Mark Twain probably had tongue in cheek when he remarked that "Congress is our only native criminal class," but maybe he was wiser and more prescient than he knew.
Karl Marx was closer to the mark: "History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." And what about the third time, fourth time and the times after that? But you don't have to be George Will to reach for Bartlett's Quotations to describe the result when Congress puts its collective mind to brewing scandal. Just listen to the players:
"I think 'resignation' is exactly what our opponents would like to have happen," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said yesterday as cries for his resignation grew louder. His opponents would like it "that I'd fold my tent and others would fold our tent and they would sweep the House." (After all that tent-folding, he forgot to say, the terrorists will have won.)
It's not easy to be a Republican leader this morning, trying to think of something clever (and distracting) to say. You have to think outside the unfolded tent. But not all Republicans are wary of offending the people who sent them here.
"I think the base has to realize that after a while, 'Who knew about it? Who knew what, and when?' When the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros."
But Mr. Hastert and his allies, the ones who knew that Mark Foley sees young boys as tasty appetizers on the congressional menu, are themselves "feeding the monster." It's true that George Soros, Nancy Pelosi and "Democratic operatives" are enjoying this immensely, but there would be no allegations if Mark Foley and his Republican enablers had not given the allegators so much to allegate. That's the point they ignore inside the Beltway, but it rarely escapes the folks in flyover land.
Only yesterday, the Republicans arrived as the new power brokers in Washington, full of idealism or what passes for idealism hereabouts and heady resolve, eager to take out the garbage of six decades of Democratic rule in the House of Representatives. Everything was going to be different. This time they meant it. Hadn't they put it in a contract? There would be no more winking at graft, no more nods to bribers, and the newcomers to town understood that these were not going to be permanent places at the pig trough. But when the courts knocked down congressional term limits you could hear the sighs of relief from Salem to Seattle. The Washington gravy train was just more fun than anyone dreamed it would be.
It's certainly true that Democrats are at least as randy and irresponsible as the Republicans, and until Mark Foley reminded everyone that gaiety can be a Republican weakness, too, most of the beds with live boys and not dead girls were thought to be Democratic beds. Rep. Gerry Studds famously turned his back on his colleagues when they censured him and won re-election after re-election in Massachusetts, where the Kennedys had long before inured the public conscience to sexual outrage. He became the icon on the double standard. But Democratic sins are no shield for Republican iniquity. Just as the Republicans must remember who sent them here, conservatives must remember why they sent the Republicans here.
Process is always easier than repentance and restitution. Mr. Hastert thinks a reform of the page program will make everything nifty again, but it's neither the pages nor the system who need reform. It's the men who run the system. The people in flyover land understand this.
The Republicans who search for a Clinton analogy to the Foley scandal could try this one: Nobody really understood arcane Arkansas land deals and complicated sweetheart bank loans, and "Whitewater" was winding down to the sea of forgetfulness. But everybody understood Monica, the abuse of interns and lying under oath about sex, and the Clinton years came to be defined as sex between the Bushes. There's always room for more pols in that land called Oblivion.