Ethics reform

One would think Hercules had shown up to rip the doors from their hinges and divert the river Alpheus to scour the aisles of the Capitol. With much overheated bombast on both sides, the House of Representatives voted 229-182 Tuesday evening to create for the first time an “independent panel” empowered to initiate investigations of alleged misconduct by members of the chamber.

The six members of the new Office of Congressional Ethics would have the authority to initiate preliminary reviews of allegations against House members, conduct investigations and refer their findings to the House ethics committee along with a public report.

“For the first time in history, you have nonmembers able to initiate investigations,” cheered Sarah Dufendach, chief lobbyist for the watchdog group Common Cause. “They’re doing oversight. They’re the new police.”

Wow. Police? Handcuffs, sidearms, and Miranda warnings, eh?

“Ladies and gentleman, we have a new grand jury in the House,” thundered Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who appeared less happy about the prospect. “Any referral to the Office of Congressional Ethics will be tantamount to a guilty verdict. Any other conclusion by the ethics committee will be seen as a cover-up. I guarantee it.”

Either way, it sure sounds like some big changes are in the works. Why, those crooks would be better off just resigning now, before the new sheriff arrives on the noon train! What a happy coincidence, that the members of Congress would wake up to their ethical failings and lay the groundwork for their own indictment and imprisonment a mere eight months before, um … a national election.

Yeah. And if you believe that, you’ve also won the Netherlands Grand Lottery.

Based on the example set by state “ethics” panels, visions of long lines of congressmen being wheeled in carts and mob caps toward the guillotine may be a tad premature.

In fact, the new panel may well prove a pretty toothless watchdog.

Hiring a few legal and ethical scholars to serve as a conscience of the Congress may be worth a try — though by definition, any body that admits it can’t find its own conscience and would like to borrow someone else’s has earned a bit of skepticism.

In the end, only the electorate can change Washington’s culture of corruption.

If voters want more ethical government, when given a choice between someone who promises to bring home lots of booty from the capital, and a candidate who warns we’re going to have to do more for ourselves as Washington is shrunk back to a more appropriate size, voters must choose the candidate who promises “Lower taxes, a lot fewer ‘services,’ and pretty much nothing else except to leave you in peace.”

So far, voters aren’t doing all that well.

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