Patsy Senate is not amused. Friday, for a couple of dreadful hours, she was cast as an international outlaw, she of the unimpeachable decorum and respectability. It took her all afternoon to straighten out the mess, and she couldn't have been more flustered. Finally, she came out for observing any laws regarding Nicaragua that she hadn't specifically said could be broken.
The mischief was caused by a freshman who does not know his place. Patsy had, frankly, expected better things of John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. He is well-spoken and appears to be well-bred. But it turned out that he has not the slightest consideration for her customs and her nerves.
Things were moving along perfectly well -- as they do on a Friday when the members are half out the door on their way home -- when Kerry introduced an amendment to make sure that none of our activities in Nicaragua violate our treaties under international law.
Patsy, a stickler for observing laws, or her own rules anyway, saw nothing wrong with it. Reliable Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he hoped the Senate would adopt it unanimously. But Kerry went too far, insisting on a roll call vote.
By then, Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) had been alerted to the dangers for the administration. International law has become a touchy subject since Ronald Reagan had the Nicaraguan harbors mined and got in dutch with the world court. Dole warned members about a "Pandora's box" and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Much scrambling ensued. Republican senators agonized over the possibility that a vote for Kerry might be seen as a vote against Reagan. Several who thought they were in favor of international law changed their minds, because if nothing else, they wished to register their annoyance with Kerry for putting them on the spot and snarling their weekend plans. One of their principal duties, as they see it, is to teach backbenchers how to behave in the world's greatest deliberative body.
Even so, Kerry won by five votes.
Lugar demanded a reconsideration. Reconsideration won by six votes, and Dole said they should put off discussion of not violating treaties for seven days.
But Patsy Senate began to have a sinking spell. Could she stand out there for a week as a body who isn't sure she should obey the law? Dole reconsidered and moved reconsideration up to 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
As Patsy Senate hyperventilated, and the managers ran around looking for language, she shook her head over Kerry. How sad, she reflected, that the young man would be so forward, so unwilling to bide his time, to take his cue from the people who matter. She wondered if he had thought how he might never become an insider in the club, would never be written or spoken about as a "Senate whale."
How she wishes Kerry had chosen for his role model Sam Nunn of Georgia. Nunn never rocks the boat. He is the coxswain of those Democrats who want to avoid at all costs having her Ronnie label them "soft on defense." His expertise in military matters is so respected that some simply vote as he does with easy minds.
Nunn was a stalwart in the fight for "Star Wars" funds, which Kerry tried to cut. Nunn was the author of the amendment to give the Nicaraguan contras $14 million in "humanitarian" aid. He so reveres "Senate comity" that he will not campaign against fellow Georgian Mack Mattingly, a Republican. He is her dream Democrat.
And he is a consummate club member. He makes compromises, Patsy's favorite form of legislation, when he doesn't need to. Last month, he did something that made Patsy fairly weep with pleasure. He proposed to limit the number of MX missiles to 40. He had the votes. He probably could have made it 20 and won. But after a call from the White House, he raised the cap to 50. He had saluted his commander-in-chief, which, by Patsy, makes him a "responsible" senator.
Not like Kerry, who represents a state where they like to hear their ideas expressed even if they don't prevail. In the end, he had to climb down and agree to an amendment that forbids using money for illegal activities "which have not been authorized." This was sufficiently muddy for Patsy's taste, and by voice vote she adopted it.
She had been saved, in a way, and so had Ronnie. But Kerry had caused her heartburn and gained for himself a good deal of what she regards as unwholesome attention. She doesn't think he learned his lesson. In fact, he may give other Democrats the notion that they should speak out, even if they are in the minority, and who knows how many more wretched noons are in store for her?