If nobody listens, say it louder
Years ago an earnest preacher of my acquaintance, who made up with volume what he lacked in eloquence, bought a 15-minute slot on a radio station in my hometown and proceeded to address the whole world every Sunday morning.
“Hear me, London, England!” he cried. “Hear me, Paris, France. Hear me, Rome, Italy.”
Nobody remembers what “the Rt. Rev. Prophet M.D. Willett, Traveling Motorist,” as he styled himself, actually said in his Macedonian call to the far corners of the world. Neither Londoners nor Parisians, or even Romans, are likely to remember, either, because the radio station was a 250-watt powerhouse whose signal might, if atmospheric conditions were perfectly aligned, have reached the city limits. The signal was rarely strong enough to get across the Arkansas River separating the two halves of the town (or even across the smaller, slower Fourche Bayou).
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are direct descendants of Prophet Willett, intoxicated by imagined dominion, arriving in town to take over Congress and promising “to take the country in a new direction.” Indeed, many of the pundits and the blowhards of the Internet are outraged that the Democrats have not al- ready spiked the guns of war, brought the Islamists into the peaceable kingdom, impeached George W. and banished Republicans to the fourth ring of hell. This was what the surly leftmost appendages of the body politic were promised. Surely a hundred hours have passed already, even accounting for the House attempt to stop the clock.
Harry and Nancy are learning, like the Traveling Motorist, that you need a bigger megaphone than a 250-watt station down on the bayou to challenge a president’s authority. This is the lesson that Washington has taught generations of pols, no matter how much cotton and hay may be stuffed between the ears of a speaker, a majority leader, or a freshman from East Gondola.
Harry Reid is still in the first stages of a romance, fondling the keys to his own upscale toilet, and a little disbelieving at how many more microphones he can attract now when he feels the surge to say something irresponsible. On Jan. 11 he channelled Cindy Sheehan and her claque of grannies who won’t go away. “Congress will vote in the next few weeks on the president’s plan,” he said. “My position is clear: No escalation, no way.” He and Cindy are still working on a reprise of “Hey, hey, LBJ — how many babies did you kill today?” It’s not easy. “Hey, hey, GWB, you make me pee” doesn’t quite make it. “Bush, Bush, we’ll kick your tush” is only a little better.
Both the president and his critics had an eventful day. The president shed authentic tears when he presented the Medal of Honor to the family of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, who was killed in Iraq when he threw himself on a grenade to save his patrol. This kind of sacrifice — “greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for a friend” — gets short shrift when senators convene to wrestle each other for ink and airtime.
John Kerry — is it really possible that a major political party once nominated this man for president of the United States? — was his usual self, hectoring Condi Rice at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Perhaps shamed by the celebration of Cpl. Dunham’s sacrificial heroism only a few blocks away, Mr. Kerry did not reprise his famous description of American soldiers as rapists, murderers and despoilers of the dead.
The president’s prospective surge of troop strength in Iraq may or may not frighten al Qaeda’s men in Iraq, but the Democratic surge frightens some of our easily frightened European “allies.” The British are said to have raised their security level from “miffed” to “peeved,” the Italians from “shout with flailing of hands” to “elaborate posturing” but still well short of “change sides.” The Germans are up from “disdainful arrogance” to “invade a neighbor.” The French raised their alert level from “run” to “hide,” two levels below “surrender” and “collaborate.”
Blowing hard and loud enough to drown a president is work, as Harry and Nancy are learning, and Prophet Willet could tell them they’ll need something bigger than a 250-watt transmitter to reach London, Paris, Rome or even Hyattsville. Congressmen, even congresswomen, propose. Presidents dispose.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.