First accepted, then turned down, the job...

WILLIAM BENNETT

December 19, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WILLIAM BENNETT first accepted, then turned down, the job of chairman of the Republican National Committee.

You've heard many explanations why. He looked at his bank book, and decided he couldn't afford it. He came into conflict with John Sununu, and found he would be playing second fiddle. His brother, who is counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee, told him conflicts of interest were inevitable, and he would be crucified by Democrats who want to pay back the brother for prosecuting the Keating Five.

None of those is the real reason.

The real reason is that after two years of being known as the Drug Czar, he had come to like the title and wanted to be known as the Republican Czar.

However, President Bush vetoed this on the grounds that it was "too Russian." Actually, it's "too Polish."

Americans say it and spell it "czar" because that's the way Polish immigrants to this country said it and spelled it. Poles had translated into "czar" the Russian word "tsar," which came from old Russian "tsisari," which came from the Gothic "kaiser," which came from the Latin "caesar."

(You are probably thinking, "how smart columnists are." Actually, I copied the second sentence in the above paragraph straight out of my dictionary, and I made up the first sentence because it sounds logical.)(A rare behind-the-scenes peek at punditry in action.)

I'm sorry Bennett is not going to be Republican Czar. He's ideal, as he proved in his parting shot as he left the drug job. A Democratic member of Congress issued a relatively mild criticism of Bennett's tenure. Bennett dismissed him as a "gasbag."

I have always thought the perfect job description of the Republican National Committee chairman came from William Miller. He was national chairman in the early 1960s. Shortly after he got the job, Time magazine sent Loye Miller (no kin), a young political reporter in their Washington bureau, to interview William Miller. Time style was for a senior editor or writer in New York to prepare questions for the interviewer.

"Mine were pompous and pretentious even by Time standards," Miller recalled the other day. "The interview took place on a plane. Miller was a down-to-earth old pro. The questions I had were written by someone who had probably never been to a precinct meeting, probably didn't even know what a precinct was. Finally I got to the last one.

" 'What is your philosophy of politics,' I asked. Chairman Miller looked very thoughtful, then replied, 'Basically I believe you should just get a big bag of [expletive deleted] and keep hitting the other guy in the face with it.' "

Exactly! And Bill Bennett would be so right for that. He's Bill Miller with a Ph. D.

Now what? He's reported to be looking at other opportunities in Washington. But I hear he is also talking to people in Moscow, where they really need a czar, I mean tsar.

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