Alice in Wonderland on Capitol Hill

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is drawing huge crowds to its latest movie rendition.  Yet fans of the intriguing characters and scenarios Alice encounters in her adventures, need not fork over the cost of a movie ticket to witness the nonsense that is “Wonderland.”  All they need do is watch the shenanigans now unfolding in the nation’s Capital. 

Really – who needs the Mad Hatter when we have former New York Congressman Eric Massa proudly describing how he “gropes” male staffers, but only playfully during “tickling” sessions?  And, why enter the fantasy world of Alice — where Humpty Dumpty explains that a word mean nothing more than whatever he chooses it to mean — when all you have to do is tune in and watch New York’s Charlie Rangel twist words to explain why his stepping down from his post as the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, should not be taken as an admission he’s done anything wrong?

Capitol Hill scandals are as old as, well, Capitol Hill; and the “modern era” has witnessed its fair share.  Who can forget the spectacle of then-Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills (D-AR) chasing stripper Fanne Foxe into the Tidal Basin in 1974?  Or witnessing former Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s presidential aspirations implode following publications of photos with girlfriend Donna Rice aboard the sailboat “Monkey Business” in 1987.  More recently, the Washington Beltway scene was rocked in 2006 when e-mail messages between Republican Florida House member Mark Foley and a male page were made public.  That scandal sank more than a single congressman; it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the Republican Party losing its majority for the first time in 12 years.

In each of these earlier – and other – congressional scandals, the leadership of each of our two major political parties attempted to spin the incident to its advantage and, of course, to the detriment of the other party.  For example, in the Mark Foley case, the fact that the House GOP leadership was shown to have responded slowly and clumsily to the mounting evidence of the congressman’s transgressions, gave the Democrats a powerful weapon with which to hammer the Republicans in the off-year election.  This year, the shoe is on the other foot. 

Facing two major scandals in another seminal off-year election, the Democrats are trying desperately to paint themselves as the party that truly cares about ethics, and is in fact taking “swift and decisive” action to deal with evidence of corruption.  Writing recently in the Washington Post, Jo-Ann Armao gushed that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is a “hero” for his “deft” handling of the Eric Massa scandal.  Such accolades may be a bit premature.

For one thing, as even novice Washington, DC observers know, in scandals such as these more details inevitably seep out over time; and we don’t yet know how much the Pelosi-Hoyer leadership team knew, or when they knew it about Massa’s grotesque behavior with male staffers. 

More difficult for the Democrats, however, is the manner in which they have permitted the Rangel affair to fester.  Allowing the long-time New York Democrat to hang on to the Ways and Means gavel for months after clear evidence of tax transgressions and other ethical shortcomings surfaced, dramatically reduces the credibility of the Democratic leadership to claim the mantel of “ethical leadership.”  As noted by Ruth Marcus in the Wall Street Journal on March 3rd – the same day Rangel “temporarily” surrendered his chairmanship – the House ethics committee is often more an enabler of corruption than a prosecutor of it.  And that’s a problem for both parties.

41 comments Add your comment

Rod

March 15th, 2010
8:11 am

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
8:12 am

Considering the Washington crowd has stolen 2.5 trillion dollars of our social security pensions, I say off with their heads. Mark my words, now that the money is gone, Congress is going to cheat many of us in the Giant Generation out of the Social Security benefits we have already paid for, and call the cheating “reform.” Off with their heads……

Richard

March 15th, 2010
8:48 am

Just out of curiosity, why does the “scandal” of one person ever act as a means to bash the the entire political party?

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
8:54 am

Richard, you need to stop thinking Republic (or Democrat): they are both EVIL and have stolen our social security pensions. Think payback, revenge, tarring and feathering, hanging, those are my happy thoughts when I think of the 2.5 trillion excess social security tax dollars the giant generation has paid into social security, over and above benefits paid out, and that the Washington thieves have stolen. Both parties are guilty and in my book both must pay with all they and theirs have, forever.

No More Progressives!

March 15th, 2010
8:58 am

“We have to pass the bill so you can see what’s in it.”

Wonderland for sure……………………….

Jess

March 15th, 2010
9:05 am

How many Congressmen need to tell us that Congress is broken before we realize Congress is broken. Unfortunately Congress is the only thing that can fix Congress and since it will involve some sacrafice, don’t look for that anytime soon.

itsme

March 15th, 2010
9:10 am

Does Washington attract this kind of people (who somehow manage to slip beneath the voters’ radar), or do normal people go to Washington only to become corrupted?

