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Published: Saturday, 1/13/2001

Whiny Washington is the worse for wear

Whining becomes Washington. The town embodies the motto, “It's not my fault.” Blame is something to be assigned, not accepted. Life's annoying distractions on Capitol Hill are more the result of incessant meddling by right-wing conspiracies or search-and-destroy politics than blindly ambitious fools stepping in front of moving trains. The partisan pettiness and grumbling that emanate from our nation's capital is akin to the maddening sound of a faucet forever dripping, or, on shrill days, a piece of chalk fraying nerves as it grates across a chalkboard.

The next four years of a new presidential administration and sharply divided Congress promise more of the same and worse. It is not a good sign that acrimony between political parties is punctuating the cold January air even before the Bush team can utter “so help me God.” The Democrats gave the Bushies the benefit of the doubt for a nanosecond or until the first couple of conservative Cabinet choices were paraded before the public. But the President-elect and Co. aren't helping matters by acting as though they have a mandate, with opening volleys of their way or the highway and compassionate conservatism when hell freezes over.

All the post-election talk about the critical importance of bipartisanship, about improving the tone and discourse in Washington, about uniting not dividing varied constituencies, was a crock. Neither side meant a word of charity. Both camps are sharpening their knives to inflict the first political wound. Linda Chavez's hasty stage exit from the developing drama is nothing compared with the slash and burn political warfare almost certain to follow. But she performed her part admirably, falling on her sword like a good soldier and resorting to the customary Washington whine of blaming sinister forces for self-inflicted damage.

Perhaps now she'll think twice before again condemning the Zo Bairds of the world for similar lapses in judgment, but more likely she'll rejoin the Rush Limbaughs of the world spouting intolerance for any opinion but her own. While the liberals and conservatives are hardening their positions and digging in for the long haul in Washington, few noticed goodwill leaving the Beltway ahead of the combat. Ahead of the acrimonious confirmation hearings on the attorney general-designate and others that have suddenly energized the opposition like no election could. Ahead of the concession-free Bush agenda on highly contentious issues like a trillion-dollar tax cut and federally funded private school vouchers.

Nope, goodwill made it clear it wasn't sticking around for the attacks and counterattacks to start flying, for the predictable allegations of ethical misconduct to surface, for the heated nomination battles to drag on not over ethical concerns but because a nominee is deemed too liberal or conservative. Special-interest groups that align themselves with the right or left never even looked up as goodwill departed, so busy were they honing strategies against the enemy like the AFL-CIO and Sierra Club vs. the Americans for Tax Reform or the National Rifle Association. You get the picture.

Big ideological differences have come to do battle in Washington. They smell blood at the first sign of political weakness and vultures are circling for more kill after the demise of the Chavez nomination. But the Bushies are not about to roll over and play dead. Back home in Austin, Bush the Younger was known for talking tough but cutting deals of significant compromise with Democratic lawmakers. With everybody happy, he'd pat himself on the back and proclaim his administration a winner.

The rest of us may just have to grin and bear his apparent modus operandi and hope the centrist side of him prevails against party extremists and campaign pledges that were more pander than promise. In the meantime, brace yourself for more fighting words to strike in earnest as another Bush league takes up residence in the White House.

Linda Chavez was a sore loserman in the cutthroat sport of politics as usual. Nominees John Ashcroft and Gale Norton don't plan to be. Disagree with their politics but spare us the obnoxious whining about their turn at bat.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade editorial writer. E-mail her at mjohanek@theblade.com.



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