Commentary Magazine


They Don’t Learn Until It’s Too Late

The ethics inquiries that have been revealed thanks to a leak from the House ethics panel are as diverse as they are widespread – from the well-known (PMA Lobby Group, Charlie Rangel), to the perpetually “under investigation” (Rep. Alan Mollohan), to lesser-known incidents (Rep. Maxine Waters, who used her position on behalf of her husband’s bank, a move so audacious it drew a warning from Rep. Barney Frank, who knows a thing or two about helping banks).

It suggests that the corruption issue is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be easy to suggest what we have just one or two bad apples. This time, there are baskets of them. The accused (Rangel, Murtha, Waters) remain in prominent positions within the Democratic leadership. It will be hard to explain this away as the doings of inconsequential or peripheral figures.

And this is a problem for the Democrats, who seem to be in the process of assembling the very elements that contribute to a wave election. There is the governing failure (a jobless recovery, the prospect of looming unemployment at levels not experienced by most voters). In 2006 it was the Iraq war and Katrina. There is the ideological overreach on everything from cap-and-trade to health care. And now there is the corruption issue, which is endemic and which the House leadership has greeted with a yawn, determined to leave the malefactors in positions of authority.

The corruption issue affects almost solely the party in power, just as it did in 2006. The party in the minority isn’t worth bribing or influencing. And the policy failures will be equally hard to pawn off on the Republicans given the large Democratic majorities and the Republicans opposition to nearly all the ultra-liberal agenda. (This is the benefit of being the party of “no.”). There is, in short, no doubt whom angry voters should be angry at.

We have a year before the election. But if the leftward lurch continues and that swamp isn’t fully drained by then, the voters’ wrath, I suspect, will be felt. Those in power tend not to learn the lessons of their opponents — at least not until they experience a similar fate. The Pelosi Democrats will need to experience it themselves.