Jess

March 15th, 2010
9:10 am

Richard,

The scandal of one person? Did you read the article?

It can bash the an entire political party the same way the scandal of the financial industry allowed this administration to bash free enterprise, and the entire world of private business.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 15th, 2010
9:19 am

Richard, it becomes pretty salient when a party bills itself as “reformers,” which both parties purport to do. One factor Bob doesn’t address is the hypocrisy factor (not surprising, since he’s a conservative). The electorate appropriately tends to hold conservatives to higher personal standards of conduct because part of being conservative has meant attempting to legislate some families’ values into legal code (i.e., no to the legal protections of marriage for gays and lesbians). So when you have a Republican who’s suddenly found out to have been seeing gay prostitutes, for example, you have the double whammy of it impacting that politician as well as tarring the national image of the Republican Party as straight-arrow reformers (see Larry Craig, Mark Foley). The Democrats don’t get as tarred by it because they don’t want to tell you what you can or can’t do in your bedroom. While it can certainly hurt individual Democrats (see Spitzer, for instance, who was busted for something he “cracked down on” as an attorney), it rarely hurts the party as a whole with its constituents (although Republicans who mock it are to be expected). That could change, however, since the Democrats have been putting together fragile, larger voting blocs.

Gerald West

March 15th, 2010
10:31 am

And just what do these “scandals” have to do with the job of legislating? And, what business of mine or yours is the personal life of these people?

Rich, powerful old men are genetically-driven to make fools of themselves over younger women or boys.xA few get caught, most do not. Big deal!

Jefferson

March 15th, 2010
10:51 am

These are the boys you ran with. Talk about hanging with the wrong crowd.

joan

March 15th, 2010
11:01 am

Everytime the President talks I feel like I am Through the Looking Glass, because nothing he says is based in reality or makes any sense, except perhaps for the growing numbers of people in this country who don’t pay taxes. For those entitlement people, government employees and the like, all is well–until they have killed the golden goose.

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
11:30 am

Sex scandals are just a diversion to keep the heat off politicians while they git about the business of robbing the taxpayers blind. A single term limit is the only solution, one term and you are done.

No More Progressives!

March 15th, 2010
11:57 am

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 15th, 2010
9:19 am
Richard, it becomes pretty salient when a party bills itself as “reformers,” which both parties purport to do. One factor Bob doesn’t address is the hypocrisy factor (not surprising, since he’s a conservative).

I’ll put every bill on-line for 48 hours so you can read it!

All these healthcare negotiations will be televised on C-Span!

I’m going to focus on jobs like a laser beam!

We created or saved 650,000 jobs!

And on & on & on……………………………………

Richard

March 15th, 2010
12:08 pm

Next time a Democrat (or Reblican) does something corrupt, wouldn’t it be better to blame it on all Congressmen instead of just one party?

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
12:16 pm

All of this deficit spending out of Washington just guarantees the End of the Middle Class in America. We are going to lose our social security pensions in the next five years, the liars in Washington have spent every cent of the Trust Fund, and now that they have to dip into it to pay benefits, they will find a way to cheat us our of our pensions. I suspect they will try to divide the Giant Generation by proposing some kind of income limit for benefits, age limits, and who knows what else. ObamaCare is just the latest nail in our collective coffin.

Glass House Roc ker

March 15th, 2010
12:16 pm

The unfortunate truth is that many people–who confine themselves within on political party–seem entirely too interested in how others conduct their lives in private. Should they be considered pathetic sickos or the moral majority?
Everyone appreciates the hypocrisy when an elected official gets caught in a sexual escapade. Besides a lack of character, the most offensive thing to me is the display of gross stupidity and insult to his or her constituency as well as the high office to which he or she was entrusted.
Charlie Rangel is the one of those listed whose former position could affect us all. Mr. Rangel also sees to be best qualified as a resident of Wonderland. He is saying that we should believe him instead of our lying eyes–isn’t he? From what I have read his conduct should be cause for investigation and, if justified, criminal prosecution.
Bob, how could you forget Earl Long–a great American?

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 15th, 2010
12:51 pm

If you just assume they’re all crooked as a dog’s hind leg, you’ll seldom be disapointed.

ugaaccountant

March 15th, 2010
12:52 pm

Tar and feathers – If you’re just now realizing that social security is bankrupt, then where were you during the 2000 election? It was one of the key discussions 10 years ago. If this is so important to you, why didn’t you get involved and make a difference while there was still time?

