Last week, Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, spoke to the Brookings Institution about corruption in government, using most of his 3,600-plus-word speech to harp on the so-called Republican “culture of corruption,” while implying Democrats hold the moral high ground on ethics.
After the Democrats won the majority last November, they promised to usher in two things: 1) an ambitious reform agenda of their own and 2) a new era of bipartisanship. Emanuel’s speech signals his party’s abandonment of both promises.
In the 2006 elections, the Democrats won their majority largely due to their campaign against the so-called Republican “culture of corruption” in Washington, D.C. Despite a lot of rhetoric about a “New Direction For America,” over 100 days have passed since their return to the majority, and they have little to boast about.
In fact, there has been very little progress on any of the priorities Democrats laid out in their “New Direction For America.” Lower gas prices? Stem-cell research? Withdrawal from Iraq? Pension reform? The Democrats have failed to deliver on any of these alleged priorities.
With failure on the legislative front becoming ever more clear, it is no surprise that the Democrats’ “New Direction For America” has simply lead them right back to their 2006 campaign strategy of scandal-mongering.
Exit polls last November showed that anger over corruption was a strong motivator for many voters and the GOP bore the brunt of this voter anger. With 41% of voters saying that corruption was a “very important” issue to them and 59% of such people voting Democrat, the Republicans were crushed by a wave of voter anger about corruption in politics. This explains why Rahm Emanuel did not bother to offer any Democratic proposals to improve education, health care, and the economy or to reduce gas prices, promote stem-cell research, and protect our country from terrorist attacks.
In his speech, Emanuel said, “We should never allow the basic functions and solemn responsibilities of government to be subjugated to or take a backseat to politics or party interests.” But for Emanuel, the only thing that takes the backseat to politics or his own party’s interests is hypocrisy.As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Rahm Emanuel pressured Republicans to return campaign contributions they received from Tom DeLay’s political action committee after his indictment, yet refused to return thousands of dollars in contributions made to the DCCC from convicted felons. Meanwhile, Emanuel has his own connections to the corrupt Chicago Mayor Daley’s political machine and was elected to congress with the help of city employees helping his campaign while on the clock.
And, despite his venomous rhetoric against lobbyists, Emanuel had employed lobbyist William Singer as his campaign committee treasurer. He quietly let him go for “obvious” reasons in early 2006.
While the current investigations into Republican congressmen John Doolittle and Rick Renzi have provided Democrats with fresh fodder to re-launch their crusade against the so-called Republican "culture of corruption," Emanuel had no fears of being called a hypocrite for assuming the moral ground over ethics and corruption, because his own ethical transgressions and corrupt connections (and those of his party) have remained under the radar of the national media.
Sadly, the Democrats assuming of the moral high ground on ethics and corruption has not come with any self-appraisal of their role in corrupting politics. In fact, the investigations of Doolittle and Renzi provide a stark contrast between how the two parties handle scandals. Renzi and Doolittle have both resigned from their committee assignments while Democratic congressmen William Jefferson and Alan Mollohan, also under investigation, continue to serve on their respective committees, and have not been pressured by their party leadership to step down. Other recent ethical lapses of Democrats have unfortunately failed to catch the attention of the mainstream media, including Senator Dianne Feinstein’s approving of military construction projects to defense contractors largely owned by her husband while she served as chair and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, a series of questionable land deals of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s that resulted in huge profits, and a slew of scandals surrounding Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, just to name a few.
Because corruption in government is a bipartisan problem it requires a bipartisan solution. It is not enough for members of the Democratic Party to give speeches and sermonize against corruption in the Republican Party without showing the faintest interest in leading by example.
As the Democrats re-launch their crusade against the so-called “culture of corruption” in Washington, D.C. it is time for we, the people to start demanding accountability on both sides of the aisle. The Republicans, punished at the polls this past November, are already far along the path to cleaning their own house. And now that the Democrats are back in power, it is time to give corruption in the Democratic Party its proper notice.