Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 11, 2010

REPUBLICANS IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULDN'T THROW STONES.... Of all the issues for Republicans to seize on, ethics in Congress may be the most tone-deaf of them all.

In the wake of a handful of Democratic scandals, Republicans are piling on, hoping to associate Democrats with the same stink that brought down the Republican majority: corruption. The GOP has tarred Democrats who accepted campaign money from Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), and continue to attack the Democratic leadership for what they call hypocrisy on ethics and transparency.

"Nancy Pelosi said in the very beginning that this is going to be the most open, honest ethical congress in history," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor on Meet the Press at the end of last month, "and what we are seeing is that she is breaking that promise every day."

Many in the media actually seem to be falling for this. The NYT had a piece the other day trying to draw parallels between some recent Dem controversies -- Paterson, Rangel, Massa -- and the Republicans' infamous culture of corruption in 2006. Even Time's Karen Tumulty, who usually knows better, lent credence to the idea.

So, let's clear things up a little. First, there's a quantitative difference. Have there been some Democrats who've run into trouble of late? Obviously, yes, but the list includes a modest number of isolated incidents.

In contrast, the corruption that overcame the Republican establishment during their reign of error was systemic and overwhelming. After a while, so many GOP officials were involved in scandals, the names started to blur together. Which one was Abramoff's buddy? Which one took bribes from defense contractors? Which one had his home raided by the FBI? Which one was locked up in a federal penitentiary? If Republicans really want to talk about ethical lapses, it's worth reminding them of names like DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Foley, Lewis, Burns, Stevens, Craig, Vitter, Miller, and Renzi, among others.

By August 2007, Republican strategist Scott Reed said the party's corruption scandals were "approaching a level of ridiculousness.... Republicans think the governing class in Washington are a bunch of buffoons who have total disregard for the principles of the party, the law of the land and the future of the country."

But that's not the only difference.

Also note that Republicans went to great pains to shield their scandal-plagued allies from punishment. In one particularly egregious incident, the GOP caucus changed its own rules to allow Tom DeLay to stay on as the House Majority Leader after he'd been indicted.

In contrast, Dems cut their scandal-plagued allies off quickly. Paterson has no support. Massa is a pariah in Democratic circles. No one returns the phone calls of Rod Blagojevich or John Edwards.

And finally, the Republican argument is premised on the notion that the GOP scandals are a thing of the past, and now it's Dems' turn to look awful. But that's silly. Not only were there more scandal-plagued Republicans before, there are arguably more scandal-plagued Republicans now. Indeed, the entire ethics push comes as a sitting GOP senator is in the midst of a humiliating sex scandal involving likely crimes and ethics violations.

It's not just Ensign. In the midst of Republicans' new-found interest in propriety, the list of current GOP members with ethics troubles is already pretty long: Vitter, Sanford, Pete Sessions, Nathan Deal, Don Young, Ken Calvert, and others.

Do Republicans really want to go down this road?

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Even Time's Karen Tumulty, who usually knows better...

Good one, Steve!

Posted by: howie on March 11, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Yes they want to go down this road because they know all the networks and papers will repeat all their talking points and refuse to look at history.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on March 11, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats may screw interns, but Republicans aren't satisfied unless they are screwing an entire country.

Posted by: Darsan 54 on March 11, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

But one is not comparing like with like. In a deeply perverted way, GOP corruption plays into the party's own narrative that government is inherently a bad thing. The stories fuel the anti-Washington rage of their supporters, which they then express by voting GOP again. The outgoing cohort of GOP politicians go home to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth, and a new cohort steps up to the trough.

Posted by: davidp on March 11, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans think the governing class in Washington are a bunch of buffoons who have total disregard for the principles of the party, the law of the land and the future of the country.

They do....and they get away with it. Create a foot long list of GOP slimeballs and they quickly point to Democratic shortcomings and say...everyone does it. The public doesn't take the time to make distinctions between the degrees of wrongdoing...they simply think, all politicians are crooks.

The GOP played the key role in creating the fiscal meltdown which we now are trying to dig out of, but as soon as Obama took office they began trying to pin it on him....and the polls show they are to some degree succeeding.

The GOP started two wars AND cut taxes. Today they are opposing every Democratic bill on the argument that we can't afford it and we need to balance the budget....and disgustingly large numbers of voters are agreeing.

...and the media? Don't make me laugh.

Posted by: dweb on March 11, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Many in the media actually seem to be falling for this.

Why, I'm just shocked, shocked!

Posted by: electrolite on March 11, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans have an edge when it comes to using scandals to their advantage, though. The Republican argument is that politicians are corrupt, government is incompetent, you should never trust elected officials to do anything for the people, all government actions are just self-serving. They can use Republican examples to illustrate these points just as well as they can use Democratic examples.

Democrats have a harder argument. They are claiming that it is possible to elect representatives who can accomplish something positive for the American people. Every scandal, whether it is Democratic or Republican, weakens this argument in the public mind.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 11, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are arrogant. When they are in power, they epitomize the arrogance of power. When they are the minority, they are merely obstructive, judgemental and self-aggrandizing. The leopard never changes its spots.

Posted by: Bo on March 11, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

It isn't tone deaf. It's smart and right ouut of Rove's playbook--attadk your opponenet for having your weaknessess. The REpublicans hacve a corruption problem so they decide to make a big noise about what corruption they can find inn Democrats. The corporate media, being either cowardly or rightwing, will trumpet the story and the publicn will conclude that both parties are equally corrupt.

Posted by: wonkie on March 11, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Pelosi's responsible for the governor of New York? Who knew?

Posted by: g on March 11, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I see that I was repeating what davidp said more pithily.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 11, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

An argument best left unmade.

That one party's wrongs are wronger than another's is not the best use of column inches.

Yes, the scandals of the recent Republican era were titanic, historic. But the defensive position of, 'we're less worse than them' reduces us.

We should stridently blame our own for their excesses, and show the Republicans how it's done.

Posted by: mbus on March 11, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

So Pelosiand Reid should call a press conference, point out Massa has resigned and demand resignations of Vitter and Ensign.

They won't do that, of course.

Posted by: anon on March 11, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

mbus: That point was pretty handily made by pointing out that those Democrats involved in scandals are pariahs, while Republicans involved in scandals have gotten cover from their political allies and in some cases (ex. Vitter, Ensign, Sanford) are still in power.

Posted by: Kris on March 11, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK



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