Nothing gentle to droppeth here
“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.