Nasty and negative

It's a shame that Colin Powell decided not to run; I think he would have contributed a much-needed lowering of the rhetorical temperature on the Republican side.

I accept Powell's word that his decision came from looking into his own soul and finding that he did not have the passion or the commitment to make the race. But I also think that the media and the political world--including consultants, ad men, and spinmeisters--have to accept a piece of the blame when an able and immensely popular man is unwilling to get into the game. American politics has become increasingly shabby, sleazy, negative, and nasty, and the media and political practitioners are responsible.

When we drive the best away, we are stuck with the rest. And don't feed me any of that crud about how politics ain't bean ball, and you need killer instincts or you have to be "hungry," and all that self-justifying bull. The ends do not justify the means, period.

At the end of his life, even Lee Atwater, who prided himself on being a hardball player, came to recognize that he had been wrong. It shouldn't take the rest of us that long.

Plain old citizens are not powerless in the mean-ing of America, either.
We can vote against negative ads, sleaze attacks, and prurient-interest stories masquerading as investigations into "character."

Here's an interesting example of precisely the kind of stand-the-truth-on-its-head nastiness I mean: a mailing from the Heritage Foundation in the name of the "Government Integrity Project, Exposing Tax-Funded Special Interest Groups," arrived complete with a letter from Senator Phil Gramm that was so filled with disinformation that it took me some time to figure out what he was talking about.

"Do you believe that taxpayers should be forced to finance organizations that lobby Congress or other government entities?"

Right on top is The Pitch: "YES, Sen. Gramm, I want to help expose and neutralize the special interest groups that are spending taxpayer money to lobby for bigger government." Just check this box and indicate whether you are sending $5, $10, or other $.

I almost whipped out my checkbook on the spot. Boy, am I ever tired of McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, Archer-Daniels-Midland and all these other federal contractors and corporate special-interest groups pigging away out of the federal trough and spending millions to influence legislation and contracts in their favor.

Ooops. Wrong assumption. Turns out that the Heritage Foundation, Gramm, and the "Government Integrity Project" are not out to get the corporate greed-heads at all. They're after charitable and educational groups that get federal funding to run day-care and senior centers, battered women's shelters, and so forth.

Is that what springs to your mind when you think of the lobbyists at Gucci Gulch? When I heard the Republicans talking about "welfare for lobbyists," I naturally assumed that they were talking about the 50 percent tax deduction for "night business entertainment" at nightclubs, theaters, and sports events. Now that's welfare for lobbyists.

But no, it turns out that they don't want, say, the Texas Council on Family Violence coming to Washington to testify about the need for better legislation on domestic violence because, you see, the council received a federal grant to set up a domestic violence hot line.

Now, the council has to spend that money on the hot line--it has to account for how it spends every penny of that federal grant, and the money can only be spent on the purpose for which it was granted. There are a lot of laws, forms in triplicate, and government inspections to make sure that money is spent the way the council said it would be spent when it applied for the grant.

But the council also raises money from private sources, and sometimes some of that private money is spent to pay for sending someone to Washington to testify for stronger laws against domestic violence. This is what the Republicans call "lobbying with federal money." It isn't lobbying with federal money--it's lobbying with privately raised money, but the Republicans call it "lobbying with federal money" anyway.

The First Rule of Holes is as follows: When You Are in One, Stop Digging. It's a bit of elementary common sense easily grasped by most second-graders.

Most of the money that puts people into public office comes from organized corporate special interests. The result is that we have a government of corporate special interests, by corporate special interests and for corporate special interests.

If we take the right to speak out on legislation away from nonprofit groups that exist to help people and are funded by money that they raise themselves, while leaving the lobbyists for corporate special interests with their tax breaks, we're just digging that hole deeper and deeper.

Violent words lead to violent action. A rhetorical climate full of hatred leads to violence, whether it is in Oklahoma City or Tel Aviv.

Someday, all the moments of silence we have to observe in the wake of violence may stretch out long enough for us all to remember that.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Molly Ivins