WHAT SHOULD BE at the top of the nationwide Republican agenda? Passing President Bush's tax cut?
No. To be candid, protecting the fragile health of 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., should be the No. 1 priority.
GOP control of the 100-member U.S. Senate (the vice president provides the dominant 51st vote) rests on the up-and-down health of the South Carolina statesman. Easier enactment of Bush initiatives over the next two years also hinges on Thurmond remaining a player until his retirement in January 2003. (South Carolina's present Democrat governor would name a Democrat if Thurmond had to be replaced before then.)
The same zealots on the political left who led the recent character assassination of Attorney General John Ashcroft are now beginning a different campaign - one crafty and subtle - to raise questions about Thurmond remaining in the Senate. But leftists aching for Democrat control of that important chamber (especially so they have a better shot at blocking Bush judicial nominees) have to be careful. They risk creating a public backlash over cruel and unsubstantiated innuendos.
A slanted Feb. 20 Boston Globe "news story" by Wayne Washington is part of this leftist campaign. It paints Thurmond chief of staff Duke Short as the real senator. The truth is, though, the senator remains alert and feisty. He can readily expound on everything ranging from why the country needs Bush's tax cut to the extensive Thurmond family tree.
But if Trent Lott wants to retain the title of Senate majority leader, he ought to personally see to it that Thurmond is given a 24-hour-personal assistant with authority to cut back the daily schedule when the senator is tiring. Thurmond's staff can't be with him every minute. So Lott ought to get the National Republican Senatorial Committee or just a group of concerned GOP donors to help pay for such an assistant.
If - God forbid - someone attacked or even accidentally knocked the senator down, our nation could prematurely lose this great man. As the senator himself says, numerous people from his native Edgefield County live to be well over 100. He intends to be among them.
HEAD:Civility & cowardice
THE BEST SPEECH in recent years on principled leadership was delivered the other day at an American Enterprise Institute dinner by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It should be required reading in high school political science classes.
The Pin Point, Ga., native spoke of his naivete when, as a black Republican, he passionately questioned such "black" issues as racial preferences and welfare. He also recalled, after his 1991 high court nomination, being smeared by "politically correct" enemies over unsubstantiated charges of sexual harassment.
"Those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly," he said. (Conservative journalists in a profession dominated by liberals can certainly identify with that sentiment!)
The justice quoted author Bea Himmelfarb: "She notes that the vigorous virtues have been supplanted by the caring ones, though they are not mutually exclusive or necessarily incompatible. Active citizens and leaders must be governed by the vigorous rather than the caring virtues. We must not allow our desire to be decent and well-mannered people to overwhelm the substance of our principles or our determination to fight for their success."
"Active citizens ... are branded mean-spirited, racist, Uncle Toms, homophobic, sexist, et cetera. To this we often respond, if not succumb, so as not to be constantly fighting by trying to be tolerant and non-judgmental. That is, we censor ourselves. This is not civility. It is cowardice. ..."
These are thought-provoking words from a courageous man.
HEAD:A Bush-Norwood bill
WHITE HOUSE sources hint the president and U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., are almost finished forging managed care legislation with a patients' bill of rights. It is expected Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., will back this bill (as he did with Norwood last year) to secure bipartisan approval.
President George W. Bush has always wanted some form of new power for patients to take their health insurance companies to court - something Norwood has championed for years. The latest compromise involves a modified right to sue at the federal level - with caps on jury verdicts.
HEAD:Valuable town meeting
MAYOR BOB YOUNG scored a coup by getting former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith to visit Augusta to conduct a Saturday town meeting on the president's faith-based initiative with local religious and non-profit groups. Goldsmith heads the Federal Corporation for National Service, which oversees the initiative.
Several local assistance organizations spawned by churches, especially in the black community, are already receptive to the Goldsmith visit. The Saturday conclave is open to the public at St. Paul's Episcopal Church from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m.