Maybe this is just a lesson in karma. After all, as Jeff Zeleny points out in his article on the scandales des jours in the Democratic Party this year, Nancy Pelosi exploited a similar outbreak of scandalitis in 2006 to bring Democrats back to power in Congress. However, the risk for Democrats seems far greater in the year of Tea Party activism, or at least it does to the New York Times:
The ethical woes facing Democrats are piling up, with barely a day passing in recent weeks without headlines from Washington to New York and beyond filled with word of scandal or allegations of wrongdoing.
The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state’s congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards.
Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats, led by Representatives Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker, and Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff, used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.
The mix of power and the temptations of corruption can be a compelling political narrative at any time. But with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year.
With Election Day still eight months away, there is time to avert a history-is-repeating-itself storyline. But Democrats, who are already on the defensive over the economy, health care and federal spending and are facing a re-energized conservative movement, suddenly have a set of ethical issues to deflect as well. “Speaker Pelosi famously promised the most open, honest and ethical Congress in history,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said Thursday. “Yet here we go again.”
On one level, this is a dog-bites-man story. Power corrupts; that’s hardly a breaking-news headline for a Fox chryon. The woes of the Democrats come from their access to power, especially with Barack Obama in the White House.
Of course, it took six years of single-party governance to ruin the Republican majority, whereas it appears that Democrats will lose at least one chamber of Congress after just two. Most of the reason for this has nothing directly to do with the scandals now breaking on an almost-daily basis, however. Tea Party activism didn’t originate with personal scandals or individual abuses of power, but with a Democratic agenda that intends to usurp individual choice and put government in charge of the most personal decisions Americans make. Democrats didn’t lose independents because of personal scandals, but because Democrats campaigned as reasonable moderates and governed as radical Leftists.
The scandals are just the icing on the cake, and the natural consequence of aggrandizement of power by Congress. It’s the same lesson Republicans learned the hard way, which is that one cannot have a mission to reform Congress and a K Street Strategy at the same time. The only reform that will work is to reduce federal spending and eliminate the spoils system that members of Congress have used for decades to consolidate power to themselves.
The only question will be whether Republicans remember the lesson of 2006 and the lesson of 2010 when they eventually return to power. If they don’t, Zeleny should keep the template of this article handy — because he will eventually write its equivalent for the GOP.