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Truth shall make you free, not re-elected

June 16, 1998

Tim Rowland

I support legislation declaring a month-long holiday for journalists and I would like to write a letter to my congressman with the hope that campaign finance reform will pass.

But I'm a little unsure how to go about it.

In the mail last week was a campaign brochure - excuse me, a "constituent service informational newsletter" - from U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett telling us in part how wonderful the federal government's new highway funding bill is for Western Maryland.

He gushed on about the road projects it will pay for, under a headline that said "Bartlett Delivers Relief for Commuters, Safer Roads, and More Jobs."

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Well, not exactly. Come to find out, Bartlett voted against the bill. He voted against relief, against commuters and against more jobs.

This is so typically Bartlett. He wants the credit for the federal program, but he doesn't want to pay for it. So he gets it both ways. He claims he supports road projects, but if veterans, anti-pork barrel hawks or anyone else question him, he can proudly tell them he voted "No."

And remember when he campaigned on a platform of balancing the budget - and then voted against the major piece of federal legislation that set the wheels of a balanced budget in motion?

It must be interesting around the Bartlett supper table.

"Roscoe, please do not pass me the biscuits."

If, at the political picnic, you see a softball rocketing toward his head do you urgently yell "Roscoe! Everything's fine!"

So this gets back to my original problem. Since I want the journalist holiday to pass, do I tell Bartlett to support the bill? Or if he supports it, does that mean he will vote against it?

Perhaps I should tell him not to support it. If he promises he is against it, shouldn't that mean he will vote for it? But then I run the risk that Bartlett will cross me up by actually doing what he says he is going to do. It could happen.

No, probably not. Not in Washington, anyway.

Bartlett's doublespeak is small cheese compared to the president: "I am totally innocent, therefore I wish to delay my case into the next century."

Or Trent Lott: "We do not want young people to smoke, therefore we will subsidize tobacco companies so it will be easier for them to advertise with cartoon camels."

Or Al Gore: "Laundering political contributions through Buddhist nuns is wrong. So we need campaign finance reform to keep us from doing it again."

Or Newt Gingrich: "Divorce is a scourge upon the nation, unless of course it's me who's getting divorced, because let's face it, no one could have lived with that witch."

Or George Bush: "No new taxes; unless, you know, we need them."

The truth? We can't handle the truth. At least lawmakers don't think we can, because they put such a low premium on it.

And they may be right. After all, the only presidents who told the truth over the last quarter century have been Carter and Ford, and I think we can agree we don't want to return to the days of 21 percent interest rates and Whip Inflation Now buttons.

Plus, you figure that if Congress voted the way we wanted and fixed all our problems they would be out of their jobs.

In West Virginia I knew a House Speaker turned seat belt law lobbyist. Against amazing odds, he got the bill passed in the House and through the first two readings in the Senate.

Two days before the session ended, I saw him hustling through the rotunda. "Where are you going so fast?" I asked.

"Oh, I got to get to the Senate and kill that seat belt law," he said.

"Kill it?"

"Heck, yeah," he said. "I'm going to need a job next year, too."

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