Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mayberry Machiavellis

It's the culture, stupid
Dec 6, 2005, 07:50

The rapidly-multiplying scandals ripping through Washington like a category five
hurricane has Republicans reassessing their political futures while Democrats rub
their hands with glee amid dreams of massive gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

?It?s the kind of upheaval we see every so often,? says political scientist George
Harleigh. ?It happened after Watergate and during the midterms of Bill Clinton?s
first term (the 1994 elections when Republicans seize control of Congress.?

A Texas judge?s refusal to toss money laundering charges against former House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay all but sealed the Texas Republican?s hope of recapturing
his lost leadership post and DeLay, along with at leave five other Republicans (and
one Democrat) face additional charges from the widening Justice Department
investigation into the many illegal activities of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

?The Abramoff scandal is the proverbial tip of the iceberg,? says Harleigh. ?It?s a
big closet with lots of skeletons.?

And it?s not the only problem faced by Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Fred
Frist faces serious questions about insider stock trading and California Republican
Congressman Randy ?Duke? Cunningham resigned his seat after copping a plea for
accepting bribes.

"The conduct is certainly brazen," says Kenneth Gross, former chief of enforcement
at the Federal Election Commission.

That?s one way of putting it. Politics is, and always has been, a dirty business
where shady deals dominate the way votes are bought and sold. Yet the brazenness of
the Cunninghams, DeLays and Frists shock even Washington oldtimers.

?You develop friendships,? says Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, vice chairman of the
House Republican Conference, ?and those friends see you after hours, on the
weekends, and they have nice play toys ? boats, access to golfing, country clubs,
credit cards ? and you're becoming friends with the guy and you don't think that
much of it, and before you know it you get caught up in it.?

Even those who come to Washington with promises to be different and clean things up
too often get caught up in the culture of power, greed and a belief that the rules
don?t apply.

?That corruption is rampant in Washington, D.C., surprises no one,? says
conservative commentator Chuck Baldwin. ?What is surprising, at least to me, is how
so many people, especially people calling themselves Christians or conservatives,
seem so willing to tolerate it!?

Political partisans, of course, see all this as the fault of the other party.

?Tom Delay and his congressional allies are taking political corruption to new lows.
Tom Delay is now under indictment on criminal charges,? says House Democratic leader
Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi forgets Democrats caught in their own share of scandals,
including North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan in the Jack Abramoff scandal or jail
terms handed down to cronies of former Democratic President Bill Clinton or jailed
Democratic congressman James Traficant.

Scandal doesn?t belong to any particular political party and neither can claim a
copyright on honesty. It?s the culture itself not a belief in any partisan political
philosophy that breeds corruption. But since Republicans control both Congress and
the White House, they face the most fallout from current scandals and that?s what
has GOP strategists worried.

Conservative consultant Craig Shirley agrees with Harleigh that 2006 could turn into
another 1974 when voters ousted Republicans in a post-Watergate house cleaning.
Conservatives, he says, could sit out the election to express their displeasure with
President George W. Bush.

?Conservatives are perilously close to driving a car through the front window of the
Republican Party,? he says.

Others echo the doom and gloom. GOP pollster Linda Divall says that even if Bush
makes peace with conservatives, moderates may bolt.

?Moderates don't feel they're being listened to,? DiVall says. ?You can?t just play
to your base.?

In the end, blame for the Republican Party?s woes almost always falls on Bush. Even
loyalists say the President, who promised the ?most ethical administration? in
history, has delivered, instead, a ?business as usual? White House where politics
too often overrides good public policy.

?There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a
complete lack of a policy apparatus,? says John J. DiIulio Jr.: who served as the
first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
?What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the
political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.?

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