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 15th, 2010
1:24 pm

No More Progressives! (and what a sad world that would be), I agree that Obama has been a huge disappointment–and I say that as a proud progressive who is one because of her Christian beliefs. (A true reading of the Bible doesn’t allow for a conservative position, and trust me, I know. I read Scripture in its original languages and do so frequently).

But yes, Obama has been nothing more than another capitalist, great for business, bad for everyone else. The health care reform isn’t reform at all; it’s a big ol’ gift to the insurance companies and is bad for everyone else. True reform with a public option (you know, like the rest of the developed world, which has higher health care outcomes on measurable data such as infant mortality) would be fabulous, but we’re not seeing anything remotely resembling that.

However, this column was about morality. In the world of sexual scandals, it’s a bigger deal for a Republican than for a Democrat. The Democrat tarnishes himself (or herself, but that’s pretty rare), but the Republican also tarnishes his (or her, also rare) party. Democrats don’t care about someone’s private life unless that person is demonstrating hypocrisy, like Edwards or Spitzer… but Republicans en masse are concerned with legislating their version of family values–particularly in the realm of gay marriage and abortion. Any time you have a Republican revealed as gay who was on the record against gay rights, it tarnishes the whole party’s image as the “moral values” party.

So yes, Obama and other Democrats are certainly worthy of scorn for their hypocrisy, but in this case, we’re talking about hypocrisy centered on sexual behavior and so-called sexual morality, and that’s a bigger deal for Republicans. We Democrats, on the other hand, already know when our politicians are gay. ;)

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
2:03 pm

ugaaccountant – Al Gore’s lock box is no different than the non negotiable bonds currently held in Parkersburgh, WV…..Just another variation on the theme of tax and spend…The situation has become much worse lately with all the deficit spending to bail our AIG, Fannie, Fredie and all the rest of the crooks. ObamaCare is just the latest nail in our coffin. Kyle’s school vouchers and high speed rail are more tax, borrow, print and spend schemes.

Chris Broe

March 15th, 2010
2:30 pm

Johhny Dep is in “Alice in Wonderland”, but perhaps the solution to all the congressional groping, fondling, and tickling lies in another Johnny Dep movie, “Edward Scissorhands”.

Not so much white rabbit as white elephant, the GOP has been bled dry by hate. Repudlickans love hate more than they hate love. Hey! My logic is just like the Cheshire Cat, who told Alice that the white rabbit went “that way”, as opposed to Oz’s Scarecrow who told Dorothy that some people go “Both ways”, and that brings us back to Massa, and this whole unreconciled MESS!

I’m so confused!

Liking Barr more every day.

March 15th, 2010
2:53 pm

Not Going To Use My Usual Name “this column was about morality”.

Not really. It was about the circus-flavored nonsense that scandals elicit from our leaders: the coverups, the arbitrary enforcements, the hypocrisy. It was about our loss of respect for our governing institutions.

No, the column was not about morality, even though morality was a part of what Bob Barr wrote about. This is the problem. Reading comprehension. And then you total r-words dare question my motives in trying to clean up this blog from the Bookman Seven.

Un-f-ing-believa-f-ing-ble

This was an excellent piece. Bob Barr did a great job in setting up a very lively, entertaining debate in which he had opened up every popular-culture touchstone of talking-points by using a fairy tale from our youth, but no, that wasn’t enough for the Bookman Seven. They insist on chewing over the same old regurgitated partisan cud. I would tell them to eat more chicken but because Massa is mentioned above, I’m afraid to.

Jay Bookman’s attempt to raise the debate to a whole. nubbah. lebel. also failed.

I gotta give it to both all the blog hosts for not giving up on you total r-words from hell.

Jklol

ugaaccountant

March 15th, 2010
3:02 pm

tar and feathers – I didn’t ask how you felt about Gore’s plan. It blew and we all know that. I asked why you didn’t come up with a plan. You get on here and make alot of complaints about a lot of things, but I never see you supporting any position.

ugaaccountant

March 15th, 2010
3:04 pm

Liking Barr … – I’ve got no interest in discussing the personal lives of politicians. I only care about the issues. I’d hope most people are tired of the scandal cycle and will start focusing on the platforms and holding their politicians accountable.

Liking Barr more every day.

March 15th, 2010
3:43 pm

That’s a start, but……

It’s going to take the nookyoular option to rid ourselves of this partisan overbite.

