Commuting can be dangerous for a conservative if the car radio is tuned into National Public Radio. On Wednesday night’s "All Things Considered," NPR anchor Michele Norris interviewed ultraliberal Henry Waxman, now returning to his perch as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. He claimed that his return meant an end to investigative politics: "And oversight ought to be done based on our responsibility, not our political point of view."
This is simply bizarre, and NPR should know it, and not let it go unchallenged. But Norris did.
I recall an example from 1997, when the Government Reform committee was investigating how the Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee accepted contributions from mysterious Asian donors. In the Weekly Standard, Matt Rees really captured how partisan Waxman was:
"Consider a letter Waxman wrote in March to Attorney General Janet Reno raising questions about foreign involvement in a presidential campaign. A seemingly reasonable inquiry, except that Waxman wasn't interested in last year's contest: He wanted Reno to check out a report the Philippine government contributed $10 million to Ronald Reagan's reelection bid in 1984. It's as if Howard Baker, in the midst of Watergate hearings of 1973, had asked John Mitchell to look into alleged wrongdoing in John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign."
Norris began the Waxman interview vaguely: "So on your committee, you really do have broad jurisdiction over almost everything. What is at the top of your to do list?" Waxman listed three things: watching federal expenditures, cracking down on corporate profiteering, and making sure government agencies like the EPA and FDA are "functioning for the people."
Then the anchor imagined Waxman’s glee at returning to power: "When you talk about your committee having jurisdiction over almost everything, I can imagine that a listener hears that and pictures you sitting in your office somehow rubbing your hands together."
Waxman responded in good humor, and then charged into how Republicans were hyper-partisan: "Well, if anything, it's wringing my hands as to what are the things where we can make a difference and where we ought to focus our attention.I thought that one of the real problems when the Republicans had control of Congress and Clinton was president, they were willing to investigate the smallest accusation, make wild charges, issue subpoenas, call hearings. And then when Bush became president they were willing to ignore the largest scandals."
Norris asked helpfully: "What did the Republicans ignore?"
Waxman: "Well, let me give you a really graphic example. When Clinton was president, they held at least a week's worth of effort, including hearings, on whether President Clinton misused his Christmas card list for political purposes.When Bush became president, I asked the Republicans to hold hearings on the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I asked them to hold hearings on the manipulation of intelligence that got us into the Iraq war. I requested that we hold hearings on the waste of taxpayers' dollars by overpaying contractors in Iraq. And they didn't think that was important enough for their efforts.So it seems to me a glaring example of a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other based on politics. And oversight ought to be done based on our responsibility, not our political point of view."
Norris moved on without challenging Waxman on his own record, although she did ask if the Democrats ran the risk on Iraq oversight of focusing more on the past and not on solving the Iraq problem moving forward.
Last Saturday, on Weekend Edition, reporter Brian Naylor also relayed Waxman's painful memories of the Clinton years. Anchor Lynn Neary asked how Congress would change, and Naylor stated: "More than anything, Democrats talked during the campaign about their eagerness to hold oversight hearings and to restore some checks on the executive branch. So one of the key players there will be Congressman Henry Waxman of California, who will chair the House Government Reform Committee, who's been fond of complaining that under Republicans there was no matter too small to investigate when President Bill Clinton was in office, but with President Bush there's no issue that was too big to overlook."