It is a mark of the sheer panic sweeping the ranks of Republican congressmen that one of their most levelheaded members, Ray LaHood of Illinois, has suggested that Congress abolish its page program altogether in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.
What conclusion are we supposed to draw from LaHood's proposal? That members of Congress cannot be trusted in the company of adolescents? If so, why punish the adolescents? Whatever happened in the Foley case surely wasn't the fault of the pages to whom Foley came on electronically, much less every teenager who has worked, or would like to work, as a page.
If LaHood believes that pages pose an irresistible temptation to his peers, there are surely solutions straight out of the Republican playbook that wouldn't punish the victims. How about building a 700-foot fence around all Republican members of Congress?
One thing is certain: Just dumping Denny Hastert as speaker, as many conservatives are demanding, won't clean up the Republican act. House Majority Leader John Boehner -- No. 2 in the House GOP hierarchy to Hastert's No. 1 -- now says that the failure to do anything about Foley since his e-mails first became known to the Republican leadership is Hastert's responsibility.
But we also know that Boehner and colleagues Tom Reynolds of New York, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee; John Shimkus of Illinois, who heads the panel that oversees the page program; and Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, who received the first complaints about Foley, had the same information Hastert had, and presumably they noticed that Mark Foley still walked among them as a member of Congress.
We know that Shimkus neglected to bring up the Foley issue with Michigan's Dale Kildee, the one Democrat on the committee that oversees the page program. We know that all of them put their concern for avoiding a scandal that might damage their party's prospects over whatever fears they may (and should) have entertained about Foley's interactions with the Capitol's cadre of teenagers.
And should House Republicans toss Hastert overboard, then both their leaders in this session will have left the leadership in disgrace. Tom DeLay, after all, is soon to stand trial in Texas for abuses he is alleged to have committed in his drive to secure the House Republican majority by forcing through a mid-decade redistricting in his home state. And dissimilar as Hastert's inaction in the Foley case and DeLay's action in the Texas reapportionment may be, their motives were indisputably identical: elevating the retention of the Republican congressional majority over any concerns about the other consequences -- some legal, some moral -- of their acts.
There were, of course, other ways to ensure that majority short of such desperate expedients. Congressional Republicans might have bethought themselves to exercise some oversight on our war in Iraq, at least forcing the administration to articulate exactly what our strategy is.
They might have crafted a Medicare prescription program less to the drug companies' liking that didn't leave seniors having to fork over thousands of dollars for medications once the program's coverage ran out, as it has for many, at mid-year. They might have raised the minimum wage, something that, by the evidence of every recent poll, a vast majority of Republican rank-and-filers support. They might have raised revenue to cover the cost of the war and all the other programs they support. They might, in short, have made an effort to address the nation's needs.
Instead, the larger purpose of the Republican Congress has been to enrich the rich and to cling to power by all means necessary -- with the financial assistance of the grateful rich. Purging Hastert, like dumping DeLay, does not signal any shift in these priorities. Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents are well within their rights to note that their opponent voted to give control of the House to Hastert and DeLay in January of 2005 and to ask why anyone would think he or she would make a better choice next time. What would be different? After all, in not sharing what he knew about Foley with Kildee, Shimkus was merely following the Republicans' practice of cutting the other party out of all legislative deliberations and running the House of, by and emphatically for themselves.
And who are the Republican members of Congress who've opposed this? Who has voted for rules that allow Democrats to offer amendments to key bills from the floor of the House? Who among them would consider not just defenestrating Denny but also changing the way the Republican Congress does business? Nobody springs to mind.
So -- dump the pages? Come now. Let's just dump the Republicans.
Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect. This column originally appeared in The Washington Post.
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