Capital Letters: D.C. Valentines


Date: 2/11/2000 11:45 AM
Subject: Cocktail Chat

It was a parody of a politician's remarks at a cocktail reception, according to an eyewitness. My source, who craves and deserves anonymity, witnessed 20 minutes of inspired gibberish courtesy of the House majority leader, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), at a cocktail reception for Star Parker's Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education.

Armey quoted the Old Testament and spoke of the joys of fatherhood and welfare reform. He paused to check his zipper. At one point he spoke of "Willie" and asked the mostly black crowd, "You guys know who Willie Nelson is, don't you?" before explaining, "He's big in Texas." Armey was met with quizzical stares.

And then there was Armey's necessary but uncomfortable segue into praising Newt Gingrich, the evening's keynoter. Armey was rambling about how it is hard in Washington to find models of personal integrity and family values and then, without hesitation, he said he would like to introduce Newt Gingrich. "I think the term `moral conduct' was in there," says National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru (not my source, incidentally), who started edging to the bar during Armey's remarks. "If you didn't know that Dick Armey lacks guile, you would have thought it was an elaborate put-down of the former speaker."

To his credit, the recently divorced Newt was attending the event with two boy lackeys, and not the thirty-something staffer he boffed all those years while he was restoring moral values to this great nation.

But I missed all of that: I was attending a party in celebration of REASON contributor Jonathan Rauch's latest book, Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working. Indeed, I arrived just after Armey left. "You missed a great Armey speech," one of his aides told me as I entered the Washington Court Hotel.

Date: 2/14/2000 3:57 PM
Subject: Funny Valentine from the Chastity Revolution

"It appalls me," testified Phil Sapienza, a Maryland community college student standing behind a podium in National Press Club's Murrow Room. Sapienza looked very much the urban hipster: both ears pierced, close-cropped hair, and black bowling shirt. Phil, along with three other continent students, was ringing in National Chastity Week on the first Valentine's Day of the new millennium (or the last of the old millennium). He wasn't simply appalled –he was also "ticked off" that he couldn't even watch an episode of The Simpsons without sex coming up. And just forget about MTV, said Phil testily; it's just all sex these days. For a chaste fellow like Sapienza, such programming is extremely frustrating. Then again, given his vow, even Who Wants to Be a Millionaire probably leads to impure thoughts.

Also up at the repression rally: Tracy, a blue-eyed, bottle-assisted blond who unfortunately bore a striking resemblance to legendary porn queen Nina Hartley. Tracy was a "sex educator"–or perhaps more accurately, a non-sex educator–and she was venting what must be years of built-up frustration. She spoke of "sexual purity," and claimed to be making her case for chastity on the foundation of science. "Truth speaks through science," said twenty-something Tracy, who also noted that kids always fall below whatever standard you set for them. Therefore, she concluded, if adults give teenagers condoms, they won't even use them. She figured that if standards are set high enough–like never, ever have sex or even engage in heavy petting–America's youth will embrace them.

Date: 2/16/2000 5:04 PM
Subject: Max Tax Morality Swing

Newt Gingrich doesn't always leave the other woman at home. Last night, the former speaker and the potential third Mrs. Gingrich chose to celebrate National Chastity Week by swinging the night away at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner.

The place was packed with con-servativoid movers and shakers: P.J. O'Rourke, Charles Murray, David Brooks and Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard, Rep. Christopher Cox, Jeanne Kirkpatrick (reaching for the Ravenswood Zinfandel with diplomatic aplomb), anti-feminist author Danielle Crittenden and her husband David Frum (whose latest tome, How We Got Here, tut-tuts the '70s for sex, drugs, and rock `n' roll), Michael Novak (who, I assume, sat out that part of the '70s), Robert Bork (ditto), and Arianna Huffington (maybe not).

All were on hand to see AEI President Christopher DeMuth accept AEI's annual award and an illustrated Bible. The petit filet and salmon dinner and scrumptious chocolate dessert (sort of a mud pie without the ice cream) were just gravy. It wasn't a format that favored the speaker, but DeMuth's comments on life and politics in an affluent age went over well, even with a people who'd been cocktailing on empty stomachs for two hours by the time he finished. "Government sprawl, strip-
mall socialism," is how he characterized Clinton's micro-initiatives. He also proclaimed that we live in an age when "liposuction competes with diet and exercise."

