With Congress out of town for a week, it gives the nation a chance to lick our wounds before having to endure the next round of damaging blows to the body politic.
I have tried hard to maintain a polite apathy in the face of the more recent congressional and White House episodes of their opera bouffe. But short of having my hands tied to my chair so as to stop me from typing, I rather fear that my more feral political instincts must be given a little room to run.
Watching Speaker Denny Hastert attempt to defend Congress's separate powers, I was reminded of H.G. Wells' criticism of Henry James's writings. He likened it to: "a hippopotamus in a room resolved at any cost upon picking up a pea."
Was the assertion of a remarkably weak legal point (the burden of legal opinion weighs against the speaker's legal judgment) really worth the vast and conspicuous political damage?
As a former wrestling coach, Hastert surely understands how the application of kinetic energy at a key fulcrum point can move a larger mass with a smaller intruding mass.
In a perverse inversion of this principle he has taken the massive, unalloyed Democratic embarrassment of Congressman William Jefferson (considering everything, it is impossible not to mentally finish with the syllables Clinton) keeping $90,000 of bribes in his freezer, and by the application of just a few words by the speaker push it out of the public mind.
In its place Congress has now elevated to high visibility the apparent new Republican constitutional principle of the right of a crooked congressman to be secure in his person, papers and effects even from reasonable searches supported by a warrant issued on probable cause.
What makes this lamentable episode so curious is that Denny Hastert is a decent and sensible man. Not usually given to errant flights of whimsy or exotic theories, Denny has been as solid and steady a leader as a congressional party under siege could hope for.
Pray that he will let this matter quietly disappear during President Bush's 45-day cooling-off period. The damage has been done, but there is no need to add to it. However, Hastert can be a determined man, and there is a danger that he will persist in trying to vindicate the rightness of his decision.
Regarding which I refer the Speaker to the sad end of King Pyrrhus of Epicus, who won the battles of Heraclea and Asculum against the Romans in 279 B.C., but who comes down to us only as the eponymous participant in the phrase "pyrrich victory" -- and of course, the loser of the Pyrric War.
While not an excuse for the speaker's suddenly found taste for recherche constitutional manners, it must be noted that this sorry episode need never have occurred if Attorney General Gonzales had possessed a shrewder, more worldly understanding of Washington ways. If he had called up the speaker and asked for the House sargeant at arms to formally execute the search warrant with the assistance of the F.B.I., surely there would have been no sense of traduced congressional prerogatives.
The attorney general (indeed anyone who has been in town an hour and a half) should know better than to needlessly ruffle the feathers of such a large and ungainly bird as Congress. While it cannot gain flight, its sheer wing flapping can cause violently turbulent air across the continent.
It is hard to believe that the speaker's unlikely outburst was entirely motivated by the incident in question. Rather -- though the speaker may not yet recognize the fuller source of his passion -- it may be simply the last straw.
The previous hundred bales of straw may well have been the White House's unseemly firing of Hastert's good friend CIA Director Porter Goss -- another event that occurred without the White House having the courtesy and common sense to previously inform the speaker.
Other bales of straw may include the Dubai Port deal, the president's egregious immigration initiative and last year's failed Social Security initiative (which was hotly, if privately, opposed on political grounds by Hastert's House).
It has been a hard year for House Republican/ White House relations. And it will get worse if the leaders of both institutions don't get a grip.
This is no time for the president, the speaker, their senior teams and their ranks and files to fall into political lassitude, and just let their working relations drift further apart. It may feel good to vent spleens and bellow away in outraged wrath. But sterner stuff is required, or it will feel even worse on Nov. 8.