"Powerful Muckraker" Rep. Henry Waxman Takes on the Bushies

Philip Shenon puffs partisan Democratic liberal Rep. Henry Waxman, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will apparently become subpoena central in the new Congress. Shenon's Tuesday profile, "As New 'Cop on the Beat,' Congressman Starts Patrol," includes the text box: "A powerful muckraker who plans to single out waste and fraud."

"Halliburton? Tobacco executives? Vice President Dick Cheney? You've been warned.

"Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is promising the sort of oversight that the Bush administration has not experienced before."

Shenon doesn't challenge Waxman's metaphor of Republicans as criminals.

"'There has been no cop on the beat,' said Mr. Waxman, who accuses Congressional Republicans of having abdicated their responsibility for oversight in recent years. 'And when there is no cop on the beat, criminals are more willing to engage in crimes.'

"Without constant policing by Congress, he said, "the bad actors feel they can get away with anything."

It's soon on to puffery: "Mr. Waxman is 5-foot-5. He has a big, toothy grin and a bushy mustache. He has none of the glitz of some of his constituents in the 30th Congressional District, which includes Beverly Hills, Malibu and Santa Monica, some of California's richest and flashiest communities.

"The congressman, a 67-year-old grandfather of four, would strike no one - at least no one meeting him for the first time - as a candidate for the role of Congress's most aggressive muckraker.

"But the liberal Nation magazine has called him the Democrats' Eliot Ness, and Republicans who have tangled with him say the description is apt."

(That marks the second recent blandished labeling of the left-wing Nation magazine in the Times - media columnist David Carr on Mondaycalled it "a weekly that skews left-of-center.")

Shenon does include a brief criticism of Waxman from Republican Rep. Dan Burton, who notes that "muckraker" Waxman wasn't quite so eager to clean Clinton's stalls. But even Burton's comments are couched as a backhanded compliment.

"'The guy is partisan,' said Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, a Republican who was the oversight committee's chairman during the Clinton administration and often accused Mr. Waxman of ignoring the misdeeds of that White House, including campaign financing abuses that led to the prosecution of some Democratic fund-raisers.

"'But I admire his tenacity,' Mr. Burton said. 'If the administration were to ask me what to expect, I would tell them to expect one of the toughest investigatory committees you've ever faced.'"