BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
We knew Steve Chabot had an aversion to pork, but we didn't know until this week that he's not high on lamb chops either.
The campaign of the 1st District congressman, who finds himself locked in a battle with Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, began running the second in a series of radio ads this week, which his campaign staff says is aimed at smoking out Ms. Qualls on the issues.
This one is set in the format of a fake radio call-in show, hosted by one "Dr. Ann."
Never heard of her? Oh, c'mon, you know Dr. Ann. You call her up and tell her your loopy troubles and Dr. Ann reassures you that you may be neurotic, but you have lots of company.
Well, actually, there is no Dr. Ann. She is the figment of the imagination of some campaign consultant, who apparently believes that if you are one of those rubes who has the misfortune to live outside the Beltway, you are not smart enough to tell the difference between a campaign commercial and a radio talk show.
Well, at any rate, Dr. Ann's caller -- "Longtime listener, first-time caller" -- has a lot on his mind. Hey, he says, should you take this Viagra stuff on an empty stomach?
No, he doesn't say that. Actually, he wants to know about "this Social Security stuff."
Dr. Ann, the talk show host with Mr. Chabot on the brain, tells him the "government" takes money from Social Security and spends it on "ridiculous programs." Like millions on the National Sheep Industry Center.
"That's outrageous," says longtime-listener, first-time caller.
Dr. Ann's prescription for spending Social Security money and congressional deals like the Sheep Center is more Steve Chabot. He'll put a stop to such shenanigans.
Ms. Qualls, Dr. Ann goes on, "doesn't want to tell her real position on anything. But we all know she's not the friend of the taxpayer Steve Chabot is."
The Qualls campaign shot back with a press release that said deep-sixing the Sheep Center would save about $50 million a year, which, they said, would pay for about one hour of what Social Security recipients collect every day.
The sheep debate may be a bit absurd, but it points to a fundamental difference between the two candidates, one that is going to become a theme as this campaign gathers steam and grinds on toward November. The Chabot campaign will, no doubt, crank out more commercials on how Mr. Chabot is supporting a bill in Congress to stop the government borrowing from Social Security, because Social Security must be saved.
Saving Social Security will be a mainstay of the Qualls campaign as well, although the Democratic candidate will go at it from an entirely different angle. Since her first speech in February announcing her candidacy, Ms. Qualls has been parroting the Clinton administration line that the big budget surpluses that some Republicans want to hand out in tax cuts should be held in reserve until Congress guarantees the long-term solvency of the Social Security system.
Ms. Qualls and Mr. Chabot are likely to quarrel over the airwaves on the subject of pork.
No, there is no National Pork Industry Center. We're talking about pork, as in pork-barrel politics. It wasn't until Mr. Chabot came along that we saw members of Congress from this area sending out press releases bragging about how much federal money they had turned down for their districts.
But Mr. Chabot makes a point of eschewing all pork. When the House was considering the recent $204 billion transportation bill, he supported cutting out $2 million for the Cincinnati area to study a light-rail system, one of Ms. Qualls' pet projects.
Waste of money, he said.
Investment in jobs and growth, she says.
Pork, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
Howard Wilkinson's column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388. E-mail: email@example.com