Weeping on CSPAN

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programs never die, and old senators never fade away, they just
talk on C-SPAN. Mostly, they talk about saving those old programs,
though occasionally a senator will find one he wants to eliminate.
The chances are excellent, however, that a majority of his colleagues
will save both the senator and the republic from an occasional lapse
into sanity, the cure for which is to keep on funding forever as
many programs and essential government "services" that
the mind of man – or woman – can imagine.

don't subscribe to cable television, so I may under-appreciate the
entertainment value of our representatives and senators in Washington,
since I only see C-SPAN when I am in other people's homes. Recently,
I had the privilege of staying at a friend's Florida condo, while
he remained in Manchester, NH. Since he has three TV sets in his
4-room unit (not counting the two bathrooms), I easily yielded to
the temptation to watch TV while I was there.

was not my first choice. I'm a nostalgia freak, so I naturally gravitated
toward the TV Land channel, which features the top shows of yesteryear.
I watched "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" every morning,
starting at 6 a.m. I enjoyed "Happy Days" both on TV Land
and on "Superstation" WGN. I even caught a couple episodes
of "The Dukes of Hazzard" on a channel devoted to country
music and other things "country." I still consider "The
Dukes" short on plot and long on legs, the latter belonging
to the lovely Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke. No doubt about
it, Cathy Bach set the gold standard for legs on television.

Despite all those distractions, I finally made it on over to C-SPAN
on a rainy day in Sarasota, when the Congress was in session in
Washington and the baseball games were washed out in Florida. Listening
to the Senators debate, I noticed a difference between C-SPAN and
the other entertainment venues I'd been visiting. On the other shows,
it was pretty clear who the "good guys" and the "bad
guys" were, even if they weren't wearing color-coded white
and black hats. It was not that way on C-SPAN, though I probably
could have found that kind of "moral clarity" on the "fair
and balanced" Fox News channel, where the "good guys"
not only have an "R" after their names (for "righteous,"
I guess), but they have an American flag waving in the corner of
the screen when they are on camera. In my admittedly limited viewing
of Fox News, I have noticed that flag seems to disappear when the
heavies with the "D" label (Dastardly?) are on camera.
Sure, the good guys get the flag, the bad guys don't. What could
be more "fair and balanced" than that?

in watching C-SPAN, the thought that jumped out at me was that if
I were a visitor from another country, or another planet, I would
not be able to guess from what I was hearing which of our two great
parties is supposed to be on the conservative side. Suppose, for
example, I were to hear a member of Congress vigorously defending
the nation's space program. A big-spending liberal, right? No, probably
not. Chances are it's a "big government" or "national
greatness" conservative, championing the spirit of government-financed
exploration and innovation. Or, as former budget director David
Stockman satirically suggested, the way to build a better mousetrap
is to go to Jupiter.

What I did hear was Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, argue against a
proposed cut in the Medicaid program, because this, by golly, is
a program that is working for a lot of needy people. He even wrapped
his defense of the big government program in cautious, conservative
"look before you leap" rhetoric. "Measure twice before
you cut once," Smith advised his senate colleagues.

popped another Republican, the distinguished Lamar Alexander, former
governor, former U.S. Commissioner of Education and now the junior
senator from Tennessee. (Who says Republicans are against recycling?)
What the distinguished senator from Oregon was calling a proposed
"cut" in Medicaid, Alexander said, is really a two percent
reduction in the projected increase in the program's cost over the
next several years. What's more, he said, if the Congress doesn't
do that, there will be less money to spend on other programs, like
Medicare and education. No, I wouldn't have guessed that ol' Lamar
was a budget-cutting "conservative" from the party that
until a few years ago was promising to do away with the federal
Department of Education.

there was "Jolly" Judd Gregg from my home state of New
Hampshire. Judd has pretty well blended in with the Washington establishment
in this, his 13th year in the U.S. Senate, and I believe
I saw more of him in a couple of hours of watching C-Span than I
have in the last several years in New Hampshire. But there he was,
trying to not only cut, but actually eliminate a program. (Did I
mention that the righteous Judd has an "R" after his name?)
Ol' Judd was going after the Community Oriented Policing Services,
or COPS, program. That was enacted by the semi-honorable Congress
several years ago to facilitate the Clinton administration goal
of putting 100,000 "cops on the street." But now, said
Gregg, we have reached and surpassed that goal, with more than 100,000
cops on the streets, not to mention the alleyways, the speed traps
and the donut shops. Yet the Congress goes right on funding the

Gregg explained it, the idea was to get the communities receiving
the federal grants to hire the additional cops and then, once they
saw how valuable those enhanced police services are, they would
make provisions for them in their own municipal and state budgets
and the Congress could go off and spend those federal dollars somewhere
else, where they are more urgently needed (like Mars, for example).
But the program, once started, has a broad constituency with a strong
demand to keep it going. Mayors, city councilors, selectmen, police
departments, as well as ordinary citizens who like additional police
protection without having to pay for it on their local tax bills,
may be counted on to oppose ending or even cutting this "essential"
government program.

isn't exactly new. It has been going on for as long as we have had
government "programs." But "Jolly" Judd has
said he wants to prove Ronald Reagan wrong for once and show that
a government program is not necessarily the "closest thing
to eternal life" that we'll ever see in this world. At least
Gregg has had the candor to admit he voted for the COPS program
at its inception. "As ye sow, sow also shall you reap."

then weep about it on C-SPAN.

31, 2005

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny (send
him mail
) is a freelance writer.

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