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Kevin Cullen

Decency in D.C.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / June 9, 2008

There was a story a while back saying those super patriots who "swiftboated" John Kerry were in the bullpen, warming up for whichever Democrat sallied forth. No doubt they are much chagrined it won't be Hillary. Taking sexist swipes at her would have been like hitting a tossed watermelon with a baseball bat: too dang easy.

Mrs. Clinton was a groove pitch, given that she has claimed credit for doing everything except discovering the Internet, and that's only because that bounder Al Gore beat her to it. In an odd way, I'm disappointed we won't get to see the swiftboaters take aim at her story about walking into a Marines recruiting office because she was thinking about heading down to Parris Island for basic training.

Hoo-ah Hill might have stuck.

We'll just have to settle for the swiftboaters spending millions trying to convince us that this election is not about the quagmire in Iraq, the troubled economy, or the fact that after eight years of neo-cons at the helm, the nation's reputation is lower than W's approval rating. Because as any thinking, rational human being knows, this election is really about whatever new lunacy the swiftboaters can find emanating from the lips of that great American, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

I'm guessing they'll come up with one of Wright's more Swiftian modest proposals, say, perhaps a suggestion that we boil little white kids in hot water and eat them. And, the best part is, if they can't find any videotape in which Wright actually says anything remotely as outrageous, they'll just make it up.

It worked before.

Maybe they can pay for ads in which Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are trotted out to extol the virtues of experience. I'd pay to watch that.

News of the swiftboaters lying in wait, like famished alligators, got me thinking, because I just finished reading Dick Flavin's marvelous script for "Tip," a one-man show about Tip O'Neill, the late, great speaker of the House. Tip had a nose the size of the Hancock Tower and a heart that was even bigger. He grew up poor in North Cambridge and never forgot where he came from. He stuck up for the little guy. He was a great man.

Tip and his buddy, Ronald Reagan, were polar opposites when it came to politics and ideology. But, as Flavin's play captures so beautifully, they had a 6 O'Clock Rule. They would kick the daylights out of each other all day, but after 6 p.m. they weren't Democrats and Republicans, they were Americans and they were friends. They'd sit down and have a drink and a chat and developed something called mutual respect.

Tip O'Neill disliked Ronald Reagan the politician even as he loved Ronald Reagan the person. If that's a contradiction, c'est la vie.

Whenever I hear right-wingers attack Ted Kennedy the person, as opposed to Ted Kennedy the politician, I want to ask them to explain why a pair of senators named Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback are among those praying most fervently for Kennedy right now. Hatch and Brownback are as politically to the right as Kennedy is to the left. But they love Ted Kennedy like a brother.

Whatever you think of Hatch and Brownback as politicians, they are men of intellect and principle. When they look at Teddy, they don't see a liberal bogeyman, they see a friend who happens to be a lefty. Years ago, I asked Kennedy why he liked a couple of guys from Utah and Kansas who are his ideological opposite.

"They're terrific human beings," he replied.

The way these three lions regard one another does not make them any less partisan. It makes them adults. It would be terrific if "Tip" does a long run at the New Repertory Theater in Watertown, because maybe Kennedy would feel well enough to take in the show with Hatch and Brownback. They would laugh, they would cry, and more than anybody else, they would get the 6 O'Clock Rule.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com

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