I bet the Democrats would trade William “Icy Bucks” Jefferson right about now in exchange for two or three of the GOP’s Abramoff-tainted congressmen, just to disassociate themselves from the picture in voters’ minds of C-notes enduring freezer burn.
Republicans should send notes of appreciation to Jefferson, praising him for his creativity. Not the closet…not the safe….not under the bed…but in the freezer! Thank you, Mr. Congressman!
Nothing tops an opponent’s scandal for political point scoring than one that is simple to understand, and one that carries vivid imagery. Jefferson’s ingenuity did the trick. The Louisiana Democrat, according to a FBI affidavit, accepted a leather briefcase containing $100,000 in cash from an informant who also recorded damning conversations with the congressman. Ninety percent of the loot was allegedly Reynolds Wrapped in Jefferson’s freezer, as FBI agents discovered last August. That Washington humidity can make bribe beneficiaries do crazy things.
But the best thing about it for Republicans, who numbers-wise have more ethics problems than their opponents, is that the Democrats have come up with a single scandal that not only is outrageous, but also is obvious. Cash bribe, caught on camera, goes directly into lawmaker’s possession, which he then stashes with his Breyer’s and Ore-Ida’s. No need to explain various campaign contributions in exchange for legislative consideration. Not necessary to tie lobbyist wining-and-dining suspected to gain special access. No guilt by association.
No, it’s plain as day, just good old-fashioned currency in the palm — a priceless relic in our almost cashless society. Republicans couldn’t have dreamed of a better gift. It’s tailor-made for Colbert and Letterman, where the cynical and semi-interested get their political news these days.
That didn’t stop the Democrats from trying to mitigate the damage, contrasting what they have called a “culture of corruption” among Republican leadership to Jefferson’s renegade blunder.
“They are different scales,” Democrat Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois told the New York Times. “One is a party outlook and operation; the other is an individual’s action. The (Republicans) have institutional corruption.”
Maybe so, but average voters understand that with majority power come perks and privileges, so they often can’t distinguish between everyday acceptable sleaze and outright criminal behavior. Bush lied, Abramoff, Indian tribes, Tom DeLay, free trips, Bob Ney…blah, blah, blah…they could all just be the normal seedy benefits of political control. There’s not a “Sandy Berger sneaking documents out in his socks” among them. But Jefferson’s alleged actions spell out an obvious felony.
Democrats recognize the problem, because a huge part of the electoral strategy for taking back the House this fall hinged on emphasizing the GOP’s inherent corruption. That idea has been chilled by the Arctic blast from Jefferson’s freezer. They must be wondering, why couldn’t he do a simple bank transfer instead of grabbing greenbacks?
BUT DEMOCRATS NEED NOT PANIC YET, because just as the Jefferson matter is blowing up big in the media, the inept Republicans want equal time looking bad in the scandal. House members of both parties are indignant that the FBI raided Jefferson’s congressional office Saturday night, after he refused to comply with a subpoena for documents issued nine months ago. No less powerful GOP individuals than House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner jumped out front to complain that the FBI search violated the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch.
“I think those materials ought to be returned,” said Hastert.
Forgetting that the FBI obtained a search warrant from the judicial branch — the check on government that also happens to evaluate the likelihood of a crime — Republicans again demonstrated their ITB (Inside the Beltway) myopia by whining about the unfairness of it all. Considering their own troubles, they may as well have posted a flashing neon sign in the Capitol halls begging, “Search my office! Search my office!”
As we’ve seen time and again, politicians forget that Americans view this behavior in light of what would happen to them in a similar situation. Could Everyday Joe get away with taking $100,000 cash for placing his own gain ahead of his employers’? When caught in the act on videotape by law enforcement, could he expect to evade a search warrant by invoking some special privilege?
Fortunately for the Democrats their Jefferson-induced distress is probably only temporary, since the Republicans aren’t smart enough to shut up and get out of the way.
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