Their morals and ours 

Never let it be said that there is no difference between the two parties. Last week, the Republicans scored a significant political victory making some form of eventual nuclear catastrophe, if not war, very much more likely.

Led by Mississippi’s U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, one of the shrewder, more malevolently ruthless ferrets in Washington, the Senate voted down the nuclear test ban treaty, saving us from a slightly more secure world.

Besides sending a clear signal to such statesmen as the new military dictator of Pakistan, the Delta Demagogue and his troops (Sen. Spencer Abraham was a lesser water boy on the team) managed to weaken the power and prestige of America, especially as a force for moral leadership in today’s chaotic world.

Beyond doubt, however, it was all worth it, because in doing so, the Republicans accomplished a much higher purpose: They humiliated ol’ sad sack, lame duck Bill Clinton, who no matter what will be gone forever 15 months from today. They sent a clear signal that the word of our president in international matters can no longer be relied on. From now on, in terms of world leadership, we may soon be about as important as, say, Honduras.

Everyone outside the Senate, at least everyone who eats with a knife and fork, was appalled. "In a real sense, this puts the United States in the position of being a rogue state," said Joseph Cirincione, who tracks arms control issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "This is a chance for the biggest superpower to freeze nuclear mechanisms, and it is behaving like a small child," a British diplomat said.

Naturally, lots of bull was put out about why they opposed the treaty; they pretended that they felt it couldn’t be verified, and it left us vulnerable, etc., etc. Forget that we are not now testing nuclear weapons, and haven’t for years: Not mentioned was that the treaty wouldn’t even take effect unless and until all the known nuclear powers ratified it.

Now it could be argued, quite fairly, that Clinton, whose inept fumbling destroyed health care reform and lost control of Congress in 1994, blew the handling of the treaty. U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), whose previous best-known intellectual accomplishment was banjo-picking, voted "present," arguing persuasively that the President had rushed this to judgment without sufficiently educating the Senate or the American people.

Indeed, Clinton tried, too late, to postpone any vote at all. Twenty years ago, that’s what would have happened. By killing this treaty, the Republicans also made it clear that they are abandoning one of Washington’s last remaining principles, the axiom that "politics stops at the water’s edge." Ever since the nuclear era began, there has been bipartisan agreement that we should not treat international affairs as lightly as, say, funding for a pork-barrel irrigation dam in Nebraska or some other part of BFE.

Not anymore. This is historically fascinating, because it means the Republicans are evidently returning to the isolationist roots they were thought to have abandoned after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Indeed, we are looking at what my favorite philosopher, Yogi Berra, might call "déjà vu all over again."

Once before, Republicans in the U.S. Senate killed a major international treaty in a vote that had major international consequences. That was the League of Nations after World War I. We refused to join, thereby dealing a mortal blow to efforts to prevent another world war and making the United States largely irrelevant as a player on the world stage. The result was the rise of Nazi Germany.

Naturally, we have no such worries anymore. Oh, North Korea is ruled by a fanatic regime which seems to be simultaneously starving millions of its own people and working on a nuclear bomb. Our friends Iraq and Iran want their bombs, too. Russia has lots and lots of them, the society is on the brink of chaos, and rumbles have been heard about their testing nuclear weapons again. But happily, none of that is any of our concern.

Wouldn’t it be something if the voters might actually remember this, in a year? The Democratic nominee for president will be one of two men (Bill Bradley and Al Gore) both of whom served skillfully in the Senate, and know, better than Bubba Clinton, how it works.

There is nothing to prevent the treaty from being taken up again, perhaps with slight modifications. Yet this is unlikely. Vote for world peace? The talking heads of the chattering class are predicting the voters will instead punish the Democrats for Bill’s peter follies. What a country!

Fouling Our Nests, Part II: The threat may have subsided, but even the most cynical Lansing-watchers were astonished by the attempt by Republican thugs in the state Senate to strip Attorney General Jennifer Granholm of her powers. They were threatening to make her opinions strictly "advisory" and hence without any authority. Everyone knows, of course, who was really behind this; none of those palookas changes the color of his lederhosen without orders, or at least approval, from Maximum John Engler.

Does that mean when Democrats take back control someday, as they surely will, that they should strip any remaining Republicans of their powers?

Maybe they should jail them, too. There are "democracies" like that, mainly in places like Guatemala. Want to help buy a few legislators one-way tickets?

More by Jack Lessenberry

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