- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

If the Republicans save the House, Dennis Hastert should send a case of really good wine — a Merlot by Kendall Jackson or a Chateau Montelena cabernet — to Kim Jong-il. The dear leader will deserve every drop of it, including the dregs.

The speaker should take care to send the credit-card receipt with it. When I took a carved crystal eagle to Pyongyang in an earlier decade as the ritual gift for his father, suggested by a protocol officer, one of the stern North Korean officials asked me: “How much did it cost?”

Whatever he has to pay for the wine, he can be sure the dear leader’s help, inadvertent as it was, will have been worth every penny. Kim Jong-il and his bomb was by all accounts a dud, but the bang was loud enough to change the subject of the debate in the campaign for congressional seats here at home.

Mark Foley’s fantasies of rutting with young boys, Dennis Hastert’s inept supervision of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and the arrogance of the lavender mafia policing the aides, flacks and other assistants in the congressional offices, is drowned by the rattle of nuclear weapons. Or even the prospect of such a death rattle.

The Democrats, who can almost smell the coffee in the pot and the bacon in the skillet, may be willing to risk everything to return in triumph to Capitol Hill, but voters are likely to weigh the politics against national security, and decide to stick with what they know, even if they don’t like everything they know.

George W. Bush understands this. Bill Clinton made it to the White House on the strength of the message that “it’s the economy, stupid.” You have to be stupid not to understand that the average voter always votes where he eats. The president continued to pound on his themes of the economy and national security, campaigning yesterday with Dennis Hastert in Illinois.

The Foley debacle continues to bubble and squeak in the newspapers and on the cable-TV networks. The good news for the Republicans, such as it is, is that it’s becoming more squeak than bubble, and the prurient details are beginning to drift into the inside pages of the newspapers. If the Republicans can quit talking about it and give up the fun of reprising old Democratic scandals, they might start picking up lost ground in the 26 days between now and Nov. 7. The old scandals brought back by popular demand are real enough, but reprising them is merely to repeat the tired Republican mantra: “Vote Republican, we’re not as bad as you think.”

Outrage in Washington has the shelf life of an unrefrigerated shrimp, and this week’s outrage — as outrageous as congressional whoring, successful or not, may be — is quickly overtaken by new outrage. Best to stick with the outrage that never goes away.

The Democratic outrage that keeps on giving is “taxes.” This is the point George W. made this week in Georgia: “There is a fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic parties on this important issue.” The Democrats love taxes, and want to share that love with taxpayers. The Republicans don’t, and want to banish as many taxes as possible.

Old-line Democrats forget that “tax and tax, spend and spend” was a mantra that worked for FDR, but has little resonance even with many Democrats today. When someone asked Charlie Rangel, the old-line New York congressman who would chair the House tax-writing committee if the Pelosi Democrats take over the House, whether the Democrats will try to raise taxes across the board, he replied: “No question about it.”

Some Republican candidates are picking up the theme, supplying their own grace notes to the campaign music. Sen. George Allen, searching his playbook for the Hail Mary pass play only days ago, says Jim Webb, the Democratic candidate, would bring back “the death tax, the marriage penalty, and cut your child tax credit from $1,000 to $500.” Republican candidates in Iowa, Minnesota and New York reprise this theme.

Nobody knows whether all the tax and security talk has shortened the odds, which still favor Democrats. But if the late strategy works, Kim Jong-il should share his bounty with Charlie Rangel and his friends.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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