The loyal opposition

January 06, 1995|By H. H. Morris

A VOLUNTARY SCHOOL prayer amendment will wreck 30 years of ecumenicism among American Christians. A balanced budget amendment will throw our economy into disarray. Despite holding firmly to both views, however, I shall do what a citizen can to support these changes during the next two years.

The voters have spoken. The Republican Congress that will govern isn't a stealth junta, sneaky plotters who gained power without clearly articulating their goals. The troops Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich will lead announced their intention of passing both amendments.

As a registered Democrat, I want congressmen from my party to provide a loyal opposition. They have the duty to express negative sentiments about these amendments and to vote against them on House and Senate floors. I want to see no filibusters or secret deals in committee, however. The ultimate duty of a loyal opposition is to say nay openly and hope for a chance to add, "I told you so."

There's something else to keep in mind: fewer than half the registered voters in the nation actually voted. That is what animates the argument. George Bush tried for four years to govern according to what opinion polls told him and wound up facing early retirement. Bill Clinton attempted the same tactic for two years and saw his candidates overwhelmingly rejected. The only citizens who ultimately count are those who vote.

That isn't the common belief. A frequent reason given for not voting is that a vote makes no difference. The results of this past election call for such radical changes in American life that implementing them will irrefutably prove voting can make a massive difference. Insofar as those citizens who didn't vote are concerned, why consider their wishes at all? Haven't they declared themselves resident aliens, obligated only to pay whatever taxes the government decrees and entitled to the services it provides?

Speedy passage of the voluntary prayer and balanced budget amendments could make the polling places in 1996 more popular than Camden Yards during baseball season. After all, most of the winners of the 1994 elections received a yea from fewer than 1 in 4 of the citizens they represent, yet almost all earned a clear majority of ballots cast. If their ideas truly reflect the will of the eligible electorate, they'll return to office in 1996 with vote totals they didn't dream possible. And if not, the voters who suddenly awaken might stay awake for at least a little while.

If Bill Clinton and the leaders of the Democratic minority are smart, they'll take a lesson from Suetonius' biography of Gaius Caligula. Early in his reign, Caligula fell sick. A prominent Roman senator, hoping to curry favor, started the rumor that he had prayed that the gods take his life, if that was what was necessary to save Caligula's. Recovered, Caligula summoned the senator and asked if the story were true.

Yes, said the senator.

Then, Caligula asked with deadly purpose: "Why are you still alive?"

Cynicism suggests that the undesired outcome of the recent elections for Mr. Dole, Mr. Gingrich, etc., is carte blanche to fulfill their Contract With America. Let's see what happens when they do.

H. H. Morris writes from Aberdeen.

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