Backtalk: D.C. Follies


It's pretty apparent from all of the polls that the American public is not behind therecent actions of the Republican-controlled Congress.

This is a group that seems hell-bent on destroying itsfoolhardy and wanton president, not to mention the entire Democratic Party.

And in this election year, Democrat candidates, inparticular, are ducking for cover. No way will they become tainted by Clinton, as theygrasp and yammer about arcane issues ranging from who can fix potholes more quickly tomore ominous topics, like reregulating cable.

Clearly, Clinton's problems are not going to go away for along time. And most cable-industry executives say that this subject in itself will deflectcertain members of Congress from circling the wagons around the cable-reregulation issue.

Cable executives don't seem to feel too threatened aboutrate reregulation, even though their industry has been sternly reminded again this summerthat it is a very real possibility.

Cable executives clearly think that the clock will work totheir benefit. After all, many members in this lame-duck Congress are up for re-election.So Congress gets a long breather, being out of session to accommodate those who arehitting the campaign trail.

That matter of timing in itself leaves very little floortime for a debate about cable reregulation or extending the March 1999 sunset on thecurrent rules.

But let's not get too cocky here. We all know from historythat anything can -- and usually does -- happen in an election year.

And given all of the ducking for cover that's going on withthe Clinton scandal, the odds are exceptionally high, I think, that some rash politicianin search of a cause could embrace cable reregulation.

There's a reason why Decker Anstrom, president of theNational Cable Television Association, and Leo J. Hindery Jr., president and chiefoperating officer of Tele-Communications Inc. and this year's NCTA chairman, arecontinuing their concerted effort to urge the industry to keep cable-rate increases on thelow side.

What is worrisome about Clinton's ongoing woes -- and, byassociation, the woes of the Democrats -- is that any issue, like cable reregulation,could suddenly become a lightning rod to get the collective mind of the American publicoff this sordid mess.

Yes, it's hard for rational people to even imagine that anyissue -- especially cable reregulation -- could distract Congress from the ongoingClinton/Lewinsky debacle.

After all, the Republican-controlled Congress is far fromfinished with our bad-boy president. They've just begun. Remember, it was just a couple ofyears ago when that same bunch -- all in the name of family values -- tried to enactsomething called the Communications Decency Act.

That was their attempt to keep smut-mongers andpornographers off the Web. The Supreme Court later overturned it as unconstitutional.

Given that backdrop, isn't it strange that by anoverwhelming majority and rapid-fire vote, Congress agreed to release to the world --children included -- via the Internet, the 445-page report, spelling out in graphic detailthe alleged Clinton/Lewinsky affair?

But never in history has a government-appointed prosecutorlike Ken Starr had the goods like this on a president, or the medium to get the messageout.

It is still amazing a week later that for all of thepolitical outrage over children being subjected to pornography on the Internet, ourcongressmen couldn't wait to get out each graphic detail about Clinton's alleged dealingswith Lewinsky.

That's my long-winded way of saying that politicians are adifferent breed of people from the rest of us who put these sorry souls into office.

So don't gamble on them leaving the cable-reregulationissue to rest just because they are currently obsessed with Clinton's sex life.

Although Clinton was anything but prudent in his affairs,cable operators must show restraint and not get too greedy when it comes time to raisetheir rates.