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In Detroit, Wishing a Plague on Both Their Houses

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  • By Jon Jeter
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 15, 1999; Page A20

    DETROIT, Jan. 14 – Henry Hyde. The GOP's hypocrisy. The president's lies. The arrogance of millionaire lawyers, a bunch of guys in suits who eat sushi and hire nannies to watch after their kids and haven't got a clue about people like him. The whole thing sickens Don Beeckman, and he didn't hesitate to say so.

    His father was a truck driver, a dues-paying Teamster, and while he rarely talked politics with his son – rarely talked at all, really – Beeckman remembered his old man coming home from a long day, collapsing into the recliner and cursing the politicians whose colorless images appeared on his television screen.

    "Ah, look at those blowhards," Beeckman recalled his dad saying, dismissing them with a wave of his hand.

    He inherited his father's disgust with politicians, if not his politics. And if his father hadn't died 32 years ago, the scene in Washington today would have surely killed him, he said over a burger and fries in Jacoby's, the "German Biergarten" that has been in downtown Detroit for 95 years.

    Beeckman vowed he would not watch any of the Senate trial that began just as he was sitting down to lunch. To him, the proceedings were 500 miles and a world away from this gritty city, where paying union dues was once tantamount to tithing and the men wore their Ford uniforms to church on Sundays.

    Things have changed here since then, and Beeckman himself has obtained a college education and works as a graphic artist. But all the same, he said, nothing in Washington is real compared with the traditions of working men – and his own – cherished in Detroit.

    "I watched some of the hearing in the House last month," said Beeckman, 49. "And it was all I could do not to throw up. The way they address each other as 'my distinguished colleague from Illinois' or the way they say 'I defer to the gentleman from Michigan.' They're so phony. Politics today disguises all this venom and hostility. If they want to kick the guy's butt why don't they take it down to the bar and get it on."

    "My new hero is Larry Flynt," he said of the publisher delving into congressional sex lives. "He's showing just what hypocrites they are in Washington."

    Beeckman was an English major at Wayne State University, the first in his family of German immigrants to graduate from college. He's a lifelong Democrat, although he has grown increasingly conservative. He never served in Vietnam because he had a high draft number, but has nothing but compassion and respect for the guys who did.

    He reads newspapers and detective novels, and listens to classical music and "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio. He lived in Detroit all his life before moving to the suburbs eight years ago, but visits Jacoby's once a week for lunch because it is "authentic Detroit."

    His favorite president was Lyndon B. Johnson, he said, followed by Clinton, in part because they're both fans of the mystery novelist Walter Mosley and Clinton plays the saxophone – his favorite instrument. "What's more important than music?" he asks.

    "Kennedy was real polite, charismatic, but Johnson got things done. He rammed things down people's throats if he had to but he got things done. Carter was a beautiful man but he's a better ex-president than president. Clinton is the most articulate president since Kennedy but he got some things done. Until this mess, he owned Congress. He stood up to the religious right. He walked the middle line."

    His father despised Jimmy Hoffa, the tough-talking Teamsters president who transformed the union into the nation's most powerful – and corrupt – in the '60s. But he paid his dues and voted for him just the same.

    "That's how I feel about Clinton, I guess," he said. "My dad knew Hoffa was corrupt but his pay went up and he got benefits. I know Clinton has done some stupid things. But you've got to put things in context. The man's gotten things done.

    "Politicians can't be human anymore. You can't inhale. You can't commit adultery. You can't be gay. How is it that our politicians' personal failings can cause us to lose sight of what we want to become as a country?"

    There are real issues obscured by the sex and perjury scandal that has preoccupied Washington for a year, he said. "What about saving Social Security? Why aren't we talking about the international markets failing all around us and how we're going to handle the recession once it gets here? Drinking this beer," he added, lifting a mug to his mouth, "is more important than the stuff [Congress is] dealing with now."

    A slight, bearded man, he used to love sports, particularly college basketball and the University of Michigan. But he no longer pays attention to sports.

    "It's just like politics," he said. "It's all about money. The game used to be entertainment, but now it's just too big, too much about money. Did anything happen in the world yesterday other than Michael Jordan retiring? Is there anything else happening in the world other than the case against William Jefferson Clinton? You'd never know it, would you?"

    He hates Hyde, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Loves the quiet grace of Hillary Rodham Clinton and was impressed with the eloquence of Sheila Jackson Lee, the Texas Democrat who spoke against impeachment in the House.

    "What is it about Texas that they always seem to produce these eloquent, beautifully spoken black women? [Jackson Lee] reminded me of Barbara Jordan during the Watergate hearing the way she epitomized grace and eloquence," he said of the late Texas House member who rose to prominence with her appeals to impeach Nixon.

    Beeckman acknowledged that he is a cynic, but he is a cynic who wants to believe. He hopes that Congress's indifference to the polls that show the American people in support of Clinton will energize the electorate and prod voters to "throw those bums out of office."

    "That's the most insulting thing, the most obnoxious thing – how the Republicans are saying that voters won't remember what they did in 2000. What are we, stupid? I don't think so."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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