Sunday, January 10, 1999

Let's not miss real spectacle of government




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If it is not too forward of me, I would like to make a public appeal to my colleagues in the media. Just for the next few weeks, can we keep our eyes on the people we've hired to do the work?

        Let's spare the public any more polls. Let's ignore suggestions from Alec Baldwin, movie actor and notable loudmouth. Let's not take any more television cameras into bars to ask patrons what they think ought to happen to the president of the United States. (By the way, why are the cameras never set up inside a library or a bookstore?)

The chicken dinner test
        Although our current national pastime is making fun of politicians, it might be remembered that these people are not from Mars. They are our neighbors. We send them from Terrace Park and Westwood and Southgate to carry out the business of government. We think they're the best we have to offer, don't we?

        We think — we hope — that they're better informed than the America that Jay Leno meets on his “Jay Walks,” where he questions a dozen people before he can get somebody who has heard of Madeleine Albright or Tony Blair.

        We are not looking for a resolution of these complicated events from people who have made Baywatch what is is today, who have elevated the Jerry Springer Show to its media perch.

        We are asking for justice from people who have been tested by a thousand chicken dinners and town meetings. We know them: Evan Bayh, George Voinovich, Mike DeWine, Mitch McConnell, Richard Lugar, Jim Bunning.

        Despite the tawdry circumstances leading up to the ceremony in the nation's capital this week, it was somehow majestic. There is a reason for pomp, for the gilt seals and the heavy tapestries and the ceremonial flags.

        This is not everyday life. This is Washington, D.C.

        Only 50 seats were available in the gallery for tourists to watch the impeachment trial. They queued up and waited. They were probably used to it. Unless they have pull, that's where vacationers spend a lot of their time.

The geezer lecture
        The first time my husband and I took our daughter to Washington, she was 11. One afternoon when we had dragged her through one too many arched granite doorways, she said carefully:

        “What made you think I wanted to stand in line to see Grover Cleveland's pipe rack? Everybody else in my class went to Disney World.”

        I'm proud to say that I responded just as any other concerned and caring parent would. I told her just how much this trip was costing us and what a lot of trouble it was to take time away from our respective offices, where, by the way, we labor primarily to pay for her orthodontia. I told her how lucky she was — and how ungrateful.

        I stopped just short of telling her I had to walk five miles to school every day in the snow and how very painful childbirth can be and how I didn't ask for any drugs until the very end.

        That was many years ago, and I think Meg has forgiven me. But she has never forgotten what she saw.

        So maybe standing in line for another Learning Experience wasn't as much fun as a zoom flume or the view from Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It was up to me to let her know what she would have been missing. The Air and Space Museum and the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Arlington Cemetery. The White House. The Capitol rotunda. A living civics lesson.

        History is being made right now on Capitol Hill. And we journalists should take people there — not to Disney World or the Dew Drop Inn.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular newspaper columns and radio commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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