The GOP ethical dustup over who would succeed House Minority Leader Mike May, now rendered moot by May deciding he will stay, makes you want to say a number of things, some of them printable. You could say that the actions of a few have brought shame on many; you could say that those involved, if found to have committed ethical violations, should be condemned in no uncertain terms; you could say that this sordid stuff is not representative of the Republican party in general, and all of that would be true. But mostly what you want to say is that this HAS to be parody.
Following an electoral defeat of the worst magnitude, a continuing decline of the party, and a skeptical public begging for change - this scandal has highlighted much of what is wrong with the party. It has opened the door for criticism of the business as usual, unethical, and dirty perception folks have of politicians.
At this particular moment in history, it is the Republican party that is seen as out of touch, uncaring and responsible for an inefficient, and ineffective - at best, government. The whole party is saddled with the failures associated with Katrina. While Democrats, in practice, are often as inept, uncaring, opportunistic and embarrassing as the Republicans have been, they have won the perception war - and now wear the mantle of change and reform and progress. This is part of the reason they swept into office here and nation wide.
To be so brazenly unethical as to attempt a trade votes for cash, and at a level so small that it would hardly make Rod Blagojevich even notice-- an out-party leadership race -- the Republicans involved (if any... we await the facts) traded the ethical upper hand for nothing. Political ethics was necessary to regaining public confidence - and that required politicians who were about the public business and not about their own interests. It may be true that the Republicans currently accused -- one House member and one lobbyist, for starters -- are true and honorable public servants, but they are not perceived as such - and they will not be either, not now.
Tactically it was stupid, politically it was ridiculous, in execution it was mismanaged and in terms of reaching out to voters and the public it was disastrous. It was everything that has killed the party in a microcosm, and just when the "brand" was beginning to recover from it's recent bout of scandals that cost it so dearly in 2006 and 2008.
In light of the ongoing scandal surrounding Gov. Blagojevich in Illinois, it seems clear that we have learned nothing – and in fact have thrown away a golden opportunity to stand as a party on the fundamentals of clean government and ethical reform.
This will now play out in the ethics panel created to to police the interaction of lobbyists and politicians – and anyone found complicit in this wrongdoing deserves to be publically flayed. As soon as guilt is established, party leaders and politicians should disavow the action and condemn immediately the actions of a few. This will not quickly go away. In an era where the media looks with far more scrutiny at the actions of Republicans this incident will further depress the standing – what little there was – of the Republican Party.
For Minority Leader May to have withdrawn his resignation was one sensible step to stop the bleeding -- by taking a succession struggle off the table for now -- and a laudable action on his part given the personal factors he cited earlier for a January departure from office. But much more must be done to accomplish both the reality and the perception of official Republican repudiation of this type of activity.
We are recovering from at least two elections where the soiled reputation of Republican politicians has been a drumbeat of the opposition. Already activists are calling for criminal investigations and questioning the integrity of those appointed to sort through this whole mess. To begin to connect again, with voters and restore the confidence necessary to win again, the party had to do embody integrity and ethics in government. Becoming the scandal du jour is not the way to begin.