Friday, November 21, 2008

Making Scenes and Making Laws

As pop culture goes gaga over teenage vampires, Washington's idea of infusing new blood is a Congressional coup with 69-year-old Henry Waxman wresting chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 82-year-old John Dingell.

Such generational change is stirring hopes on the left and fears on the right that Detroit will be pressured to stop making gas guzzlers as a start toward energy independence that could help the economy and slow global warming.

But the difference between the new chairman's Hollywood constituency, which feeds on trends like popcorn, and Washington, where inertia is a way of life, should give pause to those reading too much into the ascendance of Waxman, whose rise to power has been marked by championing such causes as expanding Medicaid coverage for children, helping AIDS patients and making generic drugs widely available.

But he is no Frank Capra hero, constantly grabbing attention with such stunts as horning in on the Valerie Plame publicity and hauling Roger Clemens in front of TV cameras for alleged steroid use.

In the Bush years, Waxman has had ample opportunity to strike poses, but how will he do at making deals that lead to legislation?

The Wall Street Journal is convinced that "Mr. Waxman, speaking for the upscale precincts of Beverly Hills, wants to phase out coal and cars that use gasoline. The coastal elites who now dominate Democratic politics will happily trade the blue collar for the green collar...It's obvious who now pulls the Democratic levers of power, and anyone in the energy or health-care business had better erect the barricades."

Nice imagery for a Hollywood movie, but how will it play out in Washington?

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