Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Small Potatoes

No doubt the Republican noise machine and Karl Rove (I know; that’s redundant) will try to make a lot out of the accusations against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), and according to this piece in the New York Times, the Democrats will find themselves hard-pressed to wage a campaign against the “culture of corruption” in Washington if Mr. Jefferson is convicted.

Democrats’ plans to make Republican corruption a theme of their election strategy this year have been complicated by accusations of wrongdoing in their own ranks, leading the party to try on Monday to blunt the political effects of the unfolding case against Representative William J. Jefferson.

[…]

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Mr. Jefferson’s situation was that of an individual who had yet to be charged formally. The Democratic case against Republicans, he suggested, went to a pattern of trading influence for personal gain within an incestuous world of revolving-door staff members, lobbyists and campaign fund-raisers that Republicans helped establish.

“They are different scales,” Mr. Emanuel said. “One is a party outlook and operation; the other is an individual’s action. They have institutional corruption.”

In other words, comparing Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham to William Jefferson is like comparing the Corleone family to a subway pickpocket.

Don’t get me wrong; if Mr. Jefferson is guilty, he should get whatever punishment the law allows, especially since he is a member of congress and I’m still naive enough to believe that a public servant should be held to a higher standard of conduct because of his job. But no one can seriously say that allegations against him balance the scales against the corporate level of scams and schemes that Mr. DeLay and his crowd are accused of. In that world, Mr. Jefferson is small potatoes; $90,000 hardly gets you a seat at the table.

Beyond that, what Mr. Jefferson did was collect money for a vote; Mr. DeLay and his mob were re-writing legislation and re-structuring the lobbying industry to the wishes of their benefactors. Mr. Jefferson was in it for himself; DeLay & Company were willing to change the way the government works by selling it off to the highest bidder.