At a May 27 subcommittee hearing, California Democrat Pete Stark became visibly agitated during an upbeat presentation on welfare reform. The representative of San Francisco's East Bay communities never met a welfare program he didn't like. He's also notoriously rude. Both these traits made for a poisonous combination: Invoking Eloise Anderson, the esteemed former director of California's welfare agency and a pioneer of recent welfare reforms, Stark said she would "kill children if she had her way."

Hateful rhetoric is nothing new for Stark. He once referred to Rep. Nancy Johnson, the very model of a moderate Republican, as a "whore for the insurance industry" because she dared to oppose his plan for a government takeover of the health-care system. In 1991 he singled out for condemnation his "Jewish colleagues" who had voted to support the Gulf War; didn't they realize that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was just like Israel's treatment of West Bank Palestinians?

And in 1990 Stark referred to Louis Sullivan, the Bush administration's (black) secretary of Health and Human Services, as "a disgrace to his race" because of his support for Republican health-care policies.

In this era of the Third Way and the New Democrat, Stark is a throwback, an embodiment of that old party symbol, the jackass.