- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

At one time in our grand republic’s history, political discourse was much more civil. While politicians have disagreed, debated, argued and even occasionally fought on the floor of Congress, there has generally been a certain decorum between the two major political parties and among the three branches of government. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case — and it’s hurting our country.

“Mr. President, congratulations. You’re a tough adversary,” House Speaker Tip O’Neill said in a 1981 telephone call to President Ronald Reagan after Congress approved the president’s economic package. The very liberal Mr. O’Neill had strenuously opposed the Reagan tax cuts, but added, “I want to wish you all the success in the world.”

Who in today’s Democratic Party would offer such words to President Bush? Who on “the Hill” — which liberal pundit, what Democratic Party leader — would adhere to what once was an unwritten rule of mutual respect between political rivals? Extremists in today’s Democratic Party are so angry even the horrific devastation and human suffering brought about by Hurricane Katrina have failed to produce any discernible detente in their vitriolic torrent.

Katrina has created a humanitarian crisis worse than any natural disaster in U.S. history. Yet, while hundreds of thousands of our citizens in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast mourn dead family and friends and try to comprehend their losses in the flooded streets, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blames Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi, and the GOP for the hurricane’s devastation.

“Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged,” read Mr. Kennedy’s post on Arianna Huffington’s anti-Bush Web site. The eco-evangelist suggested to his disciples that God may have been offended by a memorandum Mr. Barbour — former Republican Party chairman — wrote to President Bush about flaws in the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on global warming: “Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings [sic] for the Mississippi coast.”

Set aside for a moment whether the people of New Orleans consider themselves “spared” the worst of Katrina. The Kennedy screed is not only theologically offensive — it is at best, outrageously insensitive to the plight of countless Americans now searching through waterlogged rubble for the bodies of loved ones and treasured belongings. At worst, it ranks with Sen. Richard “Dick” Durbin likening American soldiers to the armies of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin or Cambodia’s Pol Pot.

Regrettably, Mr. Kennedy is not alone in ignoring the humanitarian and refugee crisis occurring along America’s Gulf Coast to further a narrow political agenda. On Wednesday, as government, Salvation Army and Red Cross officials appealed for every possible kind of help, a coalition of liberal activists brushed aside the plight of Katrina’s victims to demand media attention for their opposition to John Roberts, Mr. Bush’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is the kind of press-prompted vitriol that has been evident much of the summer outside the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. Aided and abetted by the so-called mainstream media, Cindy Sheehan, bereaved mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, has been reduced to a centerpiece for aging, ‘60s-era, antimilitary radicals. Surrounded by a coterie of sound-bite savvy activists, she deviated from her “Get Out of Iraq Now” script this week to join Mr. Kennedy in blaming President Bush for the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

All this in the midst of the Katrina crisis is enough to make one wary of what Washington will be like for administration officials when Congress returns from its monthlong vacation this week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already been summoned to appear before the Armed Services committees to “answer questions” about the war.

Mr. Rumsfeld, a regular target of the left’s rhetorical abuse, has been through this before. When he last testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee June 23, he was subjected to disgusting, shamefully personal verbal attacks by Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Had it not occurred in “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” it could have been branded “hate speech.”

The hearing record is replete with rancorous character attacks against a man who has worked tirelessly to prosecute a war against enemies who behead hostages and kill innocents.

Mr. Kennedy’s hypocrisy was boundless: “I’m talking about misjudgments, gross errors and mistakes. Those are on your watch. Isn’t it time for you to resign?” he shouted. “Our troops deserve better, the American people deserve better.” The Massachusetts liberal concluded with a comment that might have been introspective: “They deserve competency and they deserve facts. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out.”

Mr. Byrd was equally shrill and contemptible, but he may simply have forgotten Mr. Rumsfeld once was a naval officer and member of Congress: “I’ve just heard enough of your smart answers to these people here who are elected. We are elected. You’re not elected,” said the West Virginia senator who never served in any uniform except the white cloak of the Ku Klux Klan. He then ordered the defense secretary: “So get off your high horse when you come up here. … Have a little respect for what we try to do.”

As they used to tell us in the Marines: You cannot demand respect. You have to earn it.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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