Tomas

March 15th, 2010
3:49 pm

When Republicans get caught in scandal, the refrain in the media is “evil, corrupt Republicans. When it’s the democrat turn, like Rangel and Masa, the media says “evil, corrupt politicians. See a pattern?

No More Progressives!

March 15th, 2010
4:05 pm

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 15th, 2010
1:24 pm
No More Progressives! (and what a sad world that would be)……….

Do you know how vile a true Progressive is? Have you read your history?

I can (almost) live with Democrats and Liberals, but not Progressives like Teddy R. and Woody Wilson. No way.

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 15th, 2010
4:09 pm

third rate uga accountant: GEORGIA TECH SOLUTION: STOP SPENDING.

No More Progressives!

March 15th, 2010
4:12 pm

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 15th, 2010
1:24 pm

But yes, Obama has been nothing more than another capitalist, great for business, bad for everyone else.

Obama is a Capitlist? Are you nuts? the guy is a Socialist right from Marx & Engels. You cannot be serious.

Charlie Rangel

March 15th, 2010
4:48 pm

Hypocrisy centered on sexual behavior certainly applies to my men Bill Clinton and John Edwards! These two are serial liars and both are good democrats, both corrupt as hell just like me.

Scout

March 15th, 2010
7:23 pm

Congress has long since ceased to be an honorable profession.

With rare exceptions, I am suspect of the motives of anyone who wants to run for any politcal office.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

March 15th, 2010
8:28 pm

The only ethical problem that matters to me is the one that allows the overlords to spend money on anything other than national defense.

vracer

March 16th, 2010
7:53 am

Those who say that personal lives of our reps is off limits don’t have a clue. Character is an underlying trait that influences all that a person does. Cheat on your wife, cheat on your taxes, sell your vote, take a bribe. All are just variations of the same theme.

vracer

March 16th, 2010
8:50 am

…………. and whoeveris president is the most important. Character counts.

Union City

March 16th, 2010
9:45 am

Charlie Rangel..You missed one thing about John Edwards and Bill Clinton..neither were accused of such misbehaving in Congress..Especially since Bill never served in Congress.

Bob

March 16th, 2010
11:06 am

Bob Barr says: Who can forget the spectacle of then-Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills (D-AR) chasing stripper Fanne Foxe into the Tidal Basin in 1974?

Man I miss the old days. Back then those kind of scandals were entertaining, not disturbing.

retiredds

March 16th, 2010
11:10 am

Bob, it is a given that from now on, just as in the past, the party in power can be brought down by a variety of scandals. It’s both a Republican and a Democrat thing. They share equally in
“scandalese”. My only beef with the Republican Party is that they want us to believe and keep touting that they are the party of “family values”. The truth is they have no corner on that market nor do the Democrats. It’s a big lie.

Morality?

March 16th, 2010
5:59 pm

You mean like starting a war based on phony stories of weapons of mass destruction? Or claims that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks?

You conservatives taking the high-moral ground is a laugh. Nothing Obama has done compares to Bush&Co’s lies and rush to war. George W could have been a great President — but instead he became a partisan hack who only cared about 51% of the people (if that). Remember that “I’m a uniter not a divider BS”?

Democrats may be worthless and spineless, but compared to the way the Bush governed (and the GOP majority ran Congress from 1995 until 2007), I think I’ll take worthless and spineless over corrupt (Enron, etc.), war-profiteering (Halliburton) and war mongering (Rove and Cheney). George W. couldn’t even finish the job in Afghanistan.

ugaaccountant

March 17th, 2010
1:36 pm

Morality? – Bush tried awfully hard to be a uniter. He worked out the wildly populist medicare prescription drug plan.

Social security reform was another populist type move. He wanted to make sure that everyone would have a little of their tax money back when they retired. He tried hard to get reform, but nobody would let him. Now, social security is disapeering down a black hole and has long since passed the point of no return.

He recognized failure in our schools and tried to do something about it. Remember that on paper at the time, no child left behind was a popular idea of how to reform schools. He can’t help it that the media is so poisonous that they expect every decision to work out perfectly. He only can realistically do the best decision with the information we have at the time. So judging him in hindsight is bad.

So yes, judging him on the platform for which I voted, he did make every effort to do exactly what he said.

lovesheather

April 1st, 2010
7:35 pm

it is my right…. is it not…. to screw who I can… I’ve garnered a position representing the public?