"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 March 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
House Divided


You have to pity the poor,

helpless Republicans - they certainly



New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith,

a not-especially-plausible

candidate for the Republican

presidential nomination, spoke

to delegates and visitors at the

state convention of the

California Republican Party back

on 28 February and did

something that politicians

usually do: He compared himself

to another leader, someone the

convention attendees would

presumably respect and admire.

Smith compared himself to ...

Jesus Christ. This fascinating

tidbit apparently didn't make it

into any of the media dispatches

from the convention, but a Suck

operative inside the convention

hall gleefully phoned in a

report about New Hampshire's new



Smith crowned himself

God-for-a-day during a speech in

which he struggled to get to the

right of a uniformly

anti-abortion field of

opponents; while other speakers

suggested backing off the

internal fighting over just how

hard a line to take on the

issue, the senator from the

live-free-or-die state laid down

a particularly hard moral line -

just like Jesus, he explained,

who also didn't dilute his

morality just so he could be

popular with the political

establishment. "Maybe the

Republican Party deserves to

fall into the ash bin of

history," he helpfully

explained. "And it will, if we

don't stand up for life." But

maybe the party will rise again,

right after getting crucified in

the next general election.



Ultimately, of course, this is a

tangential story about a

tangential player in

presidential politics, and it

shouldn't count for much more

than a quick roll of the eyes

(and maybe, if you're Bob Smith,

a quick re-reading of the book

of Matthew). But the Bob Smiths

of the political right have been

generating no end of bizarre

anxiety lately among the many

entirely sane members of their

own party, who don't necessarily

view themselves as epic martyrs

locked in a near-bloody cultural

endgame against Satan-influenced

queers and heartless, gleeful

baby killers. Some Republicans,

it seems, still kind of hope to

win some elections. And their

Bob Smiths are making them

awfully nervous.


The signs of this remarkably

pointless anxiety - which, the

story goes, threatens to tear

the Republicans apart - are

pretty much everywhere. A

longish Washington Post feature

- published the very day that

Smith was working on

transubstantiating his odd self

into the position of the party

nominee - issued a report from

the party's death bed under the

headline: "Social Conservatives'

Ties to GOP Fraying." ("But

these are times of great

uncertainty in the Republican

Party ... The marriage of

low-taxers and old-school

moralists is rockier than

ever.") The New York Times

Sunday Magazine also weighed in,

on the very same day, with a

report that House Republicans

were hoping "the new Speaker

will somehow save them from

themselves, as if his bulky

frame were a rampart standing

between the GOP and the cliff it

seems disposed to race off."


And John McCain, speaking in

California, echoed the current

brand of anxiety with a barely

veiled request to the man with

the gun: We're on the same side,

right? You're not going to

shoot me, are you? "As we begin

the 2000 campaign," McCain told

convention attendees, "let's

remember that the day Ronald

Reagan first declared the 11th

Commandment, 'I will speak ill

of no fellow Republican,' he

began the restoration of the

Republican Party....

Scorched-earth Republican

primaries will lead directly to

an Al Gore presidency and to

Democratic control of both

houses of Congress."


And we don't mean to disagree

publicly with John McCain or

anything, but we're fairly

certain that ultimately none of

this is true. Unless, important

caveat, the very people who

would be damaged by the

scorched-earth campaign in

question allow the whole battle

to assume a weight it doesn't

deserve. Let's put that a little

differently: Unless they permit

themselves to give a shit.


Because beady-eyed extremists

tend to fall over the cliff all

by themselves, with or without

any help from chubby

ex-wrestling coaches. Most

people don't like them.


The received wisdom is that

Republicans can't win office

without showing their bellies to

the party's hard-right voters.

But reality is a lot less rigid.

Politicians have usually been

far more successful pitching to

the center: How many "news

analysis" pieces have you read

over the last six years about

how angry Bill Clinton has made

the left-liberal wing of his

party? And his alienation of

Maxine Waters sure held him back

during his reelection campaign,

huh? Barely squeaked through

that one! And there are plenty

of examples of the same reality

on the other side of the fence.

Tom Campbell, a moderate

Republican congressman from a

heavily Democratic district in

Northern California, has always

had strong support throughout

his constituency; then, forced

to satisfy the right to keep his

job, Campbell voted to impeach.

In his district, he's now a

little less popular than sewage.

Tune in during the next

congressional elections for a

final verdict on the political

value of pandering to the far




Or tune in now: A moderate

Republican, well known for his

ability to cooperate with

Democrats, won a special

election last week in Georgia -

the special election to fill

Newt Gingrich's seat in the

House of Representatives. "I've

always been one to build

consensus," Johnny Isakson said

on election night. "I believe

you make progress wherever you

can find common ground and

that's what I'm going to do." Of

course, he picked up only 65

percent of the vote - so maybe

the right wing of his party

really nailed him among the

other 35 percent.


Then we have to ask a few

context questions: Just how

extreme is "extreme," and just

how powerful is "powerful"? A

little perspective, as always,

might help.


There were local elections

across Iran recently, for the

first time since the Muslim-led

revolution overthrew the

US-backed torture fan most

commonly known by the

Minneapolis funk-rock name "The

Shah." (Savak recently released

an album on its own label, by

the way, but Rolling Stone

really trashed it and it didn't

sell.) The elections were

preceded by a nasty period of

preemptive maneuvering;

hard-line advocates of clerical

rule worked to force


candidates aligned with moderate

President Muhammad Khatami off

the ballot. Khatami, whose power

as nominal head of state is

severely limited by the broad

power of the country's religious

leader, ordered the interior

ministry to overrule the

committee that overruled the

candidacies; the committee

allowed that it might go along

with the whole thing if the

moderates agreed to sign written

pledges promising not to go

overboard with the whole freedom

thing. The conservative-run

Iranian media scrupulously

ignored the elections as well as

it could, leaving the moderates

with little chance to appeal

directly to voters. And the

moderates swept the elections,

all across the country, winning

12 of 15 city council seats in

Tehran alone. (The other three

went to moderate independents,

shutting out the hard-liners




And so, somewhat inevitably, the

extremist-dominated Tehran

Supervision Board immediately

promised to set the elections

aside in the capital city. "We

will definitely nullify the

votes of those candidates who

were disqualified by us ahead of

the polls," the head of the

Supervision Board helpfully

explained to the Associated

Press. But any chance of

succeeding at that would seem,

in light of the moderate

strength gained from the very

elections at issue, less than



So here's the question: Iranian

moderates can squeeze free and

fair elections past the

resistance of many layers of

radically unpleasant, enormously

powerful Muslim extremists - in

a country where, for example,

women are still expected to

cover themselves head to toe

before they walk out in public -

but moderate US Republicans have

no chance to shake the dreaded

influence of Gary Bauer and Pat

"Someone in Texas Is Bleeding

from His Liver" Robertson, who

are just way too powerful to

stand against? Very doubtful.

Perhaps our notions of extremist

influence have become a bit

warped from many, many years of

not having it too bad. And

perhaps the only thing keeping

the beady-eyed elements of the

Republican Party from falling

into their well-deserved

obscurity is the fear among

other Republicans that these

idiots will never go away. Just

let go, folks.


Of course, you might want to get

a second opinion from the son of


courtesy of Ambrose Beers


[Purchase the Suck Book here]