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October 5, 2006
Ethics And Policy In Election-Year Chat

Earlier this morning, I took a few minutes to participate in a chat session hosted by the AP's Otis Hart on ethics in national politics. I joined Nick Gillespie from Reason and Judd Legum from Think Progress, and we managed to put aside partisan battles -- for the most part -- to talk about how ethics impact elections and politics:

asap: OK: We hear a lot about the term "ethics" in connection to politics. What sorts of things do you think voters are thinking of when they worry about ethics?

Morrissey: I think that local races will still focus mostly on policy ...

Morrissey: but the ethics issues will certainly be part of that consideration, as it should be.

Gillespie: ethics and politics are like oil and vinegar. you need a mix of both, but they separate as soon as they hit the plate.

Legum: I think it goes to the fundamental question on the minds of all voters...

Legum: who does my congressperson represent?..

Legum: Our district and our country...

Legum: or are they more concerned with their own power and self-interest

Obviously, the Foley scandal (now nicknamed "MasturGate") comprised part of the discussion, but it went far beyond the outrage du jour. How much should ethics play a part in the decisions made by voters? Does ethics matter more than policy, or do ethical questions trump policy? What was the worst ethical violation of the last ten years? You may be surprised at the answers, and I was surprised how well this worked between the three of us. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to participate, and the next topic for discussion.

That brings me to the lastest in the MasturGate scandal, and a piece of advice for the Republicans. People jumped all over an earlier Drudge Report flash that claimed the sexually explicit IMs were part of a joke played on disgraced politician Mark Foley and a question as to whether the teenager involved had turned 18 beforehand (he hadn't, as it turned out). The story was used to claim that the scandal was a hoax and a hit job on Republican leadership, but that meme died when ABC found three more former pages who claim that Foley also sent them harassing IMs.

This is a real scandal, and attempting to blame the Democrats will gain Republicans nothing. Had the GOP handled this properly in the beginning, it could have remained isolated to Foley himself, as it should be -- after all, he's the one who harassed the pages and not Denny Hastert, John Boehner, or anyone else. Hastert and Boehner are terrific people by all accounts, and I'm sure the IMs have horrified them as much as anyone else. But the father of all this misery comes from the decision made by Hastert and/or his staff to keep the parental complaint about Foley from the bipartisan Page Board. House procedures call for complaints regarding pages to be handled by the Page Board, and no one -- not even Denny Hastert -- has provided a single explanation as to why they neglected to do so.

I don't believe that they intended to cover up any misdeeds by Mark Foley, but I do think they put partisan concerns ahead of their responsibilities to Congress, the pages, and the voters. Is that transgression enough to demand Hastert's resignation? That's a matter of opinion, and you already know mine. That failure is a fact, however, and had it not occurred, none of the rest of this would matter.

Republicans should stop going on offense on this issue; it's a fight that is unwinnable. The violation here is Foley's betrayal of public trust by hitting on young and vulnerable pages, regardless of whether they had turned 18 or not. It's not ABC reporting on the IMs, and it's not whether anyone held onto the IMs for a period of time before ABC reported them. Arguing these points will not win any converts among the voters that the GOP could lose in this upcoming election, and it's not going to motivate the base to turn out for the vote. The constant argument only prolongs the embarassment, and it sets up Republicans for a "gotcha" every time another former page comes forward ... and I think we can look forward to more of that as the days progress.

Michelle Malkin has been trying to advise Republicans to simply acknowledge the failure honestly and work to rebuild trust in GOP leadership. Unfortunately, they and their supporters have proven resistant to good advice. The sooner we quit trying to win an unwinnable argument, the sooner the air will deflate from this embarassment. If Republicans had done that last Friday, all of the subsequent revelations would have generated drastically less damage to party credibility.

NOTE: One of CQ's longtime commenters posted that I'm motivated to publish this opinion in order to burnish my non-existent credentials as a moderate and to win blog awards. All I can say in response is this: I didn't start this blog to shill for any politician or political party, nor do I do this to win blog awards. What you get at CQ is my honest opinion. If you want to read someone who will never criticize Republicans, I suggest you bookmark the party's web site.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 5, 2006 7:50 PM

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