Another month, another Democratic House pick-up. Tuesday night it was in Mississippi, and it wasn’t close (54-46). Though the recent Louisiana special election really wasn’t a harbinger (Republican Woody Jenkins had issues) of broader trends, as the losses pile up, Republicans should be getting worried. And at the top of the GOP election-fortune to-do list, action-item No. 1 is: “Get Vito to Go.”
It’s been over a week since New York congressman Vito Fossella’s wife, along with the rest of us, found out about the Republican’s second life — he has a three-year-old daughter in Washington, D.C., with a woman other than his wife. It’s been almost two weeks since “Vino,” as he’s known by the irreverent New York press, was arrested for drunk driving — at twice Virginia’s legal blood-alcohol limit. Somehow, Fossella remains a congressman.
Former senator Alfonse D’Amato says he won’t resign.
He had better. There should be no delay. And Republican leadership should insist on it.
The political calculations are such that Republicans privately say they would prefer he retire, not resign. A retirement would make him the 30th Republican to retire at the end of this session. A resignation would mean a special election Republicans might not win — another bad precursor to November. It’s a practical concern. But the national party also has to consider the narrative, the big picture, the moral framework to the numerical goals.
Further, if Fossella was going to retire he should have done it last week. The longer this lasts, the worse it is for Republicans in Staten Island and beyond. He should resign, as his hometown paper insisted Friday. And Republican leaders in the House should insist on it, too.
We’re in an election year in which conservatives — talk-radio listeners who Tuesday heard Rush Limbaugh refer to John McCain’s climate speech as embarrassing, National Review Online readers — are frustrated, angry, disillusioned. “Vino” doesn’t help matters.
Is it fair to Fossella to be thus singled out? After all, other congressmen who’ve fallen short are still in office: Don Young, Ted Stevens, Rick Renzi, Jerry Lewis, Ken Calvert. Maybe they should go, too. We should heed Hamilton who warned: “virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature. . . . It is a common misfortune.”
The misfortunes are piling up in our political life, and obscuring the virtuous statesman and policymakers who we can ill afford to share their shrinking barrel with bad apples. I thought David Vitter probably should have resigned when his connection to the D.C. Madam was revealed. But Vitter’s crime was in the past and he and his family worked through it. He can still be an effective senator — and a conservative one at that. Fossella’s got no such luxury. And though his story is of the titillating sort, he is not alone in Congress. So, on that to-do list: Today, Fossella. Tomorrow, Young.
NRO, has, in fact, called for Republicans to urge Don Young to step aside, labeling him a “walking argument for term limits.” Young has a viable primary opponent and, with high unfavorables among likely voters, is probably gone after this term, anyway. But for the sake of putting a line in the sand, of showing a little leadership, Republicans should take the initiative to oppose another Young run. It will send a signal: We know people aren’t happy – congressional approval ratings are at 18 percent — and we’re doing something about it. We may not be the majority — our impact may be limited — but we’re going to give you a reason to work for our return. We’re going to give you a reason to want a Republican Speaker.
After the last congressional beating in 2006 — when Republicans lost the House — I met with a member of the GOP House leadership who thought that a “culture of corruption” wasn’t a reason for the widespread pounding — that it explained GOP losses in only a few districts (Conrad Burns, Mark Foley, etc.). He was wrong. If he still believes it, he’s in denial.
Republicans are worried about losing more seats this year. They probably will. They will lose even more — and deserve it — if they don’t clean House. It’s in conservatives’ interests to say so, and often. Otherwise, the Right deserves a long, dark life in the minority. And America can’t afford that.
On Hannity & Colmes on Monday night, co-host Sean Hannity found himself strongly disagreeing with his “Republican strategist” guest, arguing: “Maybe if they can’t live up to the basic standards of honesty and integrity and character and decency and morality, maybe they should put aside their ambition and get their personal lives together.” That’s what conservatives should be doing right now: demanding higher standards. Public service calls for that. And, frankly, winning probably does too.
We’re all only human. Mistakes are made — even tremendously big ones. Fossella’s need not weigh on the future of Congress and conservative policymaking, however. He should step aside. Republicans leaders, if they are leaders, know it. They should insist on it. And then God speed to all.