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Larry Sabato's a smart guy - a lot smarter than me - but his latest missive is just flat out wrong. Yesterday he wrote:

"Something significant happened on the political front last week. In the midst of Donald Rumsfeld's trial by fire from hecklers and Porter Goss's forced resignation as CIA director and George W. Bush's inexorable fall in the polls, it was easy to underestimate the importance of Congressman Patrick Kennedy's latest little scandal. After all, he is a Kennedy, and at some point in the future, Kennedy scandals will cease to be news since they are so common they will be dog-bites-man and not man-bites-dog.

"Yet as Kennedy flew to the Mayo Clinic for yet more drug dependency treatment, he took Democrats' hopes of running against the Republican "culture of corruption" with him.

"What's that you say? It's just one little episode that will quickly fade to the back pages? Quite the contrary. This congressman with the celebrity name grabbed everyone's attention, and he reminded the public in an unforgettable way that sleaze and corruption and special favors on Capitol Hill are very much bipartisan. That's what the American people believe anyway, and now they have had it confirmed in new headlines."

A few things about these graphs.

First of all, Kennedy scandals will NEVER cease to be news. The more often they happen the lower the bar will be to qualify an incident as a certifiable controversy. The Kennedy family is the closest thing we have in this country to the house of Windsor and there's a damn good reason the royals are always splashed across the covers of the tabloids - they sell almost as well as sex does. As long as there are JFK conspiracy theorists around there will be people fascinated by the Kennedy clan, and I have yet to see conversations about the grassy knoll diminish the slightest bit during my lifetime.

Second, what happened to Patrick Kennedy is in no way comparable to what is being unearthed about Republican abuses of power. I don't care if his BAC was 9534.857% - on a fundamental level the average voter distinguishes between problems with drugs and/or alcohol in an entirely different way than he or she does gross exploitation of office. The former is an individual struggle with demons that we all now understand to be a product of an individual's genetic history and occur all too frequently. Who hasn't known somebody that has had to deal with dependency issues? The later is a shameful betrayal of the public trust and a duplicitous use of the very power a constituency entrusts in its elected officials.

Sabato goes on to cite the troubling cases of Reps. William Jefferson, Alan Mollohan, and Cynthia McKinney as the flip side to the corruption coin, but even if the worst case scenarios are confirmed with regards to the first two (and, well, what can you say about McKinney?) they will still appear to be unrelated - and that's what Sabato fails to realize. Voters know politics is a nasty business, and they expect the occasional (if not regular) indiscretion, but once corruption appears to be collusion the electorate sees a damning statement on the guilty party.

Sure, Kennedy's incident does raise issues of impartiality and privilege - every story involving a Kennedy does - but Sabato is forgetting what attracts people to the Kennedy family story: the fact that despite having unimaginable power in this country they remain so visibly and painfully human, but Sabato sees differently:

"The reason Kennedy matters so much is that his scrape fits the profile of memorable scandals that will stick in the collective public consciousness. First, there is a long pattern of activity by Patrick Kennedy and many other Kennedys that has left people with the clear impression that this family considers its members to be special, operating above the rules for the rest of us mortals. (How many people did you hear say, "Like father, like son", when they heard the news?) Second, every American could put himself or herself in Patrick Kennedy's position. What would the police have done if any of us not named Kennedy had side-swiped a police car, crashed into a barricade, and appeared to be intoxicated? Few police departments operate the kind of taxi service for possible DUI suspects that apparently exists for a select upper crust on Capitol Hill. Third, the American electorate has proved resistant to the Democratic theme of corruption all along because they have never bought the premise that one party is a convention of devils and the other a chorus of angels. Dozens of Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been involved in well-publicized scandals of all types over the last few decades. Fourth, one doesn't need to be a political aficionado to know immediately that Kennedy is a Democrat."

Any one else catch the operative phrase in that paragraph? Taxi service. Hookergate will undoubtedly earn more urgency as the election approaches and regardless of what the internal investigation by the Capital Police turns up it could not in any way be more lurid than being chauffered to the Watergate with a gaggle of prostitutes in tow - and how many evangelical Christians are going to flock to the ballot boxes to vote for the party that literally gets their rides pimped?

Patrick Kennedy did exactly what every public figure in America is supposed to do when they screw up: admit you're a fuck up, blame it on a complicated set of circumstances, apologize profusely in an act of public self-flagellation, then prove you're making amends. Sure, we'll see Pat Kennedy again in about a month when he leaves the Mayo clinic, but I'm sure his handlers will go to great lengths to guarantee that he stays out of the spotlight until November. The Kennedy family may be tragic, but its P.R. firm probably isn't.

If the next six month is going to be a tale of two limo services I'd happily take the Capital Police over Shirlington Limo any day.

Originally posted to Earwicker on Thu May 11, 2006 at 07:42 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's ridiculous (0+ / 0-)

    I mean, what Patrick Kennedy did is barely newsworthy compared to various other Kennedy family scandals. Ted Kennedy, as reactionaries will forever remind us, has his alcoholism and Chappaquiddik, Ted Kennedy's nephew was tried for rape, etc. A DUI or a dependency on painkillers hardly compares.

    •  no - what is ridiculous (0+ / 0-)

      is that Patrick Kennedy's little incident pales in comparison to the prostitution and bribery scandal that appears to gathering steam.

      What's ridiculous is that Sabato pretends to not see this.

      "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." – H.L. Mencken

      by subtropolis on Thu May 11, 2006 at 08:48:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I submit once again (0+ / 0-)

    that the Kennedy incident may possibly have been out of his control. The man was taking a gastrointestinal drug as well as AMBIEN. Amebien has shown to cause exactly the kind of incident Kennedy was involved in. It has caused people to drive in their sleep, shop on tv and eat and drink in the middle of the night - with no recollection the next day of what they did.
    Kennedy has stated that he had no recollection. Perhaps instead of automatically assuming that because his name is Kennedy that he is automatically guilty, we might understand that this is a very real problem with Ambien that needs to be addressed. After all, there isn't a class action suit with well over 250 participants for nothing.
    The point is, if Ambien was the cuase of Kennedy's recent car accident, NO amount of rehab will cure it.

    All Truth is non-partisan

    by MA Liberal on Thu May 11, 2006 at 08:24:14 AM PDT

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