Washington’s scandal du jour – a predatory legislator’s sexually explicit e-mail and instant messages to congressional pages, and a possible cover-up – prompts the musical question: What were they thinking?
We know then-Rep. Mark Foley’s thoughts because the Florida Republican committed them to writing as he was being paid to do the people’s business, sometimes while responsible for the page program. We can guess what was on his mind as he checked out of the House and into rehab.
When the dust settles from the FBI and House investigations, we will know what Foley’s colleagues were thinking about his overtures to the pages and what, if anything, they did about it.
We will know on Nov. 7 what the voters think. If they are telling the truth to pollsters, Democrats will control Congress in January 2007.
We already know what the pages were thinking, although their voices are nearly impossible to hear through the accusations and denials by barking heads on every channel.
Some pages told other pages to watch out for Foley. Some pages told members of Congress that Foley had his eye on them.
People have been telling on Foley with increasing frequency over the past six years. One of his ex-staffers already resigned and others are expected to be overtaken by the scandal.
The pages, in their junior Washington-speak, are saying they did not complain much or loudly about Foley’s advances because they wanted to maintain good relations with a member of Congress who could help them in the future.
Whether or not there was any physical contact with Foley, the pages wanted what Monica Lewinsky wanted from Pres. Bill Clinton – to get close enough to power to take home some fairy dust.
The pages wanted what the clients of Team Abramoff wanted – for the leaders in Washington to shake their hands for photos and for fortune to smile on them.
They all want whiteman magic.
Whiteman magic is the stuff of dreams and shams. It’s the appearance of causing a solar eclipse or eating fire, or some other rabbit-out-of-the-hat tricks that kept the Europeans from being killed in indigenous peoples’ countries.
Whiteman magic enabled the historic whiteman to get away with murder and to claim he stole the Western Hemisphere fair and square.
Whiteman magic protects politicians when they harm innocent or defenseless people.
Whiteman magic permits pages and interns – and even some officials, bureaucrats and lobbyists – to help people who are in need and to make the world a better place.
It’s the reason most Hill and White House staffers work 16-hour days and seven-day weeks.
During the 1976 Carter/Mondale campaign and transition, a friend asked if I knew that people would kill to do what we were doing (that particular day, we were placing dots of various colors by names of people who should and should not be considered for appointments).
Referring to a book by a Watergate figure, who wrote of overpowering ambition when he was next to power, my friend said she did not want to experience such reptilian ambition. She declined a fancy title and office, and never returned to Washington.
There are many people still in D.C. with that kind of integrity. But some have difficulty maintaining equilibrium, especially if they are at all susceptible to perks and sycophantic attention.
It’s both sad and laughable to see people begin to believe their own press, particularly when it is well known that they hire, fire and sign the paychecks of those whose primary jobs are to garner accolades, awards and media mentions for their bosses.
Lest anyone think this is just a Washington thing, think for a moment about the vain and petty tyrants in spheres outside of the District of Columbia.
Because I am a Washingtonian now (by way of Oklahoma and New York), I feel the need to stick up for the people of D.C.: so here goes.
D.C. is home to venerated families who’ve lived in the same neighborhoods for generations. Hundreds of thousands of District residents aren’t connected to official Washington or any of its scandals. Myriad people come to the Washington metropolitan area and don’t cause any trouble at all.
Every time there’s a change of administrations, thousands of political appointees, operatives and entourages follow the new White House residents to town. The same thing happens when there is a change of leaders or parties in control of offices on Capitol Hill.
The Presidents Bush are well known to the local moving companies. Both are closely identified with Washington and Texas, but aren’t from either place. George W. is from New Haven, Conn., and George H.W. is from Milton, Mass.
The hometown of the last Democratic president is Hope, Ark., while Lewinsky hails from San Francisco.
Not one of the Abramoff scandal figures who bilked Indian tribes out of more than $80 million is a Washingtonian. The two lobbyists who’ve entered guilty pleas and are turning in their cohorts are from Atlantic City, N.J. (Jack Abramoff), and Rehoboth Beach, Del. (Michael Scanlon).
Team Abramoff consultant Ralph Reed is from Portsmouth, Va. The former Christian Coalition leader was on track to win the Republican nomination for Georgia’s lieutenant governor until his role in duping both Indians and Christian conservatives was revealed. Reed, while not under indictment, is no longer a rising political star.
Former Rep. Bob Ney is a Republican from rural Ohio. He resigned from the House after pleading guilty to Abramoff-related bribery and corruption charges.
Former Rep. Duke Cunningham, Republican from San Diego, is serving time for his part in a defense contracting conspiracy not connected to Abramoff. Cunningham resigned last year, after pleading guilty to taking more than $2 million, with which he bought houses, a yacht and a Rolls-Royce.
Rep. William J. Jefferson, Democrat from Lake Providence, La., also is embroiled in non-Abramoff scandal. Still in Congress and not charged with anything, he is the subject of an ongoing investigation into allegations that he took money for official acts. During a search of his home, $90,000 in cash was found in his freezer.
Growing numbers of Team Abramoff members have copped pleas or resigned from White House and Capitol Hill jobs. More are leaving town as quietly as they can, but their ooze remains in Washington.
Former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was forced from his position as House Majority leader following indictment on charges of conspiracy and money laundering.
The trial he now faces in his home state is unrelated to the Abramoff scandal, but his ties to the former lobbyist go back to the start of the K Street Project, which promoted hiring Republican lobbyists and donating to Republican candidates only.
Abramoff sold his services to tribal clients on the basis of his friendship with DeLay. But most tribal witnesses testified before the Senate that they didn’t know how Abramoff was connected, just that he was. They didn’t know DeLay and some thought he was a senator.
So, we pay millions to someone we don’t know who will say something we can’t hear to someone else we don’t know, and it may or may not help us.
Now, that is whiteman magic.
<i>Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.