The ethics "smear" against John Murtha.

News & Politics

John Murtha -- an über-hawk Dem -- stood up and proclaimed his opposition to the fiasco in Iraq. He deserves credit for doing so.

He's getting a belly-full of political buckshot instead.

In addition to calling him a coward, as Jean Schmidt did on the House floor Friday, or saying he had adopted a policy of "cut and run," as Dennis Hastert did the day before, Republicans are talking about launching an ethics probe into some of Murtha's dabbling in the old military-industrial complex.

Sadly, on the face of it, it looks like there's much to probe. This is from Rollcall (I don't have a subscription, so no link, but a hat-tip to MoveOn's Tom Mazzie):

Republican lawmakers say that ties between Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and his brother's lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, may warrant investigation by the House ethics committee.
According to a June 13 article in The Los Angeles Times, the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill included more than $20 million in funding for at least 10 companies for whom KSA lobbied. Carmen Scialabba, a longtime Murtha aide, works at KSA as well.
KSA directly lobbied Murtha's office on behalf of seven companies, and a Murtha aide told a defense contractor that it should retain KSA to represent it, according to the LA Times.
In early 2004, Murtha reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point Shipyard to the city of San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A company called Lennar Inc. had right to the land, and Laurence Pelosi, nephew to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was an executive with the firm at that time.
Murtha also inserted earmarks in defense bills that steered millions of dollars in federal research funds toward companies owned by children of fellow Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D).
Murtha and KSA have denied engaging in any improper or unethical behavior. Murtha's offices in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment at press time.
Some on the left will call for a fight against this "smear," but they can count me out.

I say that not because I don't think the Repubs' going after Murtha isn't absolutely despicable, because it is. And it's not because it isn't transparently motivated by politics - it is certainly that, too.

It's because we'll never get anywhere until we stand for something, and that something should, obviously, be reform.

And while those who say there's no difference between the two parties -- that they live on the same dime and represent the same interests -- are clearly not paying close enough attention, I also don't believe for a second that saying 'we're 50 percent less corrupt than they are!' is going to move Joe voter. And it shouldn't.

So, yes, we should fight back against the meme that dissenting on the war is unpatriotic or cowardly. But before jumping to Murtha's defense on these ethics issues, we should remember that the Republicans' "culture of corruption" is prime fodder for the next election cycle.

As I've said before, there's a tone-deafness in DC about the (largely accurate) perception that Democrats share the same corrupt culture and are unwilling to challenge the business-as-usual status quo. We can talk all we want about Jack Abramofff, but as I pointed out last week, Harry Reid reportedly took over sixty grand from Abramoff's casino clients and then appeared to intervene on their behalf (in politics, appearing to do something is the same as doing it).

This after we learned that Byron Dorgan and Tom Harkin used Abramoff's skybox for fundraising and also took donations from those same Abramoff clients. Does anyone doubt for a second that we'll hear about that each and every time some Democrat brings Abramoff up on one of the Sunday shows in 2006?

And if we simply point out the fact that the ethics issue is arising from partisan politics, doesn't that put us on the same page as Tom DeLay?

The Dems should be talking about clean elections and other real reforms so that in the long run they won't have to continue to play the same game. And if Murtha or other Dems aren't doing the right thing, we should drop them like a hot potato. No sacred cows. They've got to clean up their own act before they can preach credibly to others.

There are only two ways that the Dems can win in "Red" America: they can move to the right on social issues -- alienating their base more than they already have -- or they can become the party of reform, like the Repubs in 1994.

If they can't grasp that simple calculus, you can forget about a sea-change anytime soon.

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