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Names in the News Can Be Divided Into Heroes and Villains

For your reading pleasure, a catalog of some recent heroes and villains. The continuing saga over the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department tops the list: [IMGCAP(1)]

Villains: Former White House Counsel (and still Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Heroes: Former Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, FBI Director Bob Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

I have always liked and respected Card; now I wonder how he can sleep at night. The infamous hospital room confrontation is so far over the line of appropriate conduct by a public servant that one can’t even see the line anymore. It says more than it should that the only surprise in this incident and its despicable conduct is that Card was involved — no one was shocked about Gonzales. As for Comey, Mueller and Ashcroft, all public servants willing to resign on principle if necessary over a matter of constitutional integrity, hooray for you.

These days, whenever there is a news report about a U.S. attorney, I find I ask myself if this one is on the straight and narrow or is it operating in a bogus way. That is what the Gonzales-led Justice Department, with its sorry collection of political hacks such as Kyle Sampson, Bradley Schlozman and Monica Goodling, has done — pollute the entire reputation of a proud and critically important department.

It is way past time for Gonzales to go. If this White House has any political sense left, it immediately will nominate former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to replace him. She would be confirmed 100-0 in a nanosecond, taking the embarrassing stories of scandal off the front pages while simultaneously restoring the reputation of the Justice Department and putting it on a path back to proud professionalism.

While I am at it, let me add a special kudo to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who stood alone for far too long among Senate Republicans criticizing Gonzales and his cronies, and a special Bronx cheer to the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who fell over themselves defending the indefensible attorney general when he testified in front of them last week.

Villains: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

Heroes: Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

Like Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), I am uneasy about several provisions in the immigration bill, especially the family reunification changes and the two-years-in-and-one-year-out limit for guest workers. But I marvel that a broad bipartisan coalition was formed on any broad-based bill, given the substantive challenges and the political climate.

Kennedy was instrumental, as he has been on so many important domestic policy accomplishments over the years — no Senator in our lifetime has been at the center of so much real policy change. Feinstein was a key participant. Kyl stepped up to the plate and became the go-to guy on the conservative side. McCain, like Kennedy, always has tried to find common ground when a critical and controversial policy area demanded it, from a clean environment to campaign reform. And by lending his prestige to this bill he will go a long way toward legitimizing it — even as he takes tremendous flak from the GOP base. The criticism also will come hard and heavy to Graham and Isakson, and probably to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well.

Then we have presidential candidates such as Brownback and Romney who switched from supporting comprehensive reform to all-out opposition once the White House campaign heated up. As for Romney, I am getting whiplash from watching his policy shifts. He can argue that his change from pro-choice to pro-life was based on deep-seated moral principles. But that argument does not fly on immigration. Or campaign finance reform, for that matter.

Villains: The House ethics committee, the Old Bulls and the ACLU.

Heroes: Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The Old Bulls managed to dilute the ethics and lobbying reform bill, taking out the two-year lobbying ban and killing the revised grass-roots lobbying disclosure provision. On the latter front, they were helped by a disinformation campaign managed by the ACLU that condemned phantom provisions in the bill. The anti-reformers also forced out of the bill the bundling disclosure plank.

But Emanuel and Van Hollen worked tirelessly to put more teeth into the revolving-door provision and to get a solid, revised bundling amendment ready for the floor. There is still a solid chance that a respectable ethics and lobbying reform package will pass. Emanuel and Van Hollen, backed admirably by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), recognize that if you run relentlessly against the “culture of corruption” in Congress, respond when you have won an election by claiming that the public doesn’t care about these things, and then renege on every pledge you made to clean up the process, you soon will end up back in the minority. They are trying to save their party colleagues from themselves.

As for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which continues to embarrass itself and the chamber by showing it is utterly incapable of creating strong ethical standards and responding to challenges, it issued a ruling on an earmark for Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) that was worthy of the Marx brothers. The earmark, for a new transit center near seven properties Calvert owns, was perfectly OK, they said, because other property owners also would gain windfalls by the construction of the center.

In other words, it is open season for Members to sponsor earmarks that provide huge gains for themselves — as long as others profit at the same time. Here is the logic: A company president can manipulate a stock price or backdate stock options in ways that make him very rich — if others gain from the stock change or the options. What planet is this committee living on?

The ethics reform task force, led by Reps. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), can begin to restore some balance and some semblance of integrity to the House with its plan to create an independent panel to do the initial phase of ethics investigations and set the table for the committee to do its work. Capuano has been working tirelessly to find a formula that will work and pass muster in the House. A bipartisan approach is doable.

The next couple of weeks will be absolutely critical when it comes to their recommendations, with the key being in the details they are now working on. This new embarrassment gives Capuano and Smith, and their leaders, some additional impetus to do the right thing.

Villain: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

I take Rep. Mike Rogers’ (R-Mich.) word for what happened on the House floor in the flap over his motion to recommit that would have axed the $23 million earmark sponsored by Murtha for the National Drug Intelligence Center, located in his district. This motion to recommit was perfectly reasonable, if a nasty turn of events for Murtha.

But Murtha went over to the Republican side of the aisle and told Rogers that he would never, ever get another earmark in the Defense appropriations bill. This was a direct violation of rules Democrats sponsored and promoted.

Murtha is not alone in believing that he can behave as if the past 13 years did not happen — that Democrats did not have 12 years in the minority after their arrogance brought them down; that Democrats did not run against the kind of corruption, profligacy and arrogance that brought Republicans down; that the culture of earmarking and of Old Bull supremacy is still intact and thuggish behavior is OK. He is a poster child for a lot that was — and is — wrong with Congress.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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