146 dug-in heels

November 23, 1995|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- Congressman Sam Brownback, the 39-year-old freshman Republican from Kansas, knows many things but is defined by something he did not know until last week.

He has been in Congress 11 months and in 1991 he was a White House Fellow assigned to the U.S. trade representative. But when recently he was invited to join a journalist for breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, he did not know where the hotel was.

His work is on Capitol Hill, his wife and three children are back on the plains of eastern Kansas, and when he is not on the former he is on the latter, so a lot of the federal city is unfamiliar to him.

Unbudgeable objects

But the city is horrified to know him and the other 72 Republican House freshmen who dug in their 146 heels and forced Republican leaders to force the president to agree to a seven-year timetable for balancing the budget. From that they ,, would not budge.

The coming budget battle will be driven by what they decide not to budge from. Not all of them are ''conviction politicians'' to thesame degree, but Mr. Brownback believes that less than a quarter of this Class of 1994 has begun to go native, making decisions motivated by careerism. Most are like Oklahoma's Steve Largent, NFL receiver turned legislator, who told Congressional Quarterly he would like his political career to be summarized in three words: ''Brilliant but brief.''

Mr. Brownback is surprised about how easy it is ''to move the ball'' in Washington. He says, ''I have a two-year constitutional right to stupidity,'' as Washington defines stupidity -- a failure to understand what is unthinkable or undoable. ''You can,'' he says, ''do a lot of things if you don't know you can't.''

For Mr. Brownback and his classmates, the pebble in the shoe of life is not the executive branch or even congressional Democrats. Rather, it is the Senate.

Once in the 1950s when Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay was being briefed by a young officer who repeatedly referred to the Soviet Union as the ''enemy,'' LeMay, exasperated, interrupted and said, ''Young man, the Soviet Union is our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy.'' Which is how House freshmen feel about the Republican senators who are reluctant to get with the program as the more fire-breathing House defines it.

1992 Ross Perot got 28 percent of the vote in Mr. Brownback's district, and in 1994 this district's inclination to dis' the established order enabled Mr. Brownback to pile up 66 percent of the vote against a former governor.

In Congress he has organized the misnamed New Federalists, who actually are spiritual descendants of the Anti-Federalists. Two centuries ago they distrusted the centralizing tendencies of the Constitution, and feared it would result in, among other things, a corrupt political culture in the national capital. How sharper than a serpent's tooth was the Anti-Federalists' fate of being prematurely right, at least about that political culture.

The moral condition

Back home, Mr. Brownback's experience, like that of his classmates, is that constituents' questions concerning the nation's moral condition come ''eight to nine'' times as frequently as questions concerning the nation's economic condition. And in Washington the freshmen do not treat, because they do not regard, economic questions as merely, or even primarily, economic questions.

They regard the budget as the cause of many kinds of unwholesome behavior and the sender of many deplorable social signals.

Which is why they cannot get in the Washington spirit of splitting all differences. Which is why they horrify Washington: Their behavior cannot be predicted by the usual calculus of pains and pleasures, and they cannot be controlled by the usual stimuli of rewards and threats. And because they resolutely refuse to learn the rules of polite society, they enable Newt Gingrich to profess that they are coercing him to do what he wants to do.

Denigrating Mr. Gingrich is a task to which Time magazine, like most of the media, has taken (in words from crime novelist Donald Westlake) ''like a buzzard among entrails.'' So Time's editors must be in agony trying to avoid putting Mr. Gingrich on the year-end cover as the newsmaker of the year, which he obviously is.

Occasionally Time's editors select a group for the year-end cover -- Hungarian Patriots (1956), ''25 and Under Generation'' (1966), American Women (1975). If Time's editors want to avoid the pain of accuracy, they can evade Speaker Gingrich by putting on the cover Mr. Brownback and the other Republican rookies who set the tone, and much of the agenda, for 1995.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.