Story is a reminder of why journalists...


January 18, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THE ZOE BAIRD story is a reminder of why journalists prefer covering Democratic administrations to Republican ones.

The hypocrisy quotient is so much higher with the Democrats. It's fun to expose phonies in high places. So dust off the "limousine liberal" key on the word processor.

Zoe Baird is the attorney general designate. She has been hiring illegal immigrants to work as domestics -- and not paying their or her own Social Security contributions.

Now if a Republican did this, there's not much of a story. Ed Meese could get away with it. Everybody knows that Republicans don't care for poor people, anyway. Especially ethnics. Ugh!

But a Democrat is supposed to care. "These are," as Sen. Alan Simpson said of Zoe Baird after this story broke, "the people who often babble about human rights."

The phrase "limousine liberal" has appeared in The Sun and The Evening Sun only three times since we created an electronic library with a word and phrase finder two-and-a-quarter years ago. You can bet it will be appearing in the paper with more frequency than that in the coming Clinton administration.

Especially if Zoe Baird is attorney general, which she shouldn't be but I would guess will be.

She shouldn't be confirmed not only on the grounds of hypocrisy, but also because the attorney general is the highest legal officer in the land and therefore should be a person with the highest knowledge of and respect for the law.

The illegal immigrants story shows she lacked at least one of those attributes and maybe both.

She probably will be confirmed because Senator Simpson and other Republicans who have said they will vote for her are smart politicians. They see in her (also and especially in Commerce secretary-to-be Ron Brown) ticking time bombs, sure to explode into some scandal or embarrassment for Bill Clinton before the next four years pass.

According to "Safire's Political Dictionary," Mario Procaccino coined or popularized the phrase "limousine liberal" in 1969 while running against John Lindsay for mayor of New York. It meant those well-to-do people, who were for the poor and minorities in principle, but would not actually do things themselves -- things they wanted to require less well-off people to do. Like, say, bus their kids to city schools.

Now John Lindsay was a Republican in 1969. But true limousine liberal that he was, he switched to the Democratic Party.


So happens that the only limousine I ever rode in was Mayor Lindsay's. That was in New York 1972. He was running for president as a Democrat. I wanted to ask him about Vietnam, revenue sharing, busing, etc., but all he wanted to talk about was how good looking New York women were and related matters.

Later he got only 7 percent of the vote in the Florida and Wisconsin primaries. There may be no connection, however.

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