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Where Angels Fear To Tread

“Is it safe? Is it safe?” as Laurence Olivier asked in the great movie Marathon Man. Has Congress finally run out of gas and safely gone home? Or are we going to have to arm ourselves with picks and drills to fend off these used-car dealers, small-town lawyers, Texas exterminators-turned-legislators, and now, in their latest incarnation, national nannies? Last week’s Beltway opener was enough in itself to drive you underground. Eleven hours of televised hearings on baseball from no less than the House Government Reform Committee — figuring out new ways to let the Nanny State intrude into private lives. Having already fixed government and apparently run out of things to do (the committee hadn’t issued a subpoena in more than a year, and there was clearly no reason to probe, say, Social Security, the war in Iraq or massive medical uninsurance), the bald-headed weaklings on the panel hauled in some brawny ballplayers to mock and torture, and then reveled in their confessions, denials, no comments and platitudinous avowals of morality. Bottom line here, of course, is that the entire committee — including Democrat Henry Waxman — turned sleazoid baseball commissioner Bud Selig, and the cynical team owners he represents, into paragons of public piety while satanizing the ballplayers who work for them, rendering their union agreement null and void and suggesting that locker rooms be placed under FBI monitorship. The straw and kindling had already been gathered and neatly stacked in the Rayburn hearing room, the cans of lighter fluid trucked in, everything set to toss McGwire and Sosa and Canseco onto a nationally televised pyre, when they were saved at the 11th hour. The superheroes in Congress had suddenly found a new mission: With its own Ethics Committee moving in and with the irascible local prosecutor Ronnie Earl snooping around, it looked like the clock on House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay was about to run out. The most corrupt (and ruthless) player in Congress was edging inexorably toward indictment. You can call what then transpired this weekend many things: a sordid circus, a craven carnival of opportunism, an arrogant abrogation of the separation of powers. I prefer something more to the point — The Tom DeLay Resuscitation Program. No sooner was life support detached from Terry Schiavo than did DeLay snatch away and start greedily sucking on the same feeding tube. The rest is pretty much history and bears little rehearsal except for a few egregious points. It says a lot about us as a nation that millions would be spent so these Congress members could scurry back to their chamber from airports across the country and the world in the middle of a holiday weekend, merely to stick their noses into the already adjudicated and settled legal affairs of a single family. So here we have a House majority that can’t wait to chop up Medicare, Social Security and just about every other hated government program that helps sustain the most vulnerable. But it’s willing to pass personalized “laws” to protect a single, stunted life — so long as there is a political advantage to be had. As these clowns ambled back on to the floor, a memo of GOP talking points on the Schiavo case was folded over their hearts, reading in part: * This is an important moral issue, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue. * This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats. Not that tough for Democrats, as it turned out. Their 47 affirmative votes at midnight Sunday were necessary to meet the two-thirds bar and enact the House measure that nullified the work of 19 judges and trampled over the constitutional role of an independent judiciary. The crowning moment was reserved, of course, for the president of the United States. Leaving a vacation early for the first time in his presidency, George W. Bush jetted back to D.C. on Sunday, pen in hand, standing by to immediately sign the Schiavo-DeLay Relief Act. (Turns out, in reality, Bush got back and hit the hay. He was later awakened and signed the travesty of a law standing in the White House hallway in his jammies.) Earlier, the prez had justified his intervention in the Schiavo family business, saying: “The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues. Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life.” When Bush sat as governor of Texas for six years, however, there was no such complexity and not a whisper of any doubt as he green-lighted and stacked up 152 state executions and still found time to cackle to a reporter over the fate of one Karla Faye Tucker. Ditto when, in 1999, Governor Bush supported and signed the Texas Futile Care Act, which allows hospitals to disconnect life-support equipment, over the objection of family members, when patients are judged irrecoverable and when private funds for their sustenance have run out. Looking back over the constitutional and ethical debacle of this last week, I’m frankly torn. Don’t know whether to run and hide. Or to ask Congressman Waxman to propose the Marc Cooper Relief Act and see if Congress might be willing to intervene and expunge that D in geometry I got back in 1966.


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