Watergate
        I remember back to that mid-'70s summer, when men with bad haircuts and worse suits conducted the Watergate hearings. I was glued to a black-and-white console, and while I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, I knew after that long, hot summer that I wanted to be a political reporter.

        There was something marvelous about a system where the man elected to the highest office in the land could be brought down by the Congress, the press and his own misdeeds.

        Is that happening now? If it is, I missed it. I think, though I'm as suspicious about polls and approval ratings as others are, the American people are missing it too.

        I'm not taking sides here, because frankly I still don't know who is right.

        We have a president who had an affair, lied about it to everyone from his wife to his friends to the American people — “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” — to a grand jury, and then goes about his business of bombing Iraq, announcing his budget and preparing for the State of the Union as if he doesn't have a care in the world. Maybe he doesn't.

        Then we have a independent prosecutor who sure doesn't seem independent, who is linked to anti-Clinton groups and individuals, who looks under rocks and at land deals and travel offices and hard-looking women and who-knows-what-all until he finds something.

        And of course we have the Republicans, who all want Mr. Clinton out, and the Democrats, who want him in. If that's not partisan politics, nothing is.

        There was a ray of hope here, or maybe just somebody trying to save his political skin.

        Mr. Lucas voted with the Republicans on his first day in the House when it came to reappointing the House Republicans who will prosecute the president in the Senate.

        Mr. Lucas said what the president did was wrong and that he should be punished. I have to admit it took some courage to buck his own party just a few short hours after joining their club.

It's just politics, stupid
        But the GOP gang with me at the bar that night is convinced Mr. Lucas did it because he has to run for re-election in a Republican district in two years.

        Maybe I'm the cynic here. Maybe the system is working and I just don't get it.

        But after a few days here, I'm convinced what's going on isn't about sex, perjury or, as the Clinton drones spout, “getting on with the business of the American people.”

        It's about politics, and that's about it.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.