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Democrats' foe could be apathy
Media General News Service


October 04, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Without a doubt, the Capitol page sex scandal is enormously damaging to the Republicans and the House leadership. But for Democrats to take advantage of this mess and win back control of Congress in November, they will have to do more than shout "Had enough?" while waiting for more gifts to fall from the sky.

The negative posture has been an inviting one for the party, made possible by the unusual number of blunders by the Republicans in the last several months. These include the Jack Abramoff lobbying affair, the "Scooter" Libby leak investigation and now this - now-former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., caught brazenly sending sleazy e-mails to underage male pages, which House leaders brushed aside like some secret religious order when the matter was first brought to their attention last summer.

gif waiting for shoes to drop

Republicans Wait For Other Shoes To Drop
RJ Matson, The St. Louis Post Dispatch
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Some Republican members report that anger at the leadership's initial indifference to the pages' treatment is the first thing constituents asked them about when they got home.

The part of the conservative movement that is fixed on moral values now feels this scandal could translate into a big vote of no-confidence in Republicans next month. And, of course, Democratic strategists agree.

But a Dr. No campaign could backfire into voter apathy and low turnout if party strategists don't start putting forth a positive program of their own by spokesmen with proven credentials and trust. It's questionable whether you can win control of and hold onto an American Congress with a sex scandal. That's more the British system - or at least it used to be - because of the ease of changing governments.

Here, the late Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards once said, "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." Former President Bill Clinton remains one of the most popular living politicians today despite his Monica Lewinsky troubles.

A change in party control of both the House and Senate is not a small event. Even in a country that has become as image-dominated as the United States, the takeover of Congress has usually been about big ideas, both from the right and left.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," when Republicans took control of the House in 1995, fit the pattern. And in 1964, the Great Society and civil-rights movements helped produce the thundering majorities that rallied around President Lyndon Johnson.

It is exceptionally difficult for any party not in the White House to organize a mid-term uprising, as Democrats are trying to do this year. There is no single figure for the party to rally around.

That's why Gingrich's achievement was so astonishing. Some of the planks in his so-called contract, such as term limits for committee chairmen, have stuck and still exist. But the reality was that he was only a minor sequel to Ronald Reagan's larger act in the White House. In fact, the text for the contract was mainly Reagan's words.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate counterpart Harry Reid of Nevada, along with Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, not only don't have any contract, but tend to reflect the hard-left values of the Democratic Party. Sometimes, they sounded more like shrill partisans than centrist alternatives to President Bush's point of view, particularly on the Iraq war.

Nevertheless, the Republicans have done everything they can to hand this election over to them, starting with the Abramoff lobbying scandal that felled the formidable Tom DeLay, once the GOP's heavy-hitting House majority leader.

Now, on the eve of the election, the House leadership is engulfed by allegations that it ignored evidence of inappropriate e-mails in the Foley case.

Democrats need to stay out of the gutter on this subject and find an appealing voice to tell the public why they can do better. If the party were concentrating on winning, it would be making new ads with someone who could calm people down rather than screaming at them, who has appeal in the South, is squeaky clean and who can help the Democrats win ... Someone like former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the party's vice-presidential contender in 2004.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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