Vaudeville and the Great White Way Comes to Washington

Willrogers“If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?"
                    -Will Rogers

Step right up folks, reach in your pockets, check out your loose change and fasten your seatbelts, it’s time for your favorite reality show, Integrity Politics. Your individually selected member of Congress (fill in appropriate name) is going to assuage all concerns, batten your hatches, fulfill your most earnest desires, keep you from remembering his near indictment and scratch your kitty just behind its left ear.

It’s not Sweeps Week, but its nearest living relative, Mid-Term Elections, is just over the hill on the other side of the meadow.

Integrity, that’s what we’re talkin’ about. Keep your eye on the pea. You think existing disclosure rules are too lenient? Holier than a Swiss cheese, loose around the couplings, stranger than a cur dog on a rich man’s farm? Don’t give it a thought. We’re gonna crank ‘em down tighter than a bull’s ass in fly time.

The Ethics Committee is meeting at this very moment.

RepchristophershaysA recent newspaper article claimed that the best idea so far was legislation proposed by Chris Shays and Marty Meehan. Shays and Meehan, sounds like an Irish vaudeville act and well it might be, their offering to a restive audience something called the Office of Public Integrity.

Hang up your tap-shoes, boys, we don’t need another ‘office’ of anything. Second thing you got wrong is naming it for ‘public integrity.’ We have run-of-the-mill integrity amongst the run-of-the-mill public, it’s our sorry-assed elected officials who’ve crossed the Rubicon.

“Oh, Mr. Shays, oh Mr. Shays, will you ever go down that road again a ways?”
“No, Mr. Meehan, no Mr. Meehan, not ‘till we can get the voters in a daze.”
"I’m not in it for the gain, can’t stand a moment more of pain"
"In the Congress, Mr. Meehan?"
"No, the jailhouse, Mr. Shays."

RepmartinmeehanDeliver me from ‘best ideas’ that would legislate ethics. You either have ethics or you don’t. I have some, but then I didn’t run for office by promising anyone I’d keep my sticky little fingers out of the till.

Anyway, these two erstwhile vaudevillians’ official creation would serve as a repository of filings (tap, tap, tappety, tap) with independent staff (a little soft-shoe), empowered to review documents, accept outside complaints, refer matters to the Justice Department (roll the straw-hat down your arm), conduct investigations and make recommendations to the House and Senate ethics committees (big finish, bounce cane off floor, close curtain).

The article continues, this would (not only) keep members of Congress involved, as they need to be, in setting and enforcing the rules for their own conduct, but it would help energize the ethics committees.

Well, Pard, the members of this 109th Congress have been too damned intimately involved already, if Jacky the Lackey Abramoff is any test of moral high-ground. The last unindicted co-conspirator to run the House Ethics Committee has lost the un and become indicted, a guy nicknamed The Hammer.

Somehow it just doesn’t lull me to dreamless sleep to know that Tom DeLay is, or was and would again if he had a chance, watching over the ethical behavior of our congressional beggar-poets.

Teddy slipping in the fix to keep all those windmills off Cape Cod? Scores of the selected-elected tripping over themselves to give back a Tribal donation here or reimburse a sight-seeing trip to the Northern Mariana Islands there? You’re gonna fix that by making recommendations to the House and Senate Ethics Committees?

Oh, my. Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan, you made me laugh and you made me cry, but the only thing you didn’t make was sense.

If the likes of Bernie Ebbers, John Rigas and Dennis Kozlowski need to get shipped off to Sing-Sing for long sentences in order to send a chill through the executive suites of our corporate giants, Congress deserves no less.

RepdanrostenkowskiDan Rostenkowski, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was indicted in 1994 on 17 felony charges, including the embezzlement of $695,000 in taxpayer and campaign funds.

He went to the pokey, but Dan was an old-timey pol and the dawn of K-Street hadn’t yet begun to rouge-up congressional morning-after cheeks. Abramoff is going to nail some Washington indiscretions of the felony type. Congress is not beyond the law, but they are unable to discipline themselves sufficiently to keep fingers out of various cookie-jars.

Send ‘em to jail, it’s where they belong, a place to study the nature of public trust.

America is a bigger public trust than Enron or World-Com.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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