Good news or bad news, it's all about timing. Like the joke about the fellow who asks the rabbi what to name his new child. The rabbi explains that Ashkenazic Jews only name children after people who have died. He suggests using the name of a dear departed parent or grandparent. But they are all alive, the young dad protests. "I'm sorry to hear that," the cleric sympathizes.
Or the other way round. The fellow comes into the undertaker's office wearing a glum face. "My wife passed away," he murmurs. "I need to tend to the burial arrangements." The mortician expresses surprise, recalling that he had already buried the man's wife a few years back. Patiently, the man explains that was his first wife, this is his second. "Oh, I hadn't heard that you remarried. Congratulations."
The current stage of the Republican Congressional campaign is a roiling mess of high confusion, such that goodness and badness of individual news items are hardly discernible. Listening to Washington scuttlebutt these days will give you a massive headache, like a Cyclops watching a Ping-Pong match. One thing is clear; the Democrats are hoping that recent events will help them scuttle Republican butts.
On the Republican side, two camps are entrenching their positions, the Good News Bulls and the Bad News Bears. Each new morsel of information is masticated by these herds and regurgitated in a new form. To assess the real status, we must review both views of events and arrive at some semblance of balance. The Bulls say we are in a groove, the Bears say we are in a rut. The Bulls say we are coasting, the Bears say we are stagnating. The Bulls say we are in focus, the Bears say we are in denial. So let's have a look.
ITEM #1. Custodian catches Abramoff in lobby after hours, takes him into custody. BULLS: Wonderful. Shows that Bush Justice Department is a tough take-no-prisoners operation that... er, takes prisoners. BEARS: Awful. Shows that Congress must be reformed without DeLay.
ITEM #2. Tom DeLay is indicted in Texas. He indites his innocence of all charges, resigns to avoid being a distraction, and moves to Virginia. BULLS: In a sense good; it shows virtue and character and loyalty and selflessness. BEARS: In no sense good; it shows diffidence and cowardice and insecurity and helplessness.
ITEM#3. Rep. Ney of Ohio pleads guilty to one count of "meeting Abramoff in a public place" and drives his political life careering over a cliff. BULLS: What a party of decency! Where else do you find such an ability to accept guilt and responsibility? BEARS: What a party of indecency! One corrupt guy after another. And if they're all clean, why "take a Ney" and not try for the end zone?
ITEM #4. Randy Cunningham is convicted of taking bribes in cash and prostitutes for Congressional votes on inappropriate appropriations. BULLS: Amazing. The Republican Party is such a healthy organism it automatically expels all corrupt elements. BEARS: If this is health, Ariel Sharon is Mister Universe, with Fidel Castro as first runner-up. One virus is a long weekend; four is a long hospitalization.
ITEM #5. Mark Foley is accused of trying to turn pages while Congressional Records are playing. He explains that he is a priest-molested gay drunk, quits (Congress first, then alcohol) and goes into rehab. BULLS: The politics of personal destruction? Now I'm really mad. That's a red flag. BEARS: You're kidding me, right? Yikes, I'm going into hibernation. Wake me for the second Chelsea Clinton administration.
Well, perhaps not the cheeriest recap. I lived in Chicago back when the Bulls had Michael Jordan and the Bears had Walter Payton, and somehow that all seemed much more fun. Still, it is premature to fold up the tent, especially since the Republican Big Tent does not fold smoothly. Now is the time, I say, not without Paine, for all good men to come to the aid of the party. Don't be a fair-weather friend and sunshine patriot like me, living in an all-Democrat district in Miami.
This much I can say for sure. The Republicans only have a chance as underdogs if they keep their eye on the ball like Cinderella and stick together like her mice. If they start hurling recriminations like her stepsisters yelling at their pedicurist, this will prove too slippery. This is no time to go scurrying for cover.
It is like the late Henny Youngman's joke about the nurse who comes running into the doctor's office. Breathlessly, she tells him the man he just treated walked right out the door of the practice and dropped dead on the stoop. "Quick," the doctor ordered. "Go out and turn his body facing inward."
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