A STARK COMPARISON: Suppose the chairmanship of a key committee in the House went, via the seniority system, to a senior Republican with a rock-solid conservative voting record and a reputation for getting major legislation passed. Suppose this Congressman was also an unapologetic brawler on behalf of conservative causes–so much so that he had wrangled aggressively and sometimes controversially with liberal Democrats. Republicans would, of course, embrace their new champion and dismiss criticism of him as cheap shots from the opposition. That’s because the GOP is all about advancing its agenda, not merely managing the status quo.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of House Democrats. After New York Congressman Charles Rangel stepped aside for an ethics inquiry, the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee was expected to go to California Congressman Pete Stark, a nineteen-term progressive stalwart with a record of shaping and passing legislation that reformed tax policy, established the COBRA health continuation benefit for displaced workers and expanded access to Medicare and Medicaid. There was an immediate outcry from the right, which recalled that Stark has directed blistering barbs at Republican colleagues, who he argued were unconcerned about the poor, and at former President George W. Bush, who he argued was unconcerned about the death and destruction in Iraq. The horror! Democrats scrambled to replace Stark with a more cautious player, Michigan’s Sander Levin, as the Californian gracefully announced he would remain as chair of the subcommittee on health. Heaven forbid that the Democratic Party would place a boisterous battler for economic and social justice, peace and equality in one of Washington’s most powerful positions. JOHN NICHOLS
NO HEROES: In early February The Nation called attention to a brewing scandal in Ukraine. Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, the dioxin-pockmarked hero of the Orange Revolution, decided to grant a highly controversial Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, "Hero of Ukraine" status, a state honor. It was one of the last decisions the deeply unpopular leader made during his disastrous five-year term. By honoring an ultranationalist whose forces ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Jews and Poles, Yushchenko poisoned relations with neigh- boring Poland and Russia; caused outrage among international Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as among Ukrainian Jews; and most ominous, ripped open nascent tensions between dominant ethnic Ukrainians and the large Russian-speaking minority, which has long feared the rise of ethnic Ukrainian chauvinism.
Then in late February, on the same day that Ukraine inaugurated a new president, Viktor Yanukovych, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the honor for Bandera. The resolution was put forward by Poland–which had been the main supporter of the Orange Revolution and Yushchenko, and is now its leading critic.