Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Fat and Happy No More

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, May 30, 2006 --  

Congressmen are outraged at being touched by unchecked executive power. Too bad they kept quiet as it was directed at the rest of Americans.

The FBI raid of the offices of corrupt Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) has served as a surprise catalyst in the overdue breakdown in relations between President Bush and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is seething at a perceived violation of Constitutional separation of powers in the raid, a related operation of which reportedly found $90,000 in marked bills in the freezer of Rep. Jefferson.1

Of course, President Bush has been playing fast and loose with Constitutional limits on his authority for nearly five years, with not so much as a peep from the Speaker of the House. Bush has secretly tapped the phone calls of U.S. citizens without warrants, imprisoned citizens and denied them due process by labeling them "enemy combatants," and amassed a huge database of citizens' call records in violation of federal law.

Yet none of these attacks on Americans' freedoms led Hastert to speak out. Only now that one of his fellow congressmen is feeling the brunt of executive power does he care about the Constitution. This is unbridled selfishness. Hastert is merely trying to protect his own privilege.

This is especially outrageous considering that there is ample precedent for law enforcement officers to raid offices of corrupt officials in other branches of government -- most notably in cases of corrupt judges. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) made the point himself in an appearance on Fox News Sunday.2

That Hastert has the audacity to stand up for his own selfish interests in a weak case when he has failed to stand up for the interests of private citizens in strong cases is bad enough. But in this instance, Hastert is only welcoming ugly comparisons by throwing his lot in with that of a hopelessly corrupt colleague. Years of concerted public relations work has successfully convinced Americans that the corruption scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff was not a Republican problem, but a bi-partisan problem. To be sure, the particularly heinous case of a lawmaker being caught with bribe money in his freezer drove home the point that Democratic congressmen are at least as corrupt as Republicans.

But for heavens' sake, why an earth would Hastert make himself appear guilty by association for selfishly defending his privilege on the basis of such a flimsily-based principle? If there were ever an example of how power has corrupted the Republican-controlled Congress this is it. When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans to power in the House of Representatives in 1994, it was on a reformist agenda that heavily denounced the corrupt system the Democratic congressmen had built. Since Hastert took over the leadership, Republican corruption has exceeded that of Democrats even in the worst years under Speakers Tip O'Neil and Jim Wright.

But the corruption that has overtaken the Republican Congress is not so much of the dramatic sort as comes with finding piles of money in the freezer. It is the old-fashioned, business-as-usual kind of corruption: sneaking massive pork-barrel projects into legislation as personal favors to constituents, in return for heaven knows what favors when the sponsoring congressmen retire from government. President Bush has signed these massively bloated bills with little protest, in exchange for the House turning a blind eye to the President's constitutional excesses.

With this unholy alliance, Hastert and his fellow congressmen have grown fat and happy. Hastert's cronies now bear a strong resemblance -- both physically and morally -- to Tip O'Neil's gang in the worst years of Democratic domination of the House. This is even more true now that the Speaker of the House has begun feuding with the president, much like O'Neil did during the Reagan years.

No matter how the dispute between Congress and the White House progresses, it is likely to benefit the American public. Shaking up the system in the midst of a putrid equilibrium is always a good idea. As congressional elections approach in November, voters would be well advised to keep this in mind.


1. Washington Post, Raid Was Tipping Point for an Angry Congress, May 28, 2006

2. Fox News Sunday, Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on 'FNS', May 29, 2006