With The Right To Sit Down In Peace
Pruden on Politics
Here's a noble cause even Republicans should recognize: The feds, on their way into your bedroom, want to stop at the bathroom to make sure you don't flush your toilet or take a shower in a politically incorrect way.
To quote Dave Barry, "I am not making this up." There's a provision in the 1992 Energy Policy and Conservation Act requiring that new toilets installed in your home be limited to 1.6 gallons of water per flush, that showers have a flow rate of no more than 2.5 gallons per minute.
The idea is to save water, even in the places where there is no shortage of water. Flush your john wrong, or go to bed squeaky clean, and you can be fined $2,500.
The only people who like this new regulation are Al's environmental freaks, who long ago got used to smelling bad, and discovered they liked it. And the federal regulators, of course.
The hero of the piece is Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, a Republican with grit (the kind that won't wash off). Then a plumber, echoing the iron law of economics that any master plumber can recite, told him there's already a thriving black market in the old 3.5-gallon toilets.
Mr. Knollenberg introduced legislation last summer to eliminate any regulation mandating toilet size. You might think that here's a bottom-line issue that not even a Republican congressman would be frightened by. The Republicans could toilet-train thousands of federal regulators to the applause of millions of relieved Americans.
But if you think that, you do not understand what bunny rabbits Republicans can be. In fact, if you think that, you probably are not aware of a little-known fact of human physiology -- a fact astonishing to first-year medical students -- that Republicans often have such delicate constitutions that they only have to go to the bathroom occasionally. Weeks go by that they do not have to expend even 1.6 gallons to flush.
Nevertheless, Mr. Knollenberg was quickly invited to appear on radio talk shows, which have become the coal-mine canaries of American politics, to talk about his flush-rights legislation. When Mr. Knollenberg appeared on the radio program "Ask the Handyman," which is broadcast widely in the Midwest, the host told his listeners to call or write, in either e-mail or snail mail, to their congressmen. To nobody's surprise, thousands did.
A hearing in Texas, convened by Republicans to listen to ordinary citizens rage at bad regulations, got an unexpected earful -- snootful, actually -- about toilet tinkering. "It's really regulation gone amok," Mr. Knollenberg told an interviewer for Scripps Howard.
The congressman is definitely pro-choice in the matter of toilets: "Let the marketplace decide and let consumers decide what they want to put in their homes." He understands that if left to their own tastes the regulators would eventually mandate a return to the two-hole design of the outdoor privies, so that every American will have a regulator seated at his side to make sure that he doesn't flush twice, just to make a point.
The Republican leadership is impressed by the response Mr. Knollenberg has aroused, and promises quick action on his bill next year. Since what they want is his response without necessarily exerting the effort he seeks, it's not at all clear that Leader Lott, Professor Newt & Co. will actually stand up for the right to sit down in peace. Bill Clinton, who once boasted (falsely, as it turned out) that he had only an outdoor privy as a boy down in Arkansas, will probably steal this Republican issue, too.
The plumbing manufacturers want the federal regulation, and some of them no doubt contributed money to Republican campaigns. The manufacturers don't necessarily care about the water (recognizing it as a phony issue except in the West), but would have to make several mandated toilet sizes if regulation is left to the individual states. (Flush states' rights!) The bureaucrats and the environmentalists, full of it and determined to stay that way, want the federal regulation because they think Americans aren't capable of going to the bathroom by themselves.
One toilet-bowl lobbyist sees the future of the nation in peril if Americans are allowed to flush as they please. Says Cecile Kremer of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute: "When you think about the future of our country and what we are going to leave our kids, you wonder, why are we trying to turn back the hands of time and flush good, fresh water down the toilet?"
The manufacturers insist that toilets are being downsized all over the world, and Americans should adjust to the standards of the toy countries of Europe, where inconvenience and inefficiency lend a certain ripeness to togetherness. Unlike the congressman, they don't understand that that's why America happened here in the first place.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.