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Political Animal


By Brian Morton | Posted 11/1/2006

Some time ago, a liberal blogger, I can't recall which one, made a very prescient comment. "Republicans have to dissemble and dodge because they can't come right out and say what they want to do, because the American people would never vote for it." No Republican runs on a platform of Social Security privatization, because just like it was 25 years ago, it's still "the third rail of American politics." At George W. Bush's nadir of trying to promote privatization, Republicans were accusing Democrats of being privatizers, given how quickly the word became an albatross. It's kind of how Lt. Gov. Michael Steele can't come right out and proudly say he's a Republican in all of his advertising, and he can't trumpet his real beliefs. Because if he did, he'd never get elected to the U.S. Senate.

So he has to characterize himself with statements that carry no real value: He's a "different kind of Republican" and such. Gov. Robert Ehrlich does the same thing--he calls himself a "moderate," as if the political pendulum hasn't swung so far to the right in top-of-the-ticket politics that even people like Howard Kurtz, the media reporter for The Washington Post, tout far-right blow-hards like Rush Limbaugh as "mainstream." Limbaugh hasn't changed at all--10 years ago he was calling women "feminazis" and teenaged Chelsea Clinton "ugly." Now he's claiming Michael J. Fox is faking his symptoms of Parkinson's disease and refusing to apologize for it. How "mainstream" is that? Asshole then, asshole now.

Steele is trying to inoculate himself by having his sister in his ads saying that he cares about her because she's got MS. She says he supports stem-cell research. But what Steele doesn't support is embryonic stem-cell research. That's the whole point of the issue--whether or not the government should fund embryonic stem-cell research, not adult stem-cell research. Bush vetoed an embryonic stem-cell research bill as a sop to his fundamentalist Christian right-wing base, leaving the most promising avenue of treatment to rot on the vine. And Steele can't come out and say it--he's got to muddy the waters. Any time there's a big issue where the voters feel one way and Steele feels different, he looks at the issue through a toilet paper tube until he finds the part of it he likes, and that becomes the whole issue to him. But it doesn't change the fact that he can't be honest about it.

Ehrlich campaigns against Mayor Martin O'Malley the same way Republicans have campaigned against Democrats since Ronald Reagan became president: by claiming that the Democrats will raise your taxes. This despite the fact that, just as the Republicans have massively expanded government under Bush, Ehrlich jacked up property taxes and imposed a "flush tax" that is doing more to help out developers by creating sprawl than it is helping the Chesapeake Bay. Think about how your car registration fee skyrocketed under Ehrlich. Think about how bridge and tunnel tolls doubled under Ehrlich. He calls them "fees," but aren't they results of his government's decisions? And he says O'Malley will raise your taxes? Any time Republicans accuse you of something these days, chances are they are doing it themselves and want to divert attention to somebody else.

Just like Steele, Ehrlich can't be honest about his achievements. Ehrlich fought the clean air bill that Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George's' County) shepherded through Annapolis for two years, last year relying on his pals at Constellation Energy to help kill it. Back on March 10, during the legislative session, Ehrlich sent out a statement claiming that the bill "will dramatically increase the costs of electricity for consumers, force at least one power plant to close, and potentially cause rolling blackouts across Maryland." The governor's people even closed their offices early to avoid receiving the bill, as if they could pretend that it never really got passed. When the bill finally passed with veto-proof majorities, Ehrlich hailed it, claimed credit for it, and now features it in his campaign materials. He's Bobby Smooth, environmentalist!

What it comes down to with Steele and Ehrlich is how it is with the government at the national level: They'll say pretty much anything to get the election out of the way, and then it's four or six more years of the same. After which Ehrlich can run for president, calling himself a "successful moderate from a blue state," no matter what his real record shows, and Steele can pretend that all the votes he casts to continue everything that Bush wants to do were his idea.

Political reporters have told me over and over again, "Well, they have to run that way if they want to get elected," as if sanctioning this sort of dishonesty is what voters expect and deserve. And if they win, we probably do deserve it. But I thought we deserve better than that. So who's the cynic now?

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