October 2008 Ethics Dunces
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republicans
A monster financial bailout bill, the result of hard compromises requiring each party to swallow a fair amount of unpalatable ingredients, passed the U.S. Senate and moved on to the House of Representatives. It could only be passed with bi-partisan co-operation, and, obviously, that would mean putting aside the usual partisan rhetoric, cheap-shots, pay-backs and set-ups. But as the consensus was that this was an emergency requiring compromise and fast action, and since everyone could agree, like the bill or not, that the House vote was a serious one requiring careful consideration and statesmanship, the least an American could ask of its representatives was that they act responsibly.
They did not. Knowing that she needed Republican support in a hyper-partisan
Congress and that her responsibility, like all Speakers of the House—whose
duty is to lead the entire body, not just their own party—was to make
the House of Representatives effective and productive, Nancy Pelosi seized
the moment before the vote to attack exactly the members she needed to
have swallow their principles and pride to follow her leadership. She
launched into a pure, unvarnished attack on the Republican Party and the
Bush Administration that was only tangentially relevant. An analogy? An
estranged husband and wife meet to decide on the terms of a divorce to
avoid nasty litigation. The husband begins the meeting by saying, “Before
we start, and I believe an amicable divorce is essential to the well-being
and happiness of our three wonderful children, let me say that this is
all your fault, because you are fat, lazy, stupid, unattractive, a lousy
mother, and a pathetic lover.”
In the wake of this disgraceful performance, Republican condemned Pelosi for disrupting the fragile alliance assembled by leaders of both parties to pass the bailout bill. She deserves condemnation, but in a responsible Congress, her antics would not have changed the outcome. Democrats ridiculed the unidentified Republicans who let anger at Pelosi alter their votes. Those Republicans deserve ridicule. But a House Speaker who understood the duties of national leadership and had an ounce of respect for her duty would not have given them an excuse to be irresponsible. Pelosi has been in the House for a long time: she knows how many fools and jerks are there. She had to know that her speech would risk drawing the worst conduct from the worst members, and yet she thought it was more important to score political points than to make the passage of the bill easier. And should the Republicans have been surprised at Pelosi’s partisan grand-standing? The Congress she leads has habitually made its priority to attack the Republican administration instead of seeking bi-partisan compromise to address real, serious, and worsening national problems. This was a time for Republicans to rise above the abysmal ethical standards of the House leadership. But they were not capable of doing so, even with national interests at stake.
The Ethics Scoreboard can hardly say that it was surprised at this turn of events either.
Only saddened and disgusted.