Saturday, April 22, 2006

Politics as usual in six easy steps

Whenever a politician find himself under fire, thanks to his own embarrassing behavior, this is usually what happens next:

1. The pol says he is as clean as a hound's tooth and insists that his enemies are merely out to get him.
2. People don't believe him, and pressure mounts for the pol to quit whatever prestigious post he occupies.
3. The pol vows not to leave the prestigious post he occupies. The leaders of the pol's party vow to help him fight the unfair attacks.
4. Pressure continues to mount, and finally the leaders tell the pol that he has to go. The pol still refuses, vows to fight to the bitter end.
5. The pol quickly gives up his fight vow, even though he still says the attacks on him are baseless. He announces his surrender late on a Friday or Saturday, hoping to minimize press coverage.
6. The party leaders put out a strong statement of support for the pol that they had just pressured to quit.

This is the usual Washington drill, and the Democrats completed all six steps last night, in the case of Allan Mollohan. (A Friday night, naturally, in order to minimize press coverage.) The capper, as you will soon see, was a statement by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi that falls several notches short of honesty.

For weeks, pressure had mounted on West Virginia congressman Mollohan, who apparently is quite ethics-challenged, to give up his seat on the House Ethics Committee. It was getting very embarrassing. The Democratic leaders want to paint the GOP as the party of corruption in 2006 -- yet, as I mentioned a few days ago, their top Ethics guy used special-interest loopholes to steer $250 million into five nonprofit organizations which then hired a number of ex-Mollohan aides for big salary jobs.

He has also worked some suspiciously lucrative real estate deals with an ex-aide who runs one of the nonprofits, and he initially failed to pay real estate taxes. All these acts have been reported in the press, and federal prosecutors in Washington are also scrutinizing his finances. This has all been known for weeks, yet House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (a leading critic of Republican "corruption"), kept insisting there was no reason for Mollohan to give up his Ethics seat.

Then, on Thursday night, she told him to give up his Ethics seat. He resisted, vowed to fight. Yesterday, he gave up the fight, still insisting the charges against him were "baseless." And sure enough, Pelosi said that the man she just booted off the Ethics panel is really just avictim of his enemies. An excerpt from Pelosi's statement:

"The allegations against Congressman Mollohan originate from the National Legal and Policy Center, which engages in highly partisan attacks on Democrats. The attacks are an attempt to deflect attention from the long list of Republican criminal investigations, indictments, plea agreements and resignations..."

If Pelosi's Republican counterpart had issued such a statement, defending an ethics-challenged GOP pol as a mere victim of "highly partisan attacks," she would have considered that to be further evidence of Republican turpitude.

Somehow Pelosi seems to have overlooked the fact that Mollohan's actions had been outed by the Wall Street Journal on April 7 (on the front page, where nonpartisan, professional reporters do their best work), that a U.S. attorney is scrutinizing the congressman, and that mainstream newspapers such as The Washington Post have been calling for Mollohan to step down since last weekend.

Meanwhile, it's true that the National Legal and Policy Center is conservative, but that doesn't mean its work should be automatically dismissed as dishonest -- any more than's campaigns should be dismissed as dishonest just because the group is liberal.

This whole episode, and Pelosi's defensive reaction, is further proof that the Democrats may not have an easy time parlaying their anti-GOP "culture of corruption" message into votes next November. To a lot of Americans (or, at least those paying attention), the Six Steps outlined above might seem like just more bipartisan politics as usual.