Nightmare on Liberal Street

November 10, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

January 1997. Under a cold, crisp sky, Pat and Debbie Boone perform a medley of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "I'm Proud to be an American." The star-studded crowd -- Charlton Heston and Rush Limbaugh have good seats -- listens in respectful silence to Tom Clancy reading a poem he wrote for the occasion, "Ode on a Tomahawk Cruise Missile." The president-elect raises his right hand to take the oath of office.

"I, Newton LeRoy Gingrich . . ."

The horror, the horror. Get hold of yourselves, liberal Democrats. It's bad, but not that bad. Not yet.

He's only going to be Speaker of the House -- for now. But if you're a Democrat, you woke up yesterday to all sorts of nightmares, real or imagined. In one frightening night, Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate, not to mention toppling such leading party icons as governors Mario Cuomo in New York and Ann Richards in Texas. Who is left to speak at the next convention?

Talk about a morning-after hangover. If it weren't for Chuck Robb managing to defeat Ollie North in Virginia's battle of the cheat vs. the liar, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein beating back the $27 million effort by Arianna Huffington's husband, there might have been a lemmings-like rush to the shores.

"I was already planning to go to Australia for three weeks and then to South Africa for a project we have there, but I had no idea I would be this happy to get out of town," a downcast Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster, said yesterday. "I'm numb. I'm also surprised at the intensity of voters' reactions. An awful lot of good people lost."

The Politics of Meaning turned overnight into the Politics of Mean. Newt Gingrich, whose pudgy cherub face seems permanently squished down with a smirk, will run the House. Over at the Senate, Bob Dole is practically biting his sharp tongue to appear graceful over becoming majority leader.

With the Republicans in charge, their senior GOP guys get to take over the big Senate committees. The cast will include: Cold War warrior Jesse Helms at Foreign Affairs; Strom Thurmond, the doddering, orange-haired former segregationist, at Armed Services; Orrin Hatch, the poster boy of the anti-abortion movement, at Judiciary; and, perhaps scariest of all, Alfonse D'Amato, the ethically challenged New Yorker who led last summer's Whitewater assault on the Clintons, in charge of the Banking Committee's investigation into the scandal.

How bad is it?

So bad that even Ted Kennedy -- Ted Kennedy! -- was reduced to claiming how some of his best friends are . . . Republicans. That he even got to work on important legislation once with . . . Dan Quayle.

"From 1980 to '86, the Republicans controlled the Senate, and I was able to be a part of coalitions that addressed important problems. I worked with Sen. Quayle on job-partnership training acts," he said rather piteously.

How bad is it? Six words: George Nethercutt. George Pataki. Michael Flanagan.

Who are these guys? Nobodies who beat somebodies precisely because they're nobodies.

(For the record: Mr. Nethercutt is a Spokane, Wash., lawyer who has never held a public office but managed to defeat Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Mr. Pataki is a state senator who beat New York Governor and Democratic Party poet laureate Mario Cuomo. And Mr. Flanagan is a 32-year-old lawyer who was four years away from birth when the man he toppled, Chicago Machine-ist Dan Rostenkowski, was elected to the first of his 18 terms in Congress.)

But Democrats, who managed to survive the Reagan Revolution, aren't ready to abandon even this sinking ship.

Unrepentant liberal Carl Snowden, an Annapolis alderman, predicts the changing of the guard won't last that long. Strom Thurmond, he notes, is 92. Jesse Helms is 73. Bob Dole is 71. Orrin Hatch is 60.

"Look at their ages," he said, resting his case.

At 41, Mr. Snowden plans to simply outlive them. "Besides, what else are you going to do?"

Living in Maryland at least gave local liberals the sense that they helped prevent the Republican tide from totally sweeping the country. Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes kept his seat, as did congressmen Kweisi Mfume and Ben Cardin. And in the Maryland gubernatorial race, Democrat Parris Glendening came out 6,000 votes ahead of Republican opponent Ellen Sauerbrey Tuesday night, but the outcome will hinge on today's completed count of the absentee ballots.

"Isn't it fun having three governors?" Baltimore comedian Bob Somerby asked, including still-in-office William Donald Schaefer. "I thought the idea was to have less government."

Like others trying to find some humor in the Republican onslaught, Mr. Somerby, a college roommate of Al Gore, anticipated seeing the jokes turn on those newly in power -- the Gingriches, the Doles, etc.

"Every two years now, there's a new bogeyman. It may be their turn now," he said.

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