The big task ahead for the new speaker

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

Nancy Pelosi, like Santa Claus, has a big mouth. Hers is more invit­ing, but just as likely as Santa’s to make prom­ises she can’t keep.

Mzz Pelosi prom­ises that the Democrats will de­liver the squeaky clea­ni­est Congress any­one has lately seen. Her House will be straight and neat and you can even leave your valu­ables ly­ing about.

But some­one will have to keep an eye on the del­e­ga­tion from Louisiana, where pub­lic ser­vants are al­ways on the lookout for “op­por­tu­ni­ties,” as in the fa­mous dec­la­ra­tion of a for­mer gov­er­nor who, on his way to prison, ex­plained what hap­pened: “I seen my op­por­tu­ni­ties, and I took ‘em.”

The 109th Congress, now as­sum­ing rigor mor­tis, leaves town with only jeers ring­ing in its col­lec­tive ear. Bribery, (at­tempted) sodomy, thiev­ery and as­sorted petty larce­nies were the most prom­i­nent ac­com­plish­ments of our wor­thies, and the most ra­bid par­ti­sans couldn’t pin the high crimes and mis­de­meanors on a spe­cific party. Pox on both of ‘em.

The creepi­est male­fac­tor has to be Tom Fo­ley, the Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Florida who tried to turn the page dor­mi­tory into a bor­dello. Other mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing Den­nis Hastert, the speaker, knew what Mr. Fo­ley was do­ing but de­cided that his sins did not rise to the level of an eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tion. Per­haps he was right. You have to have a stan­dard to vi­o­late be­fore you can vi­o­late a stan­dard.

Mzz Pelosi’s troops didn’t try very hard to make a big deal of the Fo­ley fol­lies. They didn’t want to stir up the laven­der lobby in the House, and they fig­ured if Mr. Hastert and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship turned a blind eye the vot­ers would pun­ish the Repub­li­cans on Nov. 7. They reck­oned cor­rectly. If the Repub­li­cans had cut their losses and forced res­ig­na­tions of the guilty House lead­er­ship when the scan­dal first came to light, the pres­i­dent’s party would have re­tained con­trol of Congress.

Now it turns out that the Democrats were as guilty as the Repub­li­cans in the ul­ti­mate Wash­ing­ton crime, the cover-up. The House ethics com­mit­tee con­cluded that the Democrats also re­ceived copies of the e-mails writ­ten by Mr. Fo­ley, who boasted of his manly prow­ess be­ing too big for his britches. The page de­scribed them, with gen­er­ous un­der­state­ment, as “sick, sick, sick, sick.” Mr. Fo­ley will prob­a­bly es­cape pros­e­cu­tion, though lately the feds have been tough on the sex­ual pur­suit of chil­dren, with sen­tences rang­ing up­ward to 10 years for the pur­suit of imag­i­nary chil­dren on the In­ter­net. Mr. Fo­ley pur­sued ac­tual chil­dren.

The high crimes and mis­de­meanors of William Jef­fer­son, the Louisiana Demo­cratic con­gress­man who cools hot money in his food freezer, fall into a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. Mzz Pelosi stiffed his bid to re­main on the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, which wasted his tal­ent for man­ag­ing money. Louisiana has a high tol­er­ance for crooks, par­tic­u­larly color­ful crooks, and if his home folks want to treat the con­gress­man as an ex­trav­a­gant joke, who are his Demo­cratic col­leagues to ar­gue? Be­sides, he hasn’t been in­dicted or con­victed of any­thing, and prob­a­bly won’t be.

So Mzz Pelosi is in a bit of a pickle be­cause the Black Con­gres­sional Cau­cus thinks there’s a dou­ble stan­dard at play. Rep. Alan Mol­lo­han of West Vir­ginia, an­other Demo­crat, is un­der FBI scru­tiny to see whether he vi­o­lated the law in steer­ing mil­lions of fed­eral dol­lars, none of it cool­ing in the freezer, to non­profit groups con­nected to him. He’s keep­ing his seat on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee and is even in line to be­come the chair­man of a sub­com­mit­tee that over­sees the Jus­tice De­part­ment bud­get. What a wee world.

But con­gress­men, like the rich they as­pire to be­come, are very dif­fer­ent from you and me. (Apolo­gies to Scott Fitzger­ald.)

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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