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Bartlett's 'eccentricity' is an acquired taste

June 14, 2009

It is a story rich in ironies almost too numerous to mention. At the end of the day, it probably is a sound and fury significant of nothing - but sometimes it's just fun to recap.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who went to great lengths to avoid military service (by way of a theological deferment) in World War II is now disturbed that he was passed over by his colleagues for promotion to the rank of Republican leader on the House Armed Services Committee.

Bartlett's interest in seminary lasted only as long as the war, but his interest in the armed services as a member of Congress has been more enduring.

Bartlett has been on the committee since he first was elected to office in 1992. As the ranking Republican on the committee, the job of top dog should have been his. But, the (Baltimore) Sun reported, "The closed-door decision was a vote of no confidence in Bartlett by the Republican leadership, which usually follows seniority in assigning key positions."

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Of course, the mere fact Bartlett has worked his way up to such an advanced degree of seniority is ironic in itself. As a candidate so many years ago, he preached the virtues of term limits and promised, if elected, he only would serve a term or two and then get out.

Bartlett's flexibility might be his best asset.

But this rejection was a slap. The (Baltimore) Sun reported Bartlett expressed "great confidence" last week that his GOP friends "will recognize the importance of ensuring continuity and pay close attention to my 17 years on the House Armed Services Committee."

Yes, well, about that. Length of service is all well and good, but even a goldfish can live for 17 years. Longevity always has been overvalued as an attribute - just ask Wayne Newton.

Instead, Minority Leader John Boehner and company went with Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, who has less time served on the committee, but has other assets that we'll get to in a moment.

Bartlett, says the Sun, is "regarded as eccentric" by his fellow Republicans. Let that statement sink in for a moment. In a party currently defined by the level-headed likes of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, if you're considered eccentric, you must be on one of Jupiter's moons.

But Bartlett begs to differ. The reason he was passed over has nothing to do with his peak-oil rants before an empty House chamber, or statements made through the years, including the assertion that not enough science fair winners have "normal names."

No, the reason is he does not raise gobs of cash for GOP fundraising efforts. In a statement, he wrote: "Not for the first time, big-state and big-money politics trumped experience, independent judgment and dedication to the legislative work of a committee."

Through the years, I have developed a soft spot for Roscoe Bartlett that I really can't explain. In spite of myself, I kind of admire him for being his own man. True, you have to overlook a lot to get to such a place, but perhaps he is an acquired taste.

I'm sure the mainstream GOP probably does not want the gentleman from Frederick representing it. I'm sure he is viewed as eccentric. But if being eccentric means you speak your mind and don't always believe in your party right or wrong, it is hard to make a case against being eccentric.

And he usually has just enough facts in his favor to get an attorney to take the case: Money probably does matter when it comes to congressional appointments. There probably is something to his pronouncements about peak oil. You just wish someone with a little more credibility were making the arguments.

Bartlett is always going to be hard to figure. Few in Congress rail with more ferocity against government spending. And few in Congress have the audacity to request millions on millions worth of pork barrel projects, as Bartlett routinely does.

You can't help but ask - doesn't Bartlett see anything wrong with that picture?

It's my belief he truly doesn't. For whatever reason, it makes perfect sense to him. The best I can figure is he's the Manny Ramirez of Congress. At a critical point in the game, he's always going to go to the bathroom behind the Green Monster - it's just something you have to get used to if you want him on your team. Which, for 17 years, we apparently have.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at www.herald-mail.com, at antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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