Paul Greenberg
"Of course I bear responsibility. My Lord, I'm secretary of defense. Write it down."

-Donald Rumsfeld at a news conference October 11, 2006

When did the phrase, "I take full responsibility," come to mean not taking any real responsibility at all?

Talk about a numerical tribute to American hypocrisy, Google up that phrase and you'll find some 212,000 references to it.

Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, is only the latest to accept full responsibility for some outrage but only verbally. Evidence mounts that other high-ranking Republicans in the House or their staffers were aware of a colleague's suspicious e-mails to House pages.

All over the country, police and sheriff's deputies are sitting in dark little rooms monitoring the Internet for just the kind of messages this congressman was sending young people. But in his case nobody thought to call the cops. Instead it was all kept in-house, or rather in-House.

So far Mark Foley, he of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, has been the only one to resign his office. But not without making excuses for his conduct - via his lawyer, of course. He's an alcoholic, he was molested as a child, etc. In their own way, his excuses are as repellent as his e-mails.

The Brits handle these things better, or at least used to. Remember John Profumo? He was the Cabinet minister who got caught in a sex scandal, and then did something really bad. He lied about it to his colleagues in the House of Commons. Not done, old boy. Bad form and all that. Especially for an officer and a gentleman, and John Profumo was an aristocrat to boot. Of Italian heritage, he was technically the 5th Baron Profumo of the Kingdom of Sardinia, though he never used the title.

Jack Profumo signed up for the Army on the outbreak of the war in 1939 (Northampton Yeomanry), and in 1940 became the youngest MP in the House of Commons when he was put up by the Tories in an unexpected by-election at Kettering. The 25-year-old Profumo would cast his first vote as one of the 30 Conservative members of the House who joined with Labor to bring down the Chamberlain government and open the way for Churchill and the British Empire's finest hour.

Mentioned in dispatches during the North African campaign, young Profumo landed in Normandy on D-Day with an armored brigade. Then, after serving on Field Marshal Alexander's staff in Italy, he was discharged as a brigadier and awarded an OBE (military). He would lose his seat in the Labor landslide of 1945, but return as MP for Stratford-on-Avon in 1951 and begin his smooth political rise. By 1960 he was secretary of state for war and member of the Privy Council.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.