COLUMN: Party power changes; corruption and in-fighting still remain

By Brenda Kay Zylstra

A few weeks ago the newly invigorated Democrats answered the 41 percent of voters who in post-elections surveys said corruption and scandals were “extremely important” factors in their vote by offering up whom else but two men with questionable ethical records.

John Murtha and Steny Hoyer, respectively the second and fifth ranked men in the House for receiving money from lobbyists according to Public Citizen, were pitted against each other for the job of majority leader. Hoyer won, not that it matters much since both men are at best of dubious character and at worst – and most likely – just two more indications that nothing, in fact, has changed on Capitol Hill. Republicans fare no better. Politics is still a game of back-scratching, constant campaigning and bottom line money grubbing.

How demoralizing to so quickly discover that the new man or party is hardly less of a rascal than that which proceeded. Sadly such is often the case in American politics. Though voters cry of being fed up with that status quo in Washington, they seem unable to elect a true political outsider, a maverick if you will, who will stand on his own and refuse to take orders or requests. On those rare occasions when one is elected – former Illinois senator Peter Fitzgerald, for example – the big party machines do all they can to cripple his efforts and oust him from office come re-election time.

Back in DC as the Dems prepare for their 2007 Congressional comeback, they are plagued not only with a seeming deficiency of Honest Abes but an already disappointing show of leadership and solidarity.

Already Nancy Pelosi, who in January will become Speaker of the House and perhaps the most powerful woman in U.S. political history, has fought, and lost to, dissension in the ranks. Beyond the fact that the only two men the Democrats could find to represent themselves as majority leader have ethical skeletons in the closet, another interesting angle to the Murtha v. Hoyer showdown is that Nancy Pelosi firmly backed Murtha– the loser and, according to Public Citizen, even less ethical counterpart. Although the Pelosi team tried to spin it as “loyalty,” the message that rang out loud and clear was really “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Pelosi’s attempt to undercut the powerful and (for whatever reason) esteemed in Democratic circles Hoyer by propping up an unworthy buddy served to undermine her entire party and cut away any fa‡ade of a united Democratic front. Indeed, such early infighting and fractious behavior is only a reminder to the American people of the persisting, nagging feeling in the pits of their stomachs that the Dems possess neither a clear message nor steadiness of purpose (How many Dems voted for Iraq, No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act, yet continually bemoan that same legislation?).

The fact is, for all their bravado and boasting about their mid-term election gains (which historically are no better than par for the course), does anyone really believe the Democrats’ victories were based on the Dems themselves?

Well, yes. But those who believe so are grievously deceiving themselves. The plain truth is that the Republicans lost this election. Thanks to the killer combination of scandal and dishonesty coincidentally plaguing the GOP at just the right moment and the Bush administration’s talent of increasingly alienating its base, the GOP paved the way for this turnaround.

Perhaps Pelosi’s poor handling of her very first test of party leadership is not indicative of the next two years. Perhaps the Democrats will use this change in Congressional power not to stick it to the GOP for their years of bullying and unashamed one-sided policies but to offer an admirable example of the majority respecting and listening to the minority, as opposed to the Republican’s recent strategy of mostly trampling roughshod over the Democrats.

Perhaps the Dems will be able to clamp down finally on corruption, organize themselves and sincerely reach across the aisle.

I’m not holding my breath.