See if you recognize this recipe: Take one corrupt and cantankerous senator, add two parts moral outrage, a handful of easy targets, throw in an emperor with no clothes, and smother it with the desire to divert attention from an ugly, pointless, and ill-conceived war, and what do you get?
If you guessed “a cry for decency,” then give yourself a pat on the back.
Unfortunately, that plaintive wail is not the sound of Americans demanding accountability from their leaders, but that of politicians squawking about our morally bereft culture. Apparently the decline and fall of Western civilization is being precipitated not only by terrorism, but also by the immoral entertainment spewed forth on the airwaves and Internet. To battle the menace posed by nasty TV programming and nastier online porn, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation is coming to our rescue, and just in the nick of time.
The muscle behind the committee’s “Decency” hearings is Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Proponent of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” (two of them, actually), Stevens is a career politician who exudes all the charm of Orville Redenbacher with a bad case of painful rectal itch. Who better to helm such a virtuous inquisition than this heartwarming, Capra-esque champion of all that is good and right? After all, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it was Stevens who opened up his heart on the Senate floor when a fellow Republican proposed to aid the battered Bayou State by diverting part of the $453 million earmarked for Stevens’ bogus Alaskan bridges. Stevens, a master in his own right of rerouting funds to his home state, responded with the kind of unwavering generosity for which he is famous: He threw a temper tantrum and threatened to resign from office should the Senate “discriminate” against Alaska. Unfortunately, the ploy worked, and “Uncle Ted” (as Stevens is fondly known to his constituents) got his way again.
To be fair to Stevens, it’s not like he had forever turned his back on Katrina’s victims. A few months later, the kindhearted octogenarian was attempting to help the Gulf Coast by attaching a provision to the defense spending bill to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Sure, it was a desperate and underhanded move that would essentially hold military funding hostage in the middle of a war, but Stevens justified the maneuver in part by claiming that some of the petroleum revenue would be used to provide aid to the Gulf states that were devastated by the hurricane. Legislators often attach extraneous provisions to important bills despite a rule that bars such piggybacking, but Stevens’ inclusion apparently crossed the line. The Senate voted to strike the drilling provision from the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill.
At first it seemed that Stevens was ready to call it quits – again – when he reacted to the defeat by declaring “This has been the saddest day of my life…I say goodbye to the Senate tonight.” Alas, soon thereafter he made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere. “I’m here, I’m going to stay and get ANWR, there’s no question about that. It’s going to happen.” He also said he had “written off” those colleagues who had defied him, and issued a threat to those who had voted against him. “I’m going to go to every one of your states, and I’m going to tell them what you’ve done,” Stevens warned.
After all, that would be the “decent” thing to do, right?
Now this paragon of purity is casting his scornful eye on Internet porn and promising a crackdown under the familiar mantra of “Protecting Children.” Threats are still his forte, as when he demanded that the adult industry create a rating system—“because we’ll mandate it if they don't.” It’s not a bad idea – browser and Internet ratings systems already exist in one form or another (like PICS and ICRA) – but only a fool would believe that this is anything other than a thinly veiled salvo on what looks to be a full-on government assault on the adult entertainment industry. As Stevens attempts to assume the mantle of moral arbiter, one can only hope he goes the way of crazed commie-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose own reign of terror came to an end with a simple question posed by Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”