Congress, at an all-time record low in popularity, is undergoing a seismic change in its existence. It just refuses to recognize it.
The public was appalled in 1994 at the growing sense of corruption (think the House Bank) and elected a Republican Congress for the first time almost a half century.
Too many Republicans though carried on the same practices of pork barrel spending and earmarks to buy votes. Some Republicans proved they were just as capable of corruption, bribery, and sexual peccadilloes as Democrats. This reality should not be a shocker since immorality is non-partisan.
No, the previous change occurred when Senator Robert Packwood was forced from office. The Washington Post disclosed shortly after Senator Packwood’s reelection in November 1992 that he had a history of sexual harassment, especially when drunk. The Senator hung onto his office until he was forced to resign on September 7, 1995.
Senator Gary Hart’s primary loss to Vice-President Mondale in 1984 signaled the change in mores, at least when displayed publicly.
Packwood’s fall marked the end of the period in the life of the Senate, especially with the hideaways built into the new Senate Office Building, where drunken, as well as sober Senators, felt privileged to hit upon, aka sexually harass, any female within harassment range. The Senate hideaways often served for trysts.
The names of some of the offending Senators are legendary, including perhaps two who rose to the Presidency, and some who tried.
The new change started in the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections. The Republicans and general election voters tossed out many big-spending Republicans, while others retired. The trend continued in 2008. Obviously, other issues were also at work, but hallowed names, such as Ted Stevens, fell by the wayside.
Voters in both parties have become intolerant of corruption, witness the defeat of Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans, and Republicans linked to the convicted lobbyist jack Abramoff.
The Public is through with traditional tax and spend politics. This November may be the end of FDR’s famous maxim: “Tax and tax, Spend and spend, and Elect and elect.”
This year is witnessing the retirement, death, or primary defeats of many Democrats, including David Obey, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee who gave us the pork barrel Stimulus Bill, and other gems. A few, who lost office earlier, such as Dan Rostenkowski, passed away this year, also signifying the passage of the old.
Here is the list of the “Old Guard,” not all of whom were ever accused of unethical behavior, who have left Congress over the past four years, or have passed away this year, keeping in mind that November may add dozens more to the list. Short-termers do not make the list.
Carolyn Cheeks Kirkpatrick
E. Clay Shaw