The Price of Republican Victory

October 26, 1994|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago -- Republicans are panting so desperately for a glorious victory in November that they are willing to stoop to the most inglorious devices for securing it. They have sabotaged reform in health, in campaign financing, in lobbying and in trade.

There is a price to be paid for such piling on when the president seems down.

The Congress is even less respected than the president, and what most offends are its obstructionism and ''gridlock.'' What power Republicans win may be worthless after they have boosted the national cynicism about politics, politicians and policy.

The Republican stampede to win has made people hold their noses and say nice things about any freaks who might help win a Republican majority in the Senate. A strange creature in California known as Huffington, who disappears when asked a question, is praised by allegedly serious Republicans because his $25 million might defeat Dianne Feinstein.

But the best demonstration of Republican abjectness toward their own odd critters is the parade of people going south to support Ollie North.

James Baker showed up at one of his fund-raisers -- an act inexplicable on any grounds but Mr. Baker's own desire to be president. Mr. Baker's career had previously been pinned to that of Ronald Reagan, who has deplored the untruthfulness of Mr. North.

Sen. Robert Dole at first found it hard to support, even minimally, a man who lied to Congress and bases his campaign on ridicule of Congress as a body that eminently deserves to be lied to.

For Mr. North to seek Senator Dole's endorsement was like asking a cop to endorse a cop-hater.

But once the senator saw the logic of placating the party's right wing as a necessary step toward the presidency, he had to go the whole way. This was proved when Al Gore attacked Mr. North for saying that President Clinton invited Saddam Hussein's threat to Kuwait by sabotaging our military.

Mr. North asked Mr. Dole to respond to the vice president. The candidate held out a hoop, and the senator jumped through it. Naturally, Mr. Dole softened what North said while trying to defend it. He turned the outrageous claim into a mild throat-clearing:

''Colonel North hit a nerve in the White House by making the point that many Republicans and some Democrats have been making since President Clinton broke his campaign promise and started slashing the defense budget. You can't slash the defense budget $127 billion and pretend that it won't make any difference.''

Mr. North all but called President Clinton a traitor. Senator Dole says he was just tsk-tsking over the cost differentials.

It is hard to sound sane when defending a nut.

And that is the Republicans' real problem. They are giving so many hostages to their own right-wing crazies, to public cynicism and to impatience over government, that any power they may accrue could prove unwieldable.

What was said in a far more sacred context has its political parallel: What does it profit to gain the world by losing one's soul?

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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