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Political Animal

Mad Libs

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/31/2007

When we here at Animal Control read all the recent stories of Republicans complaining that the new Democratic majority in the House has locked them out of power during the "100 hours" of new legislation, we have to choke down an overriding impulse to bark, "Quit whining!"

But we don't say that because those two words are the historical hallmark of a bully.

"Quit whining" is what the schoolyard bully says to the smaller kid after knocking him down. "Quit whining" is what the Republicans said after creating a GOP staffer-led "White Collar Riot" disrupted vote-counting in Florida in 2000. "Quit whining" is what Republican thugs told supporters of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 after he got knocked off by an opponent, Saxby Chambers, who painted Cleland as unpatriotic and morphed his face into Osama bin Laden's in campaign TV ads.

Robert Ehrlich tried to paint Martin O'Malley as a "whiner" at the start of last year's gubernatorial campaign. Hard-line conservative activist Grover Norquist, when asked about why his party lost a race in Pennsylvania, told London's Financial Times that "Bob Sherwood's seat would have been overwhelmingly ours, if his mistress hadn't whined about being throttled." When asked if Republicans learned any lessons from the campaign, Norquist said, "Yes. The lesson should be, don't throttle mistresses." Heaven forbid they should "whine" about it.

In victory, conservatives often display the behavior of bullies; in defeat, they assume the posture of victims. Yet their machinations to regain the upper hand are never far from the surface. When allowed to post amendments to one of the first bills through the new House, the GOP tacked on a poison-pill provision designed not to "work across the aisle," but to drive a wedge between Democrats and their base.

Frank Luntz, the famed Republican pollster and strategist, and co-architect of Newt Gingrich's so-called Republican Revolution in 1994, wrote a Jan. 21 column for the Huffington Post web site, offering his allegedly earnest advice to Democrats, "Don't twist the knife."

"Democracy is at its best when its practitioners use language to unite and explain rather than divide and attack," Luntz wrote. That's rich coming from the man who, at Gingrich's side, created a list of words conservatives should use to tar their opponents as unpatriotic traitors. Luntz, first and foremost, is the prime GOP advocate for using the McCarthyite phrase "Democrat Party," a term that even George W. Bush couldn't help but use at the start his State of the Union address last week, ignoring his written text and delivering it while congratulating Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her new majority. Luntz, while falling all over himself trying to offer helpful advice, starts right out at the beginning of his essay by referring to "Democrat activists."

Here in Maryland, one of the most amusing Election Day hijinks was the bused-in homeless people from Philadelphia, who handed out ersatz sample Democratic ballots that advocated voting for Republicans Ehrlich and Michael Steele (neither of whom were identified by party). The inside top of the ballot featured the words "Democratic Sample Ballot," suggesting that the only time Republicans can use the name correctly is when they're cheating.

Here's a helpful hint to all the Republican bullies who want to walk a kinder and gentler path in the minority: When trying to be conciliatory and nice, be historically correct and call your opponents "Democratic activists" and "the Democratic Party." Only a bully continues to cheap-shot his betters after being bested.

Bush has governed as a bully his entire presidency. He claimed credit for Democrats' ideas he initially opposed (such as the Department of Homeland Security) and called his opponents un-American (during last fall's campaign, he repeatedly claimed that if the Democrats won Congress, "terrorists win and America loses"), and his party shut Democrats out of legislative meetings, turned their microphones off at hearings, and called the police to evict them from Capitol meeting rooms.

But the tables are turning. Even though TV commentators still are in love with macho politics--witness the gushing over Sen. Jim Webb's stoic rebuttal to the State of the Union address--Democrats don't have to accede to the two-faced antics of the Republican minority.

Luntz finished his Machiavellian screed with a hypocritical plea for tolerance: "At the end of the day, people will recognize petty vindictiveness for what it is. And in my experience creating the phrases that so many of you readers hate with such a passion, all vindictiveness will ever get you is a pretty nasty black eye in return."

You know deeply in his heart that this song would change the minute Republicans return to a majority, after which their beatings would continue. To which Democrats and liberals should reply in the language conservatives understand, and the way then-Mayor O'Malley told off a couple of WBAL Radio hosts at the end of a contentious radio interview in 2002: "Gentlemen, if you enjoyed that, come outside after the show, and I'll kick your ass."

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