- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

Washington is a city of high passion, which often leads to hyperbolic rhetoric. This is part of the political game and all players should know the rules going in. Things can and do get ugly quite regularly, but that’s democracy. Besides, excessive politeness can be boring. There remain, however, standards that politicians, pundits and the public should acknowledge. Equating your political opponents to murderers, for instance, is acceptable only if your opponent has in fact killed or threatened to kill someone. Otherwise, be a little more creative or hire a better speech and sound bite writer.

This is advice that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid could use. He circulated a letter among supporters that reflects excessive harshness: “I have been in public service for over 40 years and never been as disillusioned as I am today. In 1977, I was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It was a difficult time for the gaming industry and Las Vegas, which were being overrun by organized crime.” Indeed, “during the next few years, there would be threats on my life, FBI stings and even a car bomb placed in my family’s station wagon.” So far, so good. But then the senator crosses the line: “What is happening today in Washington is every bit as corrupt as when Las Vegas was run by the mob, but the consequences for our country are worse. These Republicans have created the most corrupt government in our history. Their ‘K Street Project’ is a shakedown machine that would make the mafia blush.”

Really, senator? The system which allows a hustler like Jack Abramoff to flourish is in need of serious reform, and Republicans deserve a great deal of the blame, especially since many of them came to Washington pledging to clean up the system. Mr. Reid knows as well as the rest of us do that no one has been murdered in this scandal, no one’s car has been bombed and no one’s life has been threatened — all marks of the mob at work.

Perhaps the senator, with his experience in Las Vegas with the “gaming industry,” actually thinks otherwise. If so — if Republicans were engaged in tactics that would “make the mafia blush” — we question his party’s attempt at humor. The Democrats’ reform plan includes cutesy proposals like the “Jack Abramoff Rule” and the “Tony Rudy Reform.” The Democrats’ sound bite du jour is that having Republicans trying to reform the system “would be like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime.” Hilarious, but also genuinely irresponsible.

On Thursday, Mr. Reid apologized for insulting Republican senators in a report on corruption put out by his office, saying he regrets “the current political climate in which policy disputes escalate too quickly into personal condemnation.” Good for him. Now let’s see if he intends to do anything about it.

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