Cross posted at Penndit.

But will it do any good?
Chicago Tribune article through Yahoo News.

After months of partisan bickering, the House ethics committee is up and running, meaning a host of lawmakers could find themselves under investigation and Democrats could find ammunition for their denunciations of a Republican “culture of corruption,” which they are making a central theme of the 2006 congressional elections.

Good to see a Democratic turn of phrase (culture of corruption) get repeated in a regular article.  Culture of corruption is good, because it plays off of culture of life. It’s also short and easy to understand. It’s got a certain ring to it, so if it continues to be used like this, we’ll find voters repeating it in 2006, as Bush voters repeated flip-flop over and over again.

“This could easily turn out to be another era defined by the criminalization of policy differences,” said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “Ethics issues tend to be used as a club in larger political warfare.”

Democrats are clamoring for official investigations into the financial activities of a number of House Republicans, most notably Majority Leader
Tom DeLay (R-Texas). For their part, Republicans have assumed a defensive posture, threatening retaliation for complaints filed by the opposition.

Democrats on offense and Republicans on defense. Music to my ears. Now, get those investigations cranking. Then again, this could be one of those toothless deals, in which case, little gets done.

The panel’s paralysis began in January when Republicans imposed rule changes, including letting House leaders keep their positions even if they are indicted. That prompted a Democratic boycott of the committee and set off a political furor.

After Republicans backed down, another standoff kept the committee out of service for two more months when the committee chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (news, bio, voting record) (R-Wash.), sought to install a staff director over the objections of Rep. Alan Mollohan (news, bio, voting record) (D-W.Va.), the committee’s top Democrat. The committee has held one hearing in half a year. It broke down in bickering.

Rep. Mollohan has done a great job leading the Democrats on this issue.

Now, after an agreement between Hastings and Mollohan, the committee is searching for non-partisan investigative staffers. By the time it is properly staffed–around Labor Day, Mollohan predicts–the committee will have a year to tackle its docket before the 2006 congressional elections.


Democrats have been quick to spotlight Republican members who are facing ethics scrutiny, using everything short of skywriting to alert local voters of their representatives’ alleged impropriety.


Among those on this Democratic committee hit list are Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif).

Did the writer have to use hit list? It’s a common term, but it makes it sound like these cronies are the victims.

When Cunningham announced he would not seek re-election, the Democratic Party issued a statement calling him the “first GOP victim of the culture of corruption.” In Minnesota, the Democrats have recruited FBI whistle-blower Colleen Rowley to challenge Rep. John Kline (news, bio, voting record) (R-Minn.), saying her campaign will focus on “ethics in government and effective national security.”

“The Democrats have made it clear they’re going to make this a big issue,” said Hefley, the Republican former committee chairman. “Unfortunately, the way the Republicans handled it last winter played right into the Democrats’ hands. It looked like we were playing fast and loose with the rules, and we looked real bad.”

Hefley is correct on this. The article notes that for the culture of corruption meme to take hold, it would require a strong presence on the national stage.  One of the best ways is for Democrats to take a strong stand against certain bills, and when interviewed on those bills, to tie in culture of corruption and Karl Rove into the story. A little like my suggestion earlier in the week that Democrats could get Karl Rove into SCOTUS stories. (Play Democratic Spokesperson…)

“When they see a drumbeat of pieces about corruption, a pattern of behavior is created that’s really, really dangerous,” Cook said.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Ornstein agreed: “That macro message is starting to emerge.”


It is that mentality of “mutually assured destruction” that has Melanie Sloan skeptical that the ethics committee will be very aggressive. Sloan is executive director of the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,

“Everybody is worried about starting an ethics war,” she said. “Don’t expect them to do anything.”

The ‘culture of corruption’ is starting to emerge, and it’s good to see DCCC laying some 2006 groundwork in going after DeLay, Ney, Simmons, etc.  

However, Mollohan and House Democrats need to be more aggressive and avoid the fear of mutually assured destruction. Be aggressive. Root it out in the Democratic Party, and that, in itself, will help counter some of the common Republican themes of “culture of life,” “family values,” and “love it or leave it.” Drawing the distinction between right and wrong, and landing on the side of what is right, goes a long way in undermining Republican claims of righteousness and getting people involved in the Democratic Party (via time, money, etc.)

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