Political Hay

Mr. Wordsmith Goes to Washington

Remember when Republican aides were foreign?

By 7.28.05

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WASHINGTON -- I make a species of livelihood writing about Washington, D.C., supplemented occasionally by sending my kids out to beg with tin cups. The vantage point of Miami is usually angled just right to give me an effective perspective. Yet some niggling murmur of conscience prods me to make an annual July pilgrimage to the capital. It's my hegira to the hegemons, if you will, my chance to put a little "Kick Me" sticker on the seat of government.

The Congressman for my home district is Kendrick Meek, a nice enough fellow who would be shocked to hear that we have a two-party system. His mother, Carrie, reigned peaceably for a few decades and then handed over her scepter; everyone believed that a Meek would inherit the berth. The Republican National Committee does not even field a candidate to contest his dominion. When the Gore people in Florida started their chant of "Selected, not elected" in 2000, Kendrick must have wondered what the fuss was all about.

That being said, he has never behaved arrogantly or dismissively toward his constituents and he seems to take his job seriously. His office was nothing but gracious to me during my invasion. His aide, Rob Miller, was a delightful guide and companion through the stately labyrinth of the Capitol building. Here is a knowledgeable and personable young man for whom I predict success inside or outside government.

But he told me one thing about his personal experience which is worthy of note and a response. When applying for a position, he had rained resumes upon congressional offices of both parties. All the Republicans asked his party affiliation; none of the Democrats did. His friends all chuckle over this, assigning it to Republican uptightness and Democrat uprightness.

You folks were counting on me, so I gave him my take. Once upon a time, before the advent of Ronald Reagan, there were a band of timid individuals whose primary guiding philosophy was that Democrats spend too much. So they considered creating a party called the Anti-Democrats, but that sounded too confrontational. How about the Non-Democrats? No, too noncommittal. Finally, perfection: the Not-Quite-Democrats. But alas, that was too many letters to fit on the signet stamp. So they decided to call themselves Republicans.

They liked to say that they were colorblind; one thing was certain, they were colorless. The party was led by such stalwarts as Robert Michel and Gerald Ford, who came as close to invisibility as any human being has ever achieved. Their role was clearly delineated and just as clearly circumscribed: the Democrats would propose some expensive new program, they would play Scrooge for a while, then eventually compromise by agreeing to 80 percent of what the Democrats asked.

This party had one great achievement that I would be an ingrate to overlook because it got me to where I am today. Namely, the I-95. The rest of the Interstate highway system, too, all magnificently laid out and constructed during the presidential administration of Dwight Eisenhower. Dwight was a man who liked well-defined fairways set amid lush greenery and long drives in quiet environments -- so he spent the rest of his time as President playing golf.

All of this led to inevitable wholesale rejection by the youth of America. And it takes a heck of a boring party to keep college kids away. Yes, there was an organization known as the College Republicans, but you had to sleep in your suit and tie to be a member. Also, if you were a male, there was an implied vow of celibacy. Such attractive young folk as today people Republican ranks were but a chimera. We like to poke fun at Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson for being too pretty for their pens, but the fact is that before Ronald Reagan their personas would be inconceivable.

In such an atmosphere, Republican members of the House and Senate had no choice but to accept as their aides the overflow of idealistic Democrat college grads who had failed to snag posts within their own party. This had the unpleasant effect of loading Republican offices with staffers who did not share the ideals of their employers. The Democratic Party had a network of spies that hardly required recruitment and the media had a full leaker cabinet.

And so it came to pass that Republicans became nervous and began to question their applicants. Sure, the paranoia might annoy ya, but remember this, even your modern Young Turk Reagan Radical Republican types are unfailingly polite. So even if they ask, they will always take yes for an answer. I was polite, too, but maybe a touch too fervid: poor Mr. Miller was a bit taken aback but he took it rather... er, meekly.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.