Friday, April 28, 2006

Everyone loves a good sex scandal. It's easy to understand, it sells newspapers, it provides late-night comedians with material, and it really gets people riled up. Yet there is something embarrassing about the fact that our leaders can commit crimes that genuinely hurt the country--gut the Bill of Rights, waste tens of billions of dollars, send thousands of young people of to be killed or maimed for no good reason--and people will yawn, but have sex with the wrong partner and suddenly we're up in arms. It's embarrassing, but if that's what it takes to throw the scoundrels out, I'll accept a sex scandal.

In case you missed it:
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI is “investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall ‘Duke’ Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites.” The Journal also said the investigators are exploring “whether any other members of Congress” are involved.

Last night on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, Dean Calbreath of the San Diego Union Tribune – which recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Cunningham case – said that “as many as a half a dozen” members of Congress could ultimately be implicated in the prostitution scandal.

As sex scandals go, this has the potential to be one of the better ones. Cunningham and the as yet unnamed other congressmen (and we can be confident that they all will be men) are not merely being accused of marital infidelity; they are being accused of accepting hookers as bribe payments for votes on defense contracts. Hookers for votes. It has a nice headline ring to it, doesn't it? This is just what we need to warm up the election and really start throwing some Republican incumbents out.

The shameless partisan voice in me says, "Wait a minute, John. What if some of those half-dozen are Democrats?" To that I say, "Shut up voice! If they're crooks, I don't want them in my party." Corruption should not be a partisan issue. If they are corrupt, we need to throw the bums out. Naturally, I'm cackling with glee over the thought that most, if not all, will be Republicans. I hope we can effectively use this as another data point to portray the Republicans as the party of corruption.* If one or two of them are Democrats, we can't rally around them and protect them because they are "our" crooks. We need to make a very public display of cleaning our own house.

This scandal has another aspect that should appeal to the public. Bribe taking is a form of corruption that is easy to understand. Throw the bums out and put them in jail. But accepting hookers as payment, is much worse. Because sex scandals so enrage and mobilize the public, they are far more professionally dangerous than mere financial scandals. The hookers themselves are extra unnecessary witnesses to the corruption. Finally, sex scandals represent a personal scandal as well as a professional scandal. All these extra layers of risk amount to the bribe-taker voluntarily placing himself in a eminently blackmailable position. If for no other reason, these people should be thrown out for being too stupid to sit in Congress.

* Clever Wife points out that pushing too hard on a negative story line, like corruption, can leave a bad taste in the public's mouth and turn them against both parties. This is a very valid criticism. Polling over the last year has not shown Republican woes turning into a strong Democratic advantage. Most people are in a pox-on-both-of-their-houses mood. It might be that the Democratic Party is not the best venue to deliver this narrative. It might be that yellow-press bloggers are the best venue.

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