- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Oh dear: A moment of prudence has backfired. Both a crabby public and gleeful media sassed the U.S. House of Representatives plenty yesterday after the lawmakers opted to exit their offices for safety's sake.

"Wimps. The leaders who ran away from anthrax," proclaimed the New York Post. "Reps chicken out drawing jeers from senators, public health officials and New Yorkers."

Irate early morning callers to C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" joined the chorus, demanding to know how leaders dared to ask Americans to "carry on" when they themselves were not on the job.

"The great and glorious U.S. House of Representatives has fled the nation's Capitol, and they're going to stay away until some grand Capitol Hill duct cleaning is completed," said radio talk show host Neal Boortz.

It must have been House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's spore speech one of many descriptive spore speeches made during the nation's full-blown case of anthrax anxiety Wednesday. The "spore," Mr. Hastert said after announcing the House would close, "is going through the ventilation system, going through the tunnels" of the Capitol.

Can the House salvage its wounded dignity? Certainly, said Chris Ryan, an Arizona-based public relations counselor who specializes in crisis management.

"Remember Sept. 11? Remember how the lawmakers trooped out on the Capitol steps and sang 'God bless America?' They need to do it again, only this time sing 'We Shall Overcome.' I want to see Mr. Hastert with his fist in the air, and a dramatic march," he said.

Perhaps they had better hurry. Observers continue to explore the greater implications of spores, lawmakers and closed doors.

"History books are going to parse this. How will the House be viewed down the road?" asked Fox News Channel's Brit Hume.

Fox interviewed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hours after House offices closed. Mr. Gingrich refused to "second guess" the decision, adding, "Things are going to happen in a war. Some of those things are going to be nasty surprises. We have to calm down, slow down, get the adrenaline rate down, and start taking them in stride."

Still, the situation prompted much creativity among those who harken to talk radio and the Internet.

The lawmakers had "vacated the Capitol faster than the Kuwaitis fled their country after someone yelled invasion," observed one listener of Mr. Boortz's show.

"Chinese fire drill," wrote a visitor to a busy Web message board. "Hastert was sucker punched," complained another. "Isn't this exactly what some members of Congress criticized President Bush for in the House immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks?" asked a third.

Some sympathized, though, pointing out that the public was not privy to all the security risks at hand. "They have about 20,000 staffers who work there," offered one. "I don't blame them."

Anthrax did not stop American enterprise, though. One North Carolina company announced yesterday it would have a "PurTest Anthrax Test" for home use ready by Thanksgiving, priced around $25.

FlavorX, which makes 40 flavor concentrates like raspberry and bubble gum to sweeten up sour medicine, also announced yesterday it would provide the stuff "free of charge to state public health experts nationwide" who must dispense bitter Cipro.

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