"Someone on this committee - perhaps you, Mr. Chairman" - might one day have to submit to a confirmation hearing.
-- Sen. John McCain of Arizona to Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, at Anthony Lake's confirmation hearing
If the general populace were able to collaborate on a political bumper sticker, it would probably be: JUST WHEN THINGS LOOK DARKEST - THEY GO BLACK!
Is there anything going on in Washington that isn't under attack? Bicker and grumble! And solemn! If government is unable to give us government, it ought, at least, to give us a few laughs. A chortle or two.
Picking up on McCain's hilarious suggestion, I think the administration missed an opportunity for high mirth when it nominated Madeleine K. Albright as secretary of state. It might have brought down the house by tapping the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.
Imagine the senator from North Carolina having to testify in front of his own committee, no less!
What a show!
Get the popcorn!
Of course, the good old boys would solemnly laud the senator's brave votes against the Clean Water and Clean Air acts and his current gambit - holding up the treaty banning poison gas. Then those Daffy Democrats could ask him some questions. Here's how it might go:
Q. Senator, how about clearing up this little matter of your disclosure forms to the Ethics Committee on which you undervalued those slum buildings you and your wife own, which are worth more than twice what you stated - a million bucks. Is it true that five of them didn't have heat?
Q. Mr. Helms, please comment on the accuracy of the direct mail letter you signed for the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which reads: "Your tax dollars are being used to pay for GRADE SCHOOL CLASSES that teach our children that CANNIBALISM, WIFE SWAPPING, and the MURDER OF INFANTS and THE ELDERLY are ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR." As any moron knows, cannibalism isn't taught until high school.
Q. Senator, Kimba Wood and Zoe Baird were trashed for not paying their baby sitters' Social Security. Was this behavior better, the same or worse than that of your re-election campaign, which was cited by the Justice Department for "violating civil rights and voting laws by intimidating, threatening and discouraging" registered voters in 86 predominantly black precincts? I'm referring to your mailing out 125,00 postcards saying that if the recipients voted they could be prosecuted for fraud and sent to prison. Were your campaign officials joking when they said, after copping a plea and signing a consent decree to observe voting laws in the future, that they didn't have "$250,000 to take the Washington bureaucrats to court"? Everyone knows your campaign was one of flushest in the nation.
Q. Senator, do you think that you could carry our colors into Africa and Third World countries if it were known that you said the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress" and once called Martin Luther King Jr. a Communist?
Q. Since campaign finance is so much in the headlines, did the money given to your tax-free "nonpolitical" foundation in North Carolina by the governments of Taiwan and Kuwait represent payoffs for past favors? Then there's the Coalition for Freedom, whose tax-exempt status the IRS revoked because it had illegally helped certain candidates. A few years ago, your name was on the letterhead, and appeals for donations were sent out in your name. After the IRS ruling you pulled up stakes, but you told a reporter, "I had no relationship with the Coalition for Freedom. I never had." Was this part of your search for truth in public life?
Q. Let's turn to foreign policy. You have championed over the years authoritarian thugs like Haiti's Raoul Cedras, Chile's Augusto Pinochet and, worst, Roberto d'Aubuisson, who directed the death squads in El Salvador. Do you ever meet a dictator you didn't like?
Q. You say of yourself, "I'm just a country boy doin' the best I can." No question about that. Sorry, senator, you may be electable, but you're not confirmable.
Maybe this isn't so funny after all. Oh, well. As Thurber said, "Tears of laughter/ Turn to water sometime after."
Paul Newman, the proprietor of Newman's Own, recently announced that his salad dressing is out-grossing his films. This article is reprinted with permission from the April 7, 1997, issue of The Nation.
Pub Date: 3/23/97