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Volume 68, Issue 52, Wednesday, November 6, 2002


A letter to the 108th U.S. Congress

Ken Fountain
Opinion Columnist

Dear members of the 108th U.S. Congress: My sincere congratulations to you all on your success in what has been one of the ugliest mid-term elections in living memory. I donit know how you folks do it, which is precisely why Iill never, ever run for public office. Itis much easier taking potshots from the relative safety of a newspaper column.

As I write this, itis still uncertain which way the ever-fickle American public has swung. With both houses of your illustrious institution in play, a select few tantalizing possibilities exist when you take office in January.

The Senate, which has been held by the Democrats for more than a year by a slim margin (a single vote), might revert back to the Republicans, giving President Bush his craved one-party government.

The House, which was a Democratic bulwark for decades until Newt Gingrichis GOP legions wrested control in 1994, might again tilt to the left (or more accurately, center-left). Both houses might switch, or neither. The political calculus could tax the finest minds of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But, whatever happens, and whoever ultimately takes charge, heed this note of caution: No one will have received a mandate from the American public.

Weire in the middle of a strange time in public life. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it became an almost instant truism that "everything has changed." Now, more than a year later, that clearly wasnit true.

Remember how in the days immediately following the attacks, you folks in Congress put on a great show of solidarity, vowing to reduce the bitter partisanship that has marked our national discourse for so long? Try to remember how long that lasted.

Until that day, President Bush had been struggling to gain a mantle of legitimacy after the wacky, month-long wrangle that gave him the slimmest win in a presidential race in history (5-4 in the U.S. Supreme Court). Bush surprised many of his critics, both at home and abroad, with the thoughtful and measured way he and his administration rallied the American public and responded militarily in Afghanistan.

But it wasnit long before the newly acquired sheen on Bushis armor dulled. First came the economic recession. True, no one could convincingly blame that on Bush it was the unwelcome return of what many overly optimistic people thought had been eliminated, the business cycle.

But Bushis response to the downturn, telling the public it was their patriotic duty to buy more stuff, just didnit play well.

Then came the wave of corporate scandals, led by Bushis buddy Ken Lay of Enron. The list kept growing Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, GeoQuest, etc. as did the public awareness that the Republican-cherished idea that the movers and shakers of big business are, deep down, really interested in the welfare of the public might be a tad questionable.

The scandals drove the economy down deeper into the dumpsters. You folks in Congress made a great hue and cry, holding televised scolding sessions, knowing full well that the policies you enacted years before had made the corporate thievesi actions possible.

Well, for the sake of argument, letis say the slateis just been wiped clean. Youive all got a new chance to show us what you can do for us. And as it happens, thereis a lot to be done.

The economy has shown fitful signs of rebounding, but thatis far from certain. The War on Terror continues, as evidenced by recent events in Indonesia, Russia and other locales.

And then thereis this little matter of a looming "preemptive" war against Iraq. A few weeks back, you folks gave Bush the green light to pursue this highly dangerous new policy. If I were one of you, and cared even a whit about preserving the role of Congress in its relationship to the executive branch, Iid do a lot of hard thinking about just how much power you cede to the president.

And, of course, all those unsexy, non-telegenic issues that keep pestering you and us alike the continuing concerns of healthcare, education, infrastructure, etc. still exist. I know they can be a pain, but thatis your job.

So please, come January, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Remember, youive only got about a year before you start to get into full swing for the next election cycle. Wonit that be fun?

Fountain, a senior communication major who votes 
early and often, can be reached at


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