Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Politics of Ethics

Can someone please explain to me why I am supposed to be pleased that the House Republican Conference last night decided not to bring to the full House for a vote the proposed changes to the ethics rules? According to most of the major news reports about the "closed door" meeting (which really means no press allowed until we decide as a group what were going to say and who is going to say it) found here, here, and here, it was Majority Leader Delay, the person who stood to potentially gain most from the change who spoke out against it. Now kudos to Delay and the GOP for doing the right thing, but read carefully the statements made after the meeting:
1) From Delay's office, Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for DeLay, said, as reported by the Boston Globe, that the majority leader continued to believe that it was legitimate to allow a House leader to retain his post while under indictment. But Grella said that by reinstating the rule that could require him to step aside, DeLay was ''denying the Democrats their lone issue. Anything that could undermine our agenda needs to be nipped in the bud." Continuing, according to the LA Times, Grella indicated that DeLay "did a lot of thinking over the Christmas recess" and decided that the rule change was taking attention away from the GOP legislative agenda.

2) From the Speaker's Office, we get John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, who said, also as reported by the Boston Globe, that the speaker thinks the current system encourages partisanship because it allows investigations to be launched too easily. Hastert still believes a change ''would have been the right thing to do, but it was becoming a distraction."
In other words, they didn't pocket the rule because it was the "right thing to do" they pocketed the rule change because it wasn't politically expedient and was threatening their agenda. They don't really think it is a bad idea, they just didn't want to face the political music. According to Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), the "indictment rule" was restored in part because of complaints that members had heard back home. "Constituents reacted," Rep. Hayworth was quoted as saying to the Washington Post, "[w]e're blessed with a leadership that listens." Again, please explain why we as average American citizens are supposed to be happy, proud, or excited about a group of people who only stumbled into the correct result, because the alternative wasn't politically salient at this time? Don't get me wrong, they get credit for the result, but I don't know what is more disturbing, that they proposed such changes in the first place, or that it was only "politics" that prevented them from taking hold.

For the record, Democrats past ethics practices in the House haven't been stellar either. In fact, many people, including myself, believe that it was in large part the ethical lapses by key Democrats (Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski, to name but a couple) in the late 80's and early 90's that allowed the GOP Revolution in 1994 to succeed. That being said, the fact that the other guys were bad too, does not a justification make. We should expect more, much more from our Congressional leaders, regardless of party affiliation.

I'll say again, I don't have the first clue if Delay is guilty of what he is currently being investigated for, but should he be indicted there should be repercussions in the Congress. Should he be forced to resign his seat, no, not for merely an indictment. Conviction, however, is a different story, and he should be removed from the House for that, but one should not have to resign because of an indictment. As the old saying goes "a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich;" thus, an indictment in our criminal justice system doesn't mean a whole lot. However, it is an indication that at least some people (the grand jury) thought there was enough there to justify a trial on the merits. Therefore, a member of Congress should at a minimum be forced to step aside from his role within the leadership. Of course it goes without saying that the same rules should apply to committee chairmen, ranking members, and other key players in both parties. This isn't a matter of politics, it is, however, a matter of honor, dignity, and to me at least, it is the right thing to do.


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