Congress: stop us before we cheat again

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 10:49 AM

That's pretty much the gist of an editorial from the Fort Wayne Sentinel:

"Both Republicans and Democrats in the past few days have revealed, with great fanfare, reform proposals that include new ethics rules and tougher restrictions on how much lobbyists can spend and how much access to members of Congress they get in return.

"It is in a way a silly exercise. Do members of Congress need new rules telling them to obey the existing rules? They are under no obligation to accept gifts from lobbyists and it already is against the law to accept a gift to vote yea or nay on a particular piece of legislation. Think about it. Congressional members who have been accepting questionable gifts from lobbyists are proposing new ethics rules to stop the practice. It's kind of like a serial killer writing a "stop me before I kill again" note.

That's pretty much true, and I understand the temptation to scream at the folks in congress at this point.  But it ignores some things.

First, that's the way our society functions.  Not just congress, most of our society.  Too many people don't ask themselves "Is this right?" They just ask, "Is this legal?"  Or worse, "Can I get away with this?"

So yes, we do need congress to tighten the laws, no matter how absurd that is in the way that the Sentinel describes.  We need the system to lead the next Bob Ney and Tom DeLay to give a resounding "NO!" the next time they ask themselves, "Can I get away with this?"

It's also true that there are people in congress who aren't nearly the grab-what-you-can scoundrels that Ney and DeLay appear to be.  We put our good legislators at a major disadvantage when we allow our bad legislators to get away with corruption.

Finally, even though it probably didn't intend to, the editorial's focus on the underlying absurdity has the unfortunate tendency to blur the fact that Abramoff is largely a Republican phenomenon. Duke Cunningham is a Republican.  Tom Noe is an Ohio Republican.  The cast of financial clowns that rode San Diego into virtual bankruptcy were California Republicans.

In short, we've got a particularly nasty set of Republicans holding sway at the federal and many state levels.  That fact needs to remain visible to the public.