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Condoms can't protect you...and neither can armor

Billy Tauzin of Louisiana was one of the most venal politicians ever to sully Capitol Hill. As Michelle Cottle chronicled in these pages ("Cajun Dressing," October 6, 2003), the Republican representative used his perch on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to shill for almost every big business in America--until a business broke enough laws to spark public outrage, at which point Tauzin would hold showboat hearings and recast himself as a consumer champion. Tauzin's most shameless performance came in 2002, when, two years after leading a crusade to derail reform of the accounting industry, he held hearings to harangue Arthur Andersen for its role in the Enron debacle. When Tauzin announced his retirement this year, he must have figured that, given Louisianans' fondness for political dynasties--ergo the Long family--his son Billy Tauzin III ("Little Billy") would have little trouble succeeding daddy as the Republican representative of the state's third congressional district.

But, thankfully, the voters had other ideas. Refusing to reward the 31-year- old ex-lobbyist's blatantly nepotistic campaign--one Tauzin ad asked, "Whose phone call is President Bush going to return?"--they narrowly elected Little Billy's Democratic opponent, Charlie Melancon, as their representative in a runoff election on December 4. "He's just starting," the elder Tauzin said of his son after the defeat. "You're going to hear from him again."

But that might be an empty promise--if recent history is any indication, the children of retrograde politicians are facing increasingly tough roads when it comes to inheriting their parents' positions. In 2002, Scott Armey failed in his bid to succeed his father, Dick, as the representative of Texas's 26th congressional district. And, this year, Brad Smith lost the Republican primary to replace his retiring father, Michigan Representative Nick Smith. Alas, voters didn't feel compelled to do something about the most egregious case of political nepotism--the man sitting in the White House.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER Bill Frist doesn't like to let people forget that, in addition to being a politician, he's a doctor--going so far as to stencil the letters m.d. ostentatiously next to his name on the door of his Capitol office. But, in a recent interview on ABC's "This Week," Frist showed that politics is truly his first calling. Playing off a recent House Government Affairs Committee report that found that eleven of the 13 federally funded abstinence programs are giving out false information-- including such nuggets as "the actual ability of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/aids, even if the product is intact, is not definitively known" and "the popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs is not supported by the data"--George Stephanopoulos wondered what Dr. Frist thought about one particularly dubious piece of misinformation pedaled by one of the programs: that HIV can be spread through sweat and tears. "Do you believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?" Stephanopoulos asked. "I don't know, I can tell you," Frist replied before Stephanopoulos cut him off with an incredulous, "You don't know? ... You believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit aids?" Frist tried again, sputtering, "Yeah, no, I can tell you that HIV is not very transmissible as an element like, compared to smallpox, compared to the flu. It is not ..." The good doctor then went on to explain that abstinence is an important part of any strategy to combat aids and affirmed that the disease is "one of the great moral and public health tragedies of the last one hundred years." But Stephanopoulos refused to let him off the hook: "Let me just clear this up, though: Do you or do you not believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?" Frist finally conceded, "It would be very hard. It would be very hard for tears and sweat, I mean, you can get virus in tears and sweat, but in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard." Funny, but you wouldn't think it would be so hard for a doctor to admit that.

THIS WEEK IN KUWAIT, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fielded some tough questions from 2,300 soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq. To what the Associated Press described as "a big cheer," Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard asked why "we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles." Naturally, Rumsfeld was unflappable, replying, "You go to war with the Army you have." He then explained--to what he must have thought were 2, 300 overgrown children--that one of the gravest dangers they face in Iraq are improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which means, "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can [still] be blown up." So not to worry!

What Rumsfeld didn't admit to Wilson and his fellow soldiers is that he is fully responsible for the "Army you have," especially as it relates to heavy armor. A stated objective of Rumsfeld's tenure has been to move the Army away from ponderous forces and toward lighter, more easily deployable units--as in 2002, when he cut funding for the 70-ton Abrams tank, which currently rolls through the streets of Baghdad. Just this week, Rumsfeld reiterated to The Wall Street Journal that the military "simply has to be much more facile and agile." Luckily for the country, Bush recently asked Rumsfeld to stay at the Pentagon's helm for another four years. As for anyone concerned about the safety of our troops, we'll see you down at the scrapyard.


"I CAN SAY WITHOUT equivocation: This president has been pretty heavily influenced by economic theory," --Glenn Hubbard, quoted in The Washington Post, December 3 DEPARTMENT OF CONGRATULATIONS Congratulations to tnr foreign correspondent Massoud Ansari, who also works for Pakistan's Newsline magazine, on winning the 2004 Reuters-iucn Media Award for excellence in environmental reporting for his stories about an oil spill along the Karachi coast. In addition, Ansari, for a second consecutive year, received the coveted All Pakistan Newspaper Society award for his investigative reporting.