But one way for a newspaperman to look at a...


November 07, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"THERE IS but one way for a newspaperman to look at a politician, and that is down." So said Frank H. Simonds.

Who he? Simonds won the first Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for the old New York Tribune in 1917. He later became a syndicated columnist specializing in international affairs. He also wrote a five-volume history of World War I.

I don't think he knew a lot of politicians. I think he spent his working life in ivory towers and dealing with the striped pants crowd in embassies and foreign ministries.

Most newspapermen I know who actually know politicians seem to like and respect most of them a little and some of them a lot.

I myself always feel especially warm toward about half of them on second Wednesdays after second Tuesdays in November. I mean the half that just got beat.

On Election Day mornings after, I usually salute the losers in yesterday's elections. I remind them of the many who suffered the same gloomy Wednesday mornings they are now going through -- and later rose to great political heights.

That includes most presidents of the United States in the modern era. (When it became evident that a presidential candidate in 1980's primaries had lost, someone hired a huge lady opera singer to serenade him. That candidate was George Bush. So you see, even when the fat lady sings, it's still not over.)

Without politicians who are willing to endure the agony of defeatdemocracy is meaningless. We all owe you a lot. I for one look up to you. But enough of this maudlin sympathy for losers. It's the winners who've got everybody's goat.

I don't detect any widespread growth of Simonds-ism among my newspaper colleagues yet, but I do detect a growing disgust at the system in which politicians operate.

Take the case of John Glenn. He is an authentic American hero (who lost his first Senate election, by the way). He got involved with Charles Keating of Lincoln Savings & Loan fame, whose contributions to many members of Congress kept regulatory agencies at bay while the bill for taxpayers kept mounting.

Glenn says, in effect, this: "(1) Yes, I helped Keating with federal regulators, even though (2) no, Keating is not a constituent of mine, however (3) he did give me $236,000, and (4) there's nothing wrong with this."

There's nothing wrong with this! That's true, if by "wrong" you mean against the rules or outside the norms of congressional behavior. That is what has to be changed, not the personnel in the Congress and other corrupted institutions so much as the rules and mores of the institutions themselves.

You all agree with that. The problem now, of course is, that the people who write the laws and rules governing the institutions are the people who benefit by the status quo and are threatened by reform.

Is there any way to get around this? If anyone out there has any answers, please submit them.

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