From my USA Today column today (in web briefing):
But though the GOP’s mistakes are real, it’s also worth keeping in mind that many of its problems are not quite so unique to the Republicans as its liberal detractors and the news media (increasingly a distinction without much of a difference) would have everyone believe. Many of the GOP’s problems stemmed from the fact that it was simply the party in power in a bitterly divided country.
Take the GOP’s “corruption problem.” The Democrats retook Congress in 2006 largely on the strength of popular dismay with Republican scandals. Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff dominated the news, as did allegations of impropriety and corruption on the part of then-Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and confirmed cases of criminality on the part of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Just before the ‘06 election, Florida congressman Mark Foley was alleged to have “preyed” on young male congressional pages via online chats. The following summer, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho was accused of using gay-bathroom Morse code to signal to an undercover cop in the next stall that he’d like a wingman on a trip to funky town. These stories fueled the corruption narrative leading to the Democratic sweep last November.
Sounds bad, and it was. But it’s worth remembering that Democrats had plenty of scandals of their own. In 2004, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey resigned after the married father was alleged to have hired an unqualified boy toy to run his Homeland Security Department. In 2006, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana was caught with nearly $100,000 in his freezer. That same year, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island rammed his Ford Mustang into a Capitol Hill security checkpoint and, faster than his dad could say “Chappaquiddick,” checked himself into rehab for a pill addiction. Last spring, New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, a self-righteous anti-corruption zealot, resigned after it was revealed he had been using a call-girl service. Then the Democrat who replaced Foley was brought down for allegedly firing his mistress. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was caught cheating on his cancer-stricken wife. Charles Rangel, the Democratic dinosaur in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee, is embroiled in a series of allegations of self-dealing corruption. And now, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has bowed out as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be Commerce secretary thanks to an unfolding investigation into possible pay-for-play deal of less than Blagospheric proportions.
Such scandals are subjected to enormous double standards by many in the anti-Bush news media. But at least one of those double standards is defensible. The party in power warrants — and gets — more scrutiny than the other guys. Well, the Democrats now dominate American politics in a way they haven’t since the 1960s, if not the 1930s. Suddenly, a Democratic “culture of corruption” seems like a pretty easy story to write, thanks only in part to the most enjoyable — and therefore un-ignorable — scandal of the 21st century so far: Blagopalooza. Wiretaps, grotesque corruption, the race card, R-rated dialogue and hair you can see from space: What’s not to love?