Topic: Government & Politics

The Flat Ethical Learning Curve of Congressional Republicans

Will the Democrats, when they take over-whelming control of both houses of Congress this fall, resolve to avoid developing the arrogant and unethical culture that marked the disgraceful reign of the Republicans? Almost certainly not, because what is respected in today’s Washington is success and power, not principle or values. But that’s okay: the Republicans’ defeat will teach make them realize that their fall was not dictated by the war in Iraq, gas taxes and the credit crunch, but by their abandonment of honesty and trustworthiness. Right?

Naaah. In fact, the GOP is as invested in Tom DeLay-Bill Frist flim-flam as ever. The party may go down, but it will go down slimy to the end. All evidence indicates that when it comes to ethics, Congressional Republicans have a learning curve as flat as a pancake.

The latest example is the astounding audacity of Alaska Rep. Don Young. The fact that he is only the second most sleazy elected official in Alaska tells you something (Senator Ted “Bridge to Nowhere” Stevens, who may yet get to spend his golden years in a Yukon prison, has first place nailed down), but never mind: he has the guts of a bandit. In fact, he IS a bandit. Young had the brass to change the wording of a bill—after it had been passed by both the House and the Senate!—to shift $10 million from a project to widen Interstate 75 in southwest Florida to a study of a Coconut Road interchange that will benefit one of Young’s campaign donors.

Young has an explanation, of course. His changes were a “correction” that had been agreed upon before passage (he says) but somehow never got added. Well, that’s neither an excuse nor a justification. It is an admission of complete disrespect for process, transparency, integrity and honesty. A Congressman is unilaterally making changes in the language of a bill after it has been passed! It doesn’t matter whether the changes are good or bad, whether they give money to starving children or pay for golden slippers for Young’s personal harem: this is breaking, not just the rules, but the law of the land. The fact that his illegal changes also appear to be a clear quid pro quo for campaign support (Young denies it, but Young’s conduct has disqualified him from ever being trusted or believed again) is just frosting on the cake. If one Congressman can change the language of bills after they have been passed by the lawfully elected Representatives and Senators, Americans no longer have a democracy. We have a fraudulent democracy, where the rules are a sham and the Constitutional checks and balances are frauds.

But this doesn’t matter to Don Young, just as it didn’t matter to Tom DeLay and his lieutenants, just as it didn’t matter to Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and all those who let Jack Abramoff buy legislation for his clients. The truly astounding thing is that after all the indictments, revelations, disgraces, scandals, humiliations and lost elections, there are still Republicans in Congress (and undoubtedly lurking Democrats, just accumulating the power and overload of arrogance necessary to behave similarly) who are simply immune to ethical thinking of any kind. Speaker Pelosi has called for both an ethics and a criminal investigation of Young’s dirty deed, though if the past is any indication, he is unlikely to receive more than a slap on the wrist. And only jail or electoral defeat can stop the habitually unethical from making a mockery of American government.

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