Second verse, same as the first

Tens of millions of dollars. Thousands of kissed babies. Countless personal attacks. A plethora of punditry. Get-out-the-vote phone calls a go-go.
All that hoopla and what have we got? Clinton’s still in the White House and the Grand Old Party still controls Congress. Sometimes this country amazes me.
Turn on any talk-radio show or read the letters section of any paper and most of what you’ll find is people complaining about how screwed up the country is. So what do they do? Elect all the same leaders again. (Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.) You’ve heard these people, the masses, complaining about gridlock: “Nothing ever gets done in Washington — all that politicians ever do is fight over stupid partisan differences!” Well, guess what? That’s what happens when you’ve got two different parties in control.
A lot of commentators said when voters realized it looked like Clinton was going to win, they decided they’d better keep the House and Senate in Republican hands. What’s going on here? If you think Clinton is too liberal (yeah, right) then don’t elect him. If you think right-wingers’ budget cuts are too extreme, then don’t put Republicans in office. It’s as if people don’t realize they have control over these things.
It’s like the term limit debate. Polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans support term limits. But look at any election — incumbents are consistently put back in office. On Tuesday, for instance, Republican Larry Pressler of South Dakota was the only incumbent senator to lose a race. Sure, people in office get more PAC money than their challengers and are able to do more advertising and campaigning. But what are we — cattle on a conveyor belt who are compelled to vote for people simply because they run a lot of ads saying we should?
The media play a large role in this problem. There’s a big vicious circle here. Reporters pay attention to the incumbents because they already know them and journalists want to be on their good sides because odds are they’ll get re-elected — largely because they get more play in the newspapers and on TV news. Incumbents also have taxpayer-funded staffers who can constantly fax press releases and make sure their favorite reporters get the scoop — and, of course, we love a scoop.
Then there’s the media’s love affair with the most inconsequential accounts of the presidential campaigns. Many precious TV and radio broadcast minutes are wasted on blow-by-blow accounts of what the candidates did each day. I think I heard a story the other day that went a little something like this:
“Bill Clinton campaigned in Ohio today, where he gave his standard speech that we’ve already shared with you so many times you can probably recite it right along with him. However, today he wore a red tie instead of a blue one. Although he didn’t say anything newsworthy, here is an excerpt of what the president told the crowd of supporters…”
Why? Why do we have to hear this? It teaches us nothing about the issues and gets so repetitive that even political junkies get bored.
Think of how much we could have learned about third-party candidates had editors cut those inane reports and demanded real stories instead.
Quick — who’s John Birrenbach? How about John Hagelin? You’ve probably never heard of them, but they just ran for president — Birrenbach on the Independent Grassroots Party ticket, and Hagelin was a Natural Law Party candidate. The Grassroots party received 0.0 percent of the vote in Minnesota, and the Natural Law Party got 0.1 percent. (Birrenbach wants to legalize hemp so it can be used in the production of things like paper and clothing. Hagelin supports programs such as wind energy and federally funded transcendental meditation treatment for high blood pressure.)
Would it have killed the media to periodically spare a few inches of print space or a few seconds of a broadcast to tell us about these people? Why do they support these things? Why are they running? What ideas do they have? Maybe they would have raised some interesting points. Perhaps they would have sparked you to call your favorite candidate and pose some questions that the person hadn’t addressed.
Say what you will about Ross Perot, but talk of balancing the budget wasn’t en vogue until he came along. His charts and graphs, while perhaps making us chuckle, painted a dire yet fairly accurate picture of what our tax burden will be unless something changes. Kudos to Clinton for cutting the deficit in half, but even if it was eliminated completely we wouldn’t be much better off. The debt, which is all our past deficits combined, is the real problem. It’s at about $5 trillion — trillion — right now. That means a $50,000 bill for each and every taxpayer, according to the bipartisan Concord Coalition. Without Perot in the game four years ago biting at the ankles of Clinton and Bush, it’s unlikely our spending problem would have gotten as much play as it did.
Maybe if he’d been allowed in the debates this year there’d be more focus on campaign finance reform — another of his favorite causes. But the debate commission, made up of only representatives of the major parties, said because he didn’t have a reasonable chance of winning, he shouldn’t be included. Then explain to me why Bob Dole got to be there.
So the system chugs along with the focus on Democrats and Republicans and we keep re-electing all the same people who we say are causing all the problems. People like tobacco promoter Jesse Helms, “former” segregationist Strom Thurmond and Helen Chenoweth, a Republican House member from Idaho. This brilliant woman, who demands that people call her “Congressman Chenoweth,” has said “white men are an endangered species … what with affirmative action and all.” She’s also been known to sport a t-shirt that on the front reads, “Earth first!” and on the back says, “We’ll log the other planets later.” And I must share this precious quote from a speech she gave on the House floor in January about environmentalism:
“There is increasing evidence of a government-sponsored religion in America,” she said. “This religion, a cloudy mixture of New Age mysticism, Native American folklore and primitive earth worship — pantheism — is being promoted and enforced by the Clinton Administration in violation of our rights and jobs.” (Whoa, thanks a lot, Idaho. What were you thinking when you re-elected this maniac?)
But if anyone is lamenting the results of the election or the way the country is going in general, they can take heart from the words Bob Dole spoke, in his typical eloquent fashion, Tuesday night during his concession speech: “Stay involved and keep fighting the good fight because you are the ones who will make the 21st century the next American century.”
–Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. E-mail Kris Henry at [email protected]