Speaking of which, Newt is popping up all over D.C. these days. He's not drawing the crowds he once did and people feel free to leave a room while he's speaking–behavior unimaginable when he was in his prime. Still, Gingrich is attempting to talk his way back into the policy fray: He's posting big thoughts on his Web site www.maxtax. org. And he's pushing pet policies, such as personal accounts for Social Security and something he calls a "Max Tax."

At the AEI bash, I queried Newt on that Max Tax idea. Newt says that it's a "moral imperative" that total government taxation at all levels should not be greater than 25 percent of a person's income. What, I asked, Mr. Speaker, makes 25 percent–which is simply the number that Reader's Digest subscribers feel is about right–a moral level of taxation? Why not, say, 23 percent or 28 percent?

In fact, Newt told me, it could be 6 percent, as it once was. It turns out that he's not really making a moral case–e.g., all taxation is theft. He cited Tom Jefferson and Marvin Olasky, and said that taxation in general is a moral issue, not an economic one. It's important to set a limit, he told me, because that forces politicians to set priorities and make choices.

Sure. But that sounds like economics, not morality, to me. Then again, what do I know about morality? After all, I wasn't out celebrating National Chastity Week with the woman with whom I cheated on my wife for many years.

Date: 2/17/2000 2:43 PM
Subject: Growing Good Congressmen

This Valentine's Day is an important one for Ric Keller, though not because he's abstaining from sex or courting a potential new bride. He is, however, doing a lot of begging and pleading. Keller's a Florida lawyer eager to take Rep. Bill McCollum's (R-Fla.) place in the U.S. Congress. That's why Keller's standing in a room at a D.C. conference center, and trying to woo donations from a newly formed PAC called The Club for Growth.

The Club for Growth is an EMILY's List for the small-government crowd. EMILY's List, as you may know, stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast." It's a 50,000 member organization that coordinates campaign contributions for pro-choice Democratic women candidates. Its clever organizational structure circumvents traditional limits on political action committees. The typical PAC gets people to give it up to $5,000; then it cuts checks in its name for up to that same amount–the legal PAC limit in a federal election cycle–to incumbents or candidates who are on the right side of its issues. EMILY's List instead "bundles" individual contributions and forwards them directly to particular candidates, thereby circumventing that $5,000 limit.

That's the model The Club for Growth is following. On the policy side, the club will support candidates pledged to shrinking government. It wants to put big coin–an average of $300,000–behind six candidates who are either challenging an incumbent or running for an open seat. Since April 1999, it has already raised $1.5 million from 1,000 members. Stephen Moore, the group's head who moonlights as director of fiscal policy studies at Cato, says members of the club are out to "improve the genetic pool in Congress" by writing checks to Republican candidates committed to cutting taxes, reforming Social Security, and implementing school choice.

So that's the crowd Ric Keller is working this Valentine's Day. No wonder he looks so nervous: If he convinces this collection of free-market folks that he's a true believer and a viable challenger, one day soon he may open a FedEx package stuffed with $250,000 to $500,000 worth of checks. But he only has five minutes to make his case, and the egg timer is ticking (that's $1,666 a click!). Then he'll face questions for another 20 minutes.

As this blind date gets underway, it seems that Keller, despite the sweat on his temples, may be an attractive suitor to the club: He's pro-gun, pro-tax cut, and pro-life. He doesn't see any need for an Internet sales tax. He stumbles a bit on immigration–there are already an awful lot of people in Orlando, he says, even if businesses are having a hard time filling job vacancies. But that's OK, because he's eager to take an ax to the Rural Electrification Commission, the Davis-Bacon Law, and the U.S. sugar program.

Atta boy! He just better not forget any of his prenuptial promises if he actually makes it to Congress one day. These folks will be watching. And as Newt Gingrich could warn him, political divorces can get just as ugly as marital ones.