Noth­ing gen­tle to drop­peth here

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

“The qual­ity of mercy is not strain’d,” or so the Bard imag­ined. “It drop­peth as the gen­tle rain from heaven.” Some­times. Maybe. But Mr. Shake­speare never lived and worked in Wash­ing­ton, where many things drop­peth but few are gen­tle.

The Great Wash­ing­ton Weiner Roast con­tin­ues into early sum­mer, to the cha­grin of Democrats and the glee of Repub­li­cans. Scan­dals, if not gen­tle rain, drop­peth like manna for the pur­vey­ors of columny. Ah, tweet mythtery of life in the randy lane.

The fret­ful lead­ers of the Democrats, ter­ri­fied of scan­dal run­ning on for­ever, con­tinue to pres­sure An­thony Weiner to dis­ap­pear, to drop dead, to get lost, to re­turn to his abused wife’s side to oc­cupy him­self with mid­night runs to the all-night su­per­mar­ket for pick­les and tut­tifrutti ice cream, she be­ing in the fam­ily way — or, as one of the ir­rev­er­ent Gotham tabloids put it, with “A lit­tle Weiner in the oven.”

The Weiner phe­nom­e­non is not new, only longer-run­ning and more en­ter­tain­ing than usual. Zip­per disease, af­ter all, is en­demic and per­ma­nent. The late Stephen Am­brose, the chron­i­cler of World War II hero­ics, hit it on the nose: “God gave man a pe­nis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one at a time.”

Wash­ing­ton be­ing Wash­ing­ton, some in the chat­ter­ing class are tempted to make trou­bles with the zip­per a par­ti­san fail­ing. Good luck with that. But repris­ing scan­dals past re­veals that Demo­cratic vot­ers tend to have a slightly more for­giv­ing strainer through which they push mercy. Some eas­ily fright­ened pun­dits imag­ine that it’s Mr. Weiner, not the calamity howl­ing preacher Harold Camp­ing, who is the true her­ald of the end of the world. “At what point do we de­cide that a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has be­come deca­dent?” asks E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Wash­ing­ton Post. “You re­ally do won­der what’s hap­pen­ing to our democ­racy and those who serve in it.” Since lib­er­als like E.J. be­lieve in the earthly per­fectibil­ity of man and in gov­ern­ment as the in­stru­ment of re­demp­tion, they’re par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to de­spair when they see the god of gov­ern­ment fail­ing.

Even a brief enu­mer­a­tion of the re­cently fallen con­gress­men, some wicked and some merely fool­ish, cer­tainly in­vites de­jec­tion, if not de­spair. Sen­a­tors are not above temp­ta­tion, but they’re more ex­pe­ri­enced in eva­sion, tend to have savvier staffs, and prob­a­bly are more skilled in the cover-up if not nec­es­sar­ily more skilled in the but­ton-up. Pres­i­dents aren’t im­mune to the loose zip­per, ei­ther, as Hil­lary Clin­ton, Florence Hard­ing, Jackie Kennedy and no doubt oth­ers could have told us.

But it’s the House where temp­ta­tion strikes with such aban­don.

Wil­bur Mills of Arkansas (there’s clearly some­thing in the Moun­tain Val­ley Wa­ter down there) kept Wash­ing­ton in stitches in the spring of 1974 af­ter his in­amorata, a strip­per named Fanne Fox billed as “the Ar­gen­tine Fire­cracker,” leaped from his long, black limou­sine at 2 in the morn­ing and jumped into the Tidal Basin, in view of a pass­ing “pho­to­jour­nal­ist.” The rest, and Mr. Mills him­self, were soon his­tory.

None of these mis­cre­ants even re­motely re­sem­ble in­ven­tions of Da­mon Runyon, though Bar­ney Frank of Mas­sachusetts comes close. He in­stalled his pimp in his Capi­tol Hill apart­ment, who then used it as a brothel. Bar­ney posed as the in­no­cent gay caballero, a hero of the lib­eral and laven­der left, and when the House Ethics Com­mit­tee looked into his ethics they only con­cluded that he had fixed a cou­ple of traf­fic tick­ets for the pimp. No real harm, no real foul, only a rep­ri­mand.

Few of the names from a list of Top Ten Scan­dals are even re­mem­bered a decade later. The only mem­ory of one of them, Gus Sav­age of Illi­nois, de­feated af­ter the Ethics Com­mit­tee found him guilty of sex­ual as­sault on a Peace Corps vol­un­teer in Zaire, was the com­ment of the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch: “Re­plac­ing Gus Sav­age with a stalk of cel­ery would el­e­vate the in­tel­lec­tual and moral tone of Congress.” His suc­ces­sor was charged with as­sault on a 16-year-old girl and re­signed. He was later con­victed of bank fraud.

The rogue hero of Robert Penn War­ren’s fa­mous novel, “All the King’s Men,” imag­ined he had the wieners who pop­u­late our pol­i­tics all fig­ured out. “Man is con­ceived in sin and born in corruption, and he pas­seth from the stink of the di­die to the stench of the shroud.” Tough stuff, and we have to find a con­text to keep ev­ery­thing in, but the pols have only them­selves to blame if the rest of us agree.

Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

War­ren G. Hard­ing.

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