Oh, How They Hate the Folks Back Home

September 27, 1994|By RICHARD REEVES

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- It is a given now that the American people hate Washington politicians. What is not well understood, though, is how much politicians here hate the folks back home.

The view from here is that ''the people'' is an ignorant and fickle beast. Think about how you would feel if you worked for an unknowing and unpredictable boss with the absolute power to destroy your livelihood and life every two years or four years or six years.

Perhaps you do. Certainly most elected officials I know feel they do. They huddle together here between elections, joking and complaining and quaking about the monster beyond the river and the mountains (and the Beltway).

Voters, in the mind's eye of politicians, do not understand or really care about the reality and complexity of issues and governance.

Voters, they confide in whispers, are the ones who force politicians to lie and to beg and to hate themselves, because those voters are too lazy or too stupid to pay attention to how things work and how hard politicians work, 16 hours a day, almost every day of the year.

At least that is how it seems in the capital of the world's greatest democracy. The chosen few see their constituents at their worst, as runny-nosed children, always wanting something from Washington or always threatening to be bad -- that is, pulling back their votes or campaign money if they don't get their way. Beg and be begged -- or beggared.

''Those dumb bastards out there,'' was the reaction I heard from one member of Congress when the news arrived last Wednesday morning that the Democratic voters of the Second District of Oklahoma had thrown out their eight-term representative, Mike Synar, one of the most popular and respected (here) of middle-American liberals.

Mr. Synar, who at the age of 43, was just about to move up into the second-level leadership rank of the majority party in the House of Representatives, was beaten by an unknown 71-year-old retired school principal named Virgil Cooper, who spent $17,000, most of it his own money, and ran around saying he was not an incumbent. That's the official story.

Actually, hundreds of thousands of anti-Synar dollars were pumped into Muskogee, the largest town in the district, by oil companies, the National Rifle Association and by ''grazing interests,'' the big ranchers and corporations who feel their liberty is being infringed upon by suggestions they pay a fair price to lease federal lands for their cattle.

Not to worry about Mr. Synar, who raised and spent $600,000 -- he will do fine. Here, if not in Muskogee. In addition to law and business degrees from the University of Oklahoma, he has degrees from Northwestern and the University of Edinburgh. In Scotland, you know. He is also a good friend of President Clinton, which means he will be able to remain gainfully employed and in public service -- if I may use those terms together -- in the nation's capital.

But, boy, this has scared a lot of his friends in Congress. The voters of Muskogee -- who will probably elect a Republican, Dr. Tom Coburn, over Mr. Cooper in November -- sent the crowd in Washington a message. What many representatives heard was their own inner voices saying: ''Get back home and give the masses their due -- beg, plead and pander.''

An outer voice was provided by Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Democrat, who interpreted the message this way: ''Get away from Bill Clinton. Stop voting for Clinton policies. Move to the center.''

On the morning after, Democrats were surrounding their leader, Speaker Tom Foley, asking him to move the adjournment date from October 15 to October 8. Forget health care and all that, think of our political health back home.

Mr. Foley, of course, knows precisely how they feel. With all of his power here, he's in big trouble back home, too. He got only 35 percent of the vote in his own primary against several opponents in the Fifth District of the state of Washington, the area around Spokane that he has represented since 1964.

It's a tough business flying back and forth all the time to listen to folks who don't know what they're talking about.

The whole thing seems unfair and more than a little too democratic when you look at it from on high here in Washington.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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