Waiting has its virtues, just ask Bob Packwood

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- I am watching Bob Packwood quote Shakespeare on the floor of the Senate.

He is quoting the famous St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V.

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," Packwood is saying. "For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother!"

What this has to do with any matter before the Senate, I am not sure. But it is a lively performance.

I'm not saying it will make us forget Laurence Olivier, but Packwood does manage to stir himself with this oration if nobody else.

As I listen to him, however, something occurs to me:

Isn't this guy supposed to be in some kind of trouble?

Isn't he being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee and the Justice Department?

Haven't dozens of women come forward and said Packwood pTC grabbed them and tried to stick his tongue in their mouths against their will?

Hasn't he been accused of altering his diaries before turning them over to the Ethics Committee?

Isn't a federal grand jury looking into allegations that he used his office to solicit a job for his ex-wife so he could reduce his alimony payments to her?

And hasn't a biography recently been published portraying him as a cynical sleaze? Hasn't the author, Mark Kirchmeier, written: "Feminist champion Bob Packwood's journey has appeared to be one of the great ironies of American politics. But, in reality, there was no inconsistency. Packwood never saw the feminist movement as anything more than a device to advance his own career."?

Well, yes.

But so what?

Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, appears to be having the last guffaw.

The Senate Ethics Committee has been investigating him for more than two years.

And what has happened to him?

His popularity has increased. He can visit his home state without being pelted with rotten fruit. And he can speechify on the floor of the Senate without anybody stalking off the floor in protest.

Why?

Because allegations as to his behavior first became public knowledge in 1992, the Year of the Woman.

But now we are in the Year of the Angry White Guy.

The "Almanac of American Politics 1994" said of Packwood: "In any case, Packwood's clout will be diminished and it's hard to imagine he will run again or be elected in 1998."

But that was before the Republican victory sweep in November of last year.

Today, as the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Packwood's clout has been enormously enhanced.

And his chances of running for or getting elected to a sixth term in 1998 are not out of the question: A recent poll showed that only 47 percent of Oregonians think he should resign, compared 65 percent a year ago.

And consider that even though the Ethics Committee remains half Republican and half Democrat, the full Senate -- a Senate controlled by Republicans -- could protect Bob Packwood from being expelled or losing his chairmanship.

Bob Dole, Senate majority leader, sees a pretty rosy future for Packwood.

"I think his one concern was, you know, not to lose his seniority, and I don't think that's going to happen," Dole has said.

How did Packwood snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

He waited, he dithered, he delayed.

He fought a subpoena for his diaries all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost, but he ate up more than a year.

And look what has happened to America in the meantime: Sexual harassment is no longer the hot topic it once was. All over the country people are sneering at "political correctness" and welcoming the new conservative spirit that seems to have swept the land.

This doesn't mean that Packwood is home free. Grand juries can be pesky things. And he is sure to attract stiff opposition if he runs again in 1998.

But why wait that long to see what voters think of him?

Why not do what others who have been accused of sexual and financial hanky-panky have done?

That's right:

He's tan, he's rested and he knows his Shakespeare.

Packwood for president in '96!

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