Grav­ity hasn’t grounded Gre­it­ens, Pruitt

The Record (Troy, NY) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus’ email ad­dress is ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

It feels some days as if the or­di­nary laws of po­lit­i­cal physics have been sus­pended. Pol­i­tics op­er­ates by un­seen but gen­er­ally pre­dictable forces. Go too far and the mech­a­nism of po­lit­i­cal grav­ity will bring you down.

Not now. Not re­li­ably, any­way. This un­set­tling de­vel­op­ment has man­i­fested it­self, most re­cently, in the oth­er­wise far dif­fer­ent cases of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt and Mis­souri Gov. Eric Gre­it­ens.

The Pruitt sit­u­a­tion in­volves greed, en­ti­tle­ment and eth­i­cal ob­tuse­ness. The Gre­it­ens mat­ter in­volves sex, en­ti­tle­ment and moral ob­tuse­ness. But they are linked by the prin­ci­pal ac­tors’ con­vic­tions that the usual po­lit­i­cal rules have be­come in­op­er­a­tive and that they can some­how sur­vive the storm of out­rage.

In any nor­mal ad­min­is­tra­tion, at any nor­mal time, Pruitt would have been gone weeks ago. To switch metaphors from physics to medicine, the po­lit­i­cal body ral­lies to pro­tect it­self against in­fec­tion. The con­tin­u­ing drip-drip-drip of sto­ries about Pruitt’s eth­i­cal mis­steps should have caused Pres­i­dent Trump to re­ject him and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to de­mand his ouster.

To re­cap the al­le­ga­tions, although not in full: the lu­di­crously low $50-a-night “rent” at a town­house owned by a lob­by­ist’s wife; the first- class travel, on the un­con­vinc­ing ex­cuse of se­cu­rity con­cerns; the obliv­i­ous­ness to spend­ing pub­lic funds (see, $43,000 sound­proof phone booth); the over­ween­ing sense of petty en­ti­tle­ment (sirens blar­ing en route to Le Di­plo­mate).

In short, this is not a man who un­der­stands the mean­ing of pub­lic ser­vice and the eth­i­cal bound­aries gov­ern­ing those who oc­cupy pub­lic of­fice. He should be gone, and per­haps he will be, even­tu­ally.

But the rea­son he has held on is that in Trump’s Wash­ing­ton, and in Repub­li­cans’ moral uni­verse, ide­o­log­i­cal use­ful­ness and com­pe­tence out­weigh eth­i­cal niceties. At the EPA, Pruitt has been a re­lent­less war­rior for dereg­u­la­tion and dis­man­tling ev­ery Obama era reg­u­la­tion in sight. He is do­ing what Trump and Repub­li­cans want and, un­like so many mem­bers of this ad­min­is­tra­tion, do­ing it rea­son­ably ef­fec­tively.

So crit­i­cism is muted -- it passed for big news when John Kennedy, R-La., said Pruitt should “stop act­ing like a chuck­le­head” -- and the pageant of malfea­sance moves on to the next set of as­ton­ish­ing events.

In that sense, the Pruitt sit­u­a­tion is rem­i­nis­cent of the pre­vail­ing Repub­li­can re­sponse to news re­ports that Alabama Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore preyed on teenagers: the seat was too im­por­tant to let Moore fail. The dif­fer­ence is that Alabama vot­ers even­tu­ally got their say on Moore. Pruitt’s fate, by con­trast, lies in the hands of those who have al­ready proved them­selves morally com­pro­mised.

Which takes us out­side the cap­i­tal, to a leg­isla­tive re­port on the sor­did sex­ual ad­ven­tures of Mis­souri’s gov­er­nor that might as well have been ti­tled “50 Shades of Gre­it­ens.” To read the re­port is to un­der­stand that this is not your or­di­nary tawdry story about mar­i­tal in­fi­delity -- a pri­vate mat­ter, in Gre­it­ens’ telling, that oc­curred be­fore he took of­fice and is between him and his wife.

No. In de­scrib­ing the re­la­tion­ship between Gre­it­ens and his hair­dresser, the re­port de­tails al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual vi­o­lence and non­con­sen­sual sex­ual acts, along with a clear threat, if she went pub­lic, to ex­pose the hair­dresser on­line, with a photograph that she did not con­sent to his tak­ing. “Don’t even men­tion my name to any­body at all, be­cause if you do, I’m go­ing to take these pictures,” the re­port quotes the woman as say­ing Gre­it­ens told her. “They are go­ing to be ev­ery­where, and then ev­ery­one will know what a lit­tle whore you are.” Gre­it­ens is to stand trial next month on a felony charge of in­va­sion of pri­vacy stem­ming from the photo.

Gre­it­ens presents a re­verse Moore sce­nario: There is time for the Repub­li­can Party to sal­vage its chance to win a com­pet­i­tive Se­nate elec­tion, in which Mis­souri At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Haw­ley is chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. So the last few days have seen a pa­rade of state Repub­li­cans, led by Haw­ley, call­ing on Gre­it­ens to re­sign.

Cer­tainly, his­tory of­fers some so­lace to politi­cians will­ing to en­dure the hu­mil­i­a­tion of a sex scan­dal. Re­call the story of Grover Cleve­land and an il­le­git­i­mate child, and the cam­paign chant, “Ma, ma, where’s my Pa?” Re­call, more re­cently, the re­pul­sive de­tails of Bill Clin­ton’s en­coun­ters with Mon­ica Lewin­sky.

Yet the or­di­nary laws of po­lit­i­cal grav­ity -- the state’s big­gest news­pa­pers have said Gre­it­ens must go -- would coun­sel that these al­le­ga­tions, in­volv­ing not just sex­ual per­ver­sion but out­right as­sault, are not sur­viv­able. But there is Gre­it­ens, re­sist­ing, call­ing the re­port “tabloid trash” and as­sail­ing “a po­lit­i­cal witch hunt.” Sound fa­mil­iar?

That Gre­it­ens and Pruitt re­main in of­fice, as of this writ­ing, says some­thing -- not just about them, but about the de­graded state of our pol­i­tics.

Ruth Mar­cus Colum­nist

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