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GOP 'moderates' indulge radical right


WHAT is the point of electing "moderate" Republicans if they don't act like moderates? A lot of voters in predominantly Democratic and swing-vote regions are asking this question. The assumption was that their "moderate" Republicans would stand as a bulwark of good sense against the extreme elements in the party. But with a few noble exceptions, the GOP "moderates" have continually indulged the radicals in their relentless efforts to remove the president from office. Why are our elected officials more afraid of Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois than of us?

A movement is now afoot in Silicon Valley to dis-elect so-called moderate Republican Tom Campbell, who voted for impeachment. Ominous for his political future is the creation of a group named "Republicans against Campbell." Even in staunchly Republican DuPage County, Ill., home of Mr. Hyde, the people are angry.

Turned off voters

The Chicago Tribune reports that "voters have been turned off by Hyde's performance as head of the House prosecution team, and more than a third of them say they now have a lower opinion of the veteran congressman as a result."

Soon after they voted for impeachment, four "moderate" House Republicans tried to calm the folks back home. The quartet jointly announced that they didn't really want to remove the president. They sure have a funny way of saying it.

Perhaps nowhere is the sense of betrayal greater than in New England, where four "moderate" Republican senators immediately caved in to the demands of House conservatives to show proper respect for their sloppy handiwork.

The great majority of New Englanders have long ago, to use Mr. Hyde's apt word, "dismissed" the case against the president as a bizarre example of political warfare. Yet there were our "moderates" -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, James Jeffords of Vermont, and John Chafee of Rhode Island -- voting to depose witnesses and thus prolong the trial.

Mr. Chafee, the dean of Republican "moderates," proved to be the biggest disappointment of all. Once the conservative Southerners understood they had Mr. Moderation and the other chumps from Yankeeland under control, they knew there was mileage left in the impeachment game.

On the subject of witnesses, Mr. Chafee dismissed the opposing arguments in a CNN interview. "I have trouble understanding what all the fuss is about," he said. Then he participated in the party line vote to call witnesses -- a position that ran counter to the wishes of his constituency. Afterward, one of his aides confidently told the media that the senator had no need to worry about the voters back home in Rhode Island: They keep electing him anyway. What a remarkable thing to say.

(It also happens that Rhode Islanders keep electing Mr. Clinton. In 1996, the president won with 60 percent of the Rhode Island vote, one of the largest pluralities in the nation.)

Mr. Chafee's defenders have now turned their guns on House Democrat Patrick Kennedy. They accuse the Rhode Island congressman of making inflammatory statements about their man. Mr. Kennedy had the temerity to say that Mr. Chafee is not a real moderate.

A witch hunt

Well, Mr. Kennedy is absolutely right. If GOP "moderates" cannot be counted on to end the witch hunt that has tied up Congress for over a year, what makes them moderates? A Chafee aide retaliated by calling Kennedy "the Pied Piper of partisan politics." Is he saying that the campaign to remove the president has been polluted by partisan politics? Well, I never.

Some people don't like to hear Patrick Kennedy shooting off his mouth. I do. During the vote to keep the trial going, Mr. Kennedy said that "these moderates have the rest of the country in the palm of their hands." Indeed they did, and they handed it back to their party's right-wingers.

Back in Rhode Island, the hospitals are laying off nurses in part because of federal cuts in Medicare spending. The guy who parks my car in an icy Providence lot has no health insurance. He's now computing his taxes, part of which go to provide health coverage for everyone in Congress, their aides, their spouses and their children. And our senator does not understand "the fuss." My oh my.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal editorial writer and columnist.

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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