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January 30, 2008

Mission impossible

When I lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the early- to mid-1980s, it was the home base of frizzy leftists. Our congressman was Ted Weiss, and it would be unfair to call him a Stalinist. I think, technically, he was a Leninist, but I was never very good at taxonomy.

For me, the most infamous vote cast by Weiss in the House had nothing to do with economics or foreign policy. That vote, which was publicized by his opponent, was Weiss's lone "no" on a 400-1 vote for some bill restricting child p*rnography. True story: In 1984, if I remember correctly, I asked the guy who was handing out Weiss's literature why he'd voted against the bill, and the response was that there were "serious civil liberties issues" with it. Undoubtedly, that was why he was the only congressman to notice it. I suppose it might have had something to do with the Times Square p*rn dealers who were in the district, but who knows?

Anyway, Weiss used to win elections by roughly 85-15. If you were a Democrat, as I was at the time, that meant that you had two chances to cast a protest vote against the creep, once in the primary and once in the general election. Usually, the local Republicans, such as they were, would field some young guy who was running just for the fun of it.

A friend of mine told me a story I haven't independently verified, but it's amusing regardless of its authenticity. The story was that in one election cycle, the Republican running against Weiss got the usual 10-20 percent of the vote. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide. They asked the local Republican chairman about it, and his response was that he should have known the candidate was mentally unstable, because he actually thought he could win.

I say this all in preface to my discussion of the Republican primary for the congressional seat in Maryland's 8th District, where I live now. The district is primarily in Montgomery County.

This is a very liberal, predominantly Democratic district. For quite a few years, we were represented by a liberal Republican named Connie ("Commie") Morella. I take credit for her nickname, which was widely used -- at least, among a small group of my friends. Morella was popular with Democrats, as well, for the most part, but finally, in 2002, after several near misses, the Democrats were able to unseat her. Most people attribute it to a gerrymandering of the district following the 2000 census. Bush Derangement Syndrome also played a part. In any case, we're in for Democrats in the 8th district for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, there's rarely a shortage of Republicans willing to make the run for the seat. I'm sort of joking when I say this, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to make Republican candidates in this district pass a psychological test before allowing them to run in the primary.

Today, I received in the mail the voters' guide for next Tuesday's the Feb. 12 primary from the League of Leftwing Women Voters. There are five Republicans seeking the suicide mission of running against Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Each has his positions set forth on the issues in the questionnaire of the League. Most of it, you will not be surprised to learn, is generic boilerplate. On the other hand, sometimes you can learn a lot from boilerplate. Because there's boilerplate, and there's boilerplate. For example, a guy who says we must support our military as it does the hard work in Afghanistan and Iraq is different from the guy who says we must support our military by bringing our troops home as soon as possible. (Those are my made-up examples, by the way.)

The one issue on the questionnaire that intrigued me was "Civil Rights." What does that mean, you ask? Here's what the League says: "How would you balance individual liberties and national security?" Call me cynical, but if you responded that national security is the most important mission of the federal government and that, while individual liberties are essential, we have to be practical and not ideological in defining our liberties, you would be considered anti-civil rights.

The implication is that our rights have already been abridged, which I think is ludicrous. (If you disagree with me, put it in the comments, but only if you are not a Ron Paul supporter or a lefty suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.) To me, we have done far less than we need to do to maintain our national security. In fact, every time we try, our national security secrets are disclosed on the front pages of major newspapers located in New York. (I'm not trying to provoke you. Really.)

And it goes without saying that all of the Republican congressional candidates stress the importance of our liberties, but you can learn a lot by the way they say it. One dude says, "First priority, the United States must uphold the Geneva Convention on human rights." Translation: We haven't been treating our detainees well in Guantanamo. (My heart bleeds.) Another dude says at his bare-bones website: "The result [of straying from the Constitution], as our Founding Fathers foresaw over 200 years ago, is an ever more powerful and unaccountable government trampling on individual freedoms while engaging in foreign adventurism and reckless fiscal policies." Translation: "Ron Paul is my God."

But on this psychological test, the other three guys seem basically sane, which is all you can ask for, really. Because whoever wins is going to get his butt kicked.

[2/1 Edited for typos.]