- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Republicans are acting like Republicans again, and the Democrats scent the familiar odor of fear.

Hurricane Katrina scattered Republicans like chaff in the wind, and they haven’t stopped looking for a big rock to crawl under or a leafy hedge to hide behind. When Michael Brown showed up in Washington this week to answer questions about his failures as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Republicans on a House select committee on hurricane relief pushed Democrats out of the way to get in the first licks.

Rep. Christopher Shays, the dark, dour Connecticut yankee often mistaken for the undertaker at the sickbed, couldn’t wait to lead the piling on. Piling on the hapless Mike Brown, everybody’s favorite New Orleans scapegoat, is not exactly an exercise in courage, so this makes him small enough for a congressman to challenge. The Democrats on the committee, cheerfully honoring the first rule of politics, that you never interfere when your enemy is destroying himself, merely smiled and let Mr. Shays do the hack work.

In one testy exchange, the congressman told Mr. Brown he was feeble, clueless, shocking and “beyond belief.” Another Republican congressman told him: “I don’t see how you can sleep at night.”

The next day Gov. Kathleen Blanco arrived in town with a begging bowl the size of Baton Rouge to ask the Senate Finance Committee for federal billions to rebuild Louisiana. She estimated that a third of the state’s economy had been wiped out by Katrina and her wicked little sister Rita.

Mrs. Blanco, a Democrat who dawdled and dithered as Katrina made landfall and the White House begged her to make the necessary requests for federal assistance as set out in the law, didn’t want to deal with any of the questions and rebukes that Mike Brown had endured the day before.

“Today,” she told the senators, “I came really to talk about job creation.” She asked the senators to please not ask any questions about her dire misfeasance and dreadful malfeasance. No rebuke, please, even implied, for her dilly and dally while New Orleans drowned.

To nearly everyone’s astonishment, the Republicans on the panel — Charles Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Craig Thomas of Wyoming, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Bill Frist of Tennessee, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Michael Crapo of Idaho — meekly submitted, as if the lady were standing over them in thigh-high snakeskin boots and a horsehide whip.

If all that were not enough, on the third day of this particularly bad hair week the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, who indicts politicians he doesn’t like simply for sport, hauled Rep. Tom DeLay, the leader of the Republican majority in the House, into the dock for unspecified crimes against Texas election law. Like the infamous conspiracy junkie Jim Garrison, the former district attorney in New Orleans, Ronnie Earle can’t make charges stick. But a D.A. who wields a grand jury like a desperado with a .357 magnum can make life miserable for any ham sandwich in his way. Ronnie Earle doesn’t care whether the indictment ever gets to a courtroom. He has accomplished already what he set out to do, to harass Tom DeLay and frighten Republicans.

This should send Democratic stock soaring, but for the fact that the only thing either party has going for it is the other party. If you’re tired of Tom DeLay, Nancy Pelosi is nobody’s idea of a hottie for a snuggle at the prom. If craven Republicans in the Senate make you gag, Harry Reid might make you retch.

Some of the Democrats sent Stan Greenberg, one of their most reliable pollsters, out to sample sentiment the other day and he came back with bad news. “Feelings about Democrats are at a [54-month] low,” he told them. Slightly fewer than half of the voters polled say they expect to vote Democratic next year. That’s about what the figure was in 2004. John Zogby, an independent pollster, says the Democrats are in trouble because they have no credible national leaders.

Al From, the director of the Democratic Leadership Council, which speaks for what’s left of the party of FDR, Harry Truman and JFK, says the Democrats have a chance to pick up seats next year but “you can only get so far attacking the other guy, no matter how bad he is.” Nobody has much to hang hope on.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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