10/08/2006

TIME.com Print Page: TIME Magazine -- The End of a Revolution

Don't I wish!!! Unfortunately, as you saw on previous posts, the GOP voters have ALSO been corrupted. To the 35% still with Bush, even feeding their own underage children to a - gasp - gay predator is an acceptable price to pay to avoid us Liberal democrats from having any say on where the country is going. -- Law

Sunday, Oct. 8, 2006
The End of a Revolution
Sex, lies and power games are just the latest symptoms of a Republican Party that has strayed from its ideals
By KAREN TUMULTY

Every revolution begins with the power of an idea and ends when clinging to power is the only idea left. The epitaph for the movement that started when Newt Gingrich and his forces rose from the back bench of the House chamber in 1994 may well have been written last week in the same medium that incubated it: talk radio. On conservative commentator Laura Ingraham's show, the longest-serving Republican House Speaker in history explained why he would not resign despite a sex scandal that has produced a hail of questions about his leadership and the failure to stop one of his members from cyberstalking teenage congressional pages. "If I fold up my tent and leave," Dennis Hastert told her, "then where does that leave us? If the Democrats sweep, then we'd have no ability to fight back and get our message out."

That quiet admission may have been the most damning one yet in the unfolding scandal surrounding Florida Congressman Mark Foley: holding on to power has become not just the means but also the end for the onetime reformers who in 1994 unseated a calcified and corrupted Democratic majority. Washington scandals, it seems, have been following a Moore's law of their own, coming at a faster clip every time there is a shift in control. It took 40 years for the House Democrats to exhaust their goodwill. It may take only 12 years for the Republicans to get there.

If you think politicians clinging to power isn't big news, then you may have forgotten the pure zeal of Gingrich's original revolutionaries. They swept into Washington on the single promise that they would change Capitol Hill. And for a time, they did. Vowing to finish what Ronald Reagan had started, they stood firm on the three principles that defined conservatism: fiscal responsibility, national security and moral values. Reagan, who had a few scandals in his day, didn't always follow his own rules. But his doctrine turned out to be a good set of talking points for winning elections in a closely divided country, and the takeover was completed with the inauguration of George W. Bush as President.

But after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush's six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals. The exquisite political machinery that aces the elections has begun to betray the platform. To win votes back home, lawmakers have been spending taxpayer money like sailors on leave, producing the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history. And the party's approach to national security has taken the country into a war that most Americans now believe was a mistake and that the government's own intelligence experts say has shaped "a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

One of the problems is that after the Republicans got into power, the system began to change them, not just the other way around. Among the first promises the G.O.P. majority broke was the setting of term limits. Their longtime frustrations in the minority didn't necessarily make them any better at reaching across the aisle either. Compromise, that most central of congressional checks and balances, has been largely replaced by a kind of calculated cussedness that has left the G.O.P. isolated and exposed in times of crisis.

The current crisis arrived with a sex scandal that has muddied one of the G.O.P.'s few remaining patches of moral high ground: its defense of family values and personal accountability. Although Hastert and other Republican leaders say they heard last fall about the "overfriendly" approaches of a not-so-secretly-gay Congressman to a 16-year-old former page--both majority leader John Boehner and campaign chairman Tom Reynolds say they brought it up with Hastert last spring--they insist they never imagined anything like the more graphic instant messages that subsequently came to light. Boehner spokesman Kevin Madden said his boss was told only that there had been "contact" between Foley and a page, and that his knowledge of even that much came from a fleeting conversation on the House floor. But shouldn't someone have got chills at learning that a 52-year-old man had sent a teenager a creepy e-mail asking for a "pic of you"? Certainly the page understood what the e-mail meant, which is why he forwarded it in August 2005 to the office of Louisiana Congressman Rodney Alexander, who had sponsored him for the page program and who was alarmed enough to take his concern to Boehner. "This freaked me out," the teenager wrote. "Sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick."

The House response was political from the start. Last November, Jeff Trandahl, then clerk of the House, told John Shimkus, the Republican head of the board that oversees the page program, about the less incriminating e-mails. But nobody bothered to inform the board's lone Democrat. Shimkus and Trandahl appear to have done nothing more than give Foley a private warning. When Alexander expanded the circle of those aware of the e-mails the following spring, one of the two people he chose to loop in was Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose job is managing the election. Foley wasn't even stripped of his co-chairmanship of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

Even after a batch of truly sleazy instant messages was discovered by ABC News, Reynolds' chief of staff Kirk Fordham, who was also a former aide to Foley, tried to solve the political problem by attempting to talk the network out of publishing the worst of the messages. Fordham resigned last week, but he didn't go quietly, the way House leaders had hoped. On his way out, he threw fuel on the political fire by announcing that he had warned Hastert's staff of Foley's "inappropriate behavior" at least three years ago--a charge that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, denied.

All this suggests that the Republican leaders were motivated much more by fear of electoral fallout than concern for the young pages in their care. And if they were worried that the revelation would hurt their chances of holding on to the House, they turned out to be right. Before the scandal broke, they were beginning to believe that the clouds were finally clearing for them. Their fabled get-out-the-vote and fund-raising operations were nearing full stride just as gas prices were dropping and the national debate was refocusing on their home-court issue of terrorism.

It seems likely that the party will instead need to reckon with sex and scandal throughout the final weeks of the election. As conservative George F. Will, writing in the Washington Post last week, put it, the Foley affair is "a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries." In the latest TIME poll, conducted the week after the news broke, nearly 80% of respondents said they were aware of the scandal, and two-thirds of them were convinced that Republican leaders had tried to cover it up. Among the registered voters who were polled, 54% said they would be more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39% who favored the Republican--nearly a perfect reversal of the 51%-40% advantage the G.O.P. enjoyed as recently as August. There was even worse news in a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that showed a precipitous drop in Republican support among frequent churchgoers, one of the most important and loyal elements of the G.O.P. base. There's no indication that they are clamoring to be Democrats, but the risk is that they will simply stay home on Election Day.

TIME.com Print Page: TIME Magazine -- The End of a Revolution

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