I've lived in the DC-area for nearly three years, and "inside the beltway" for 18 months. If I were to believe everything that politicians would tell me – particularly the anti-incumbent challengers making life difficult for so many established elected leaders, both Republican and Democrat – I should be pretty sleazy by about now.
You see, many of these politicians run on an anti-Washington platform, claiming that Washington is a noxious warp where reality doesn't really exist, middle class concerns fall on deaf ears, and leaders lose their sense of morality and common sense. What is needed are some outsiders to clean up the place.
We've heard that before. Like in 1994.
Dana Milbank notes that at least 20% of the elected leaders who came to office as part of the "Republican Revolution" have since found themselves embroiled in ethical scandals, many including sex. (Ironically, one of the proposals in GOP's 1994 "Contract with America" was the "Personal Responsibility Act." Evidently legislating the morality of others is easier than governing your own!) Writing about Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the latest elected victim of his own unbridled passion, Milbank rightly notes that the scandals that plague Democrats and
Republicans alike have little to do with Washington, and much more to do
with the people that our citizens send here to run the place.
In his hasty farewell, Souder took the well-worn path of blaming his departure on Washington. "In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain," he complained. "I am resigning rather than put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."
Yet millions of people live in the Washington area, and relatively few of us have adulterous relationships with married subordinates we have hired to assist us in broadcasts for Christian media outlets. That, and not this town's "poisonous environment," is why Souder is resigning.
Perhaps the problem is that lawmakers are spending too little time in Washington. In the old days, they moved their families here; now they jet back and forth and focus on raising campaign money, straining marriages. That reality, combined with the sense of invincibility many lawmakers acquire, has ensnared more than a few of Souder's classmates — most of whom came to town with a "family values" message.
So please, dear politicians – I'm taking to you, Rand Paul, Joe Sestak, Bill Halter, and others – give up the simplistic and unimaginative anti-Washington rhetoric. It only serves to create a boogeyman that doesn't really exist … until some firebrand, populist politician needs somebody to blame for his own failures.