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TYRRELL: Politics’ partisan double standard

Unlike Democrats, the GOP holds its reprobates accountable

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Events of this past week have lent credence to one of my most dearly held beliefs. A double standard in political life is better than no standard at all. The Democrats have — as to their behavior in politics — almost no standards at all. The stuffy Republicans have — as to their behavior in politics — a pretty hard-and-fast set of standards, and they stick by them.

When Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman congressman from southwest Florida, was arrested last October for trying to purchase cocaine from an undercover police officer at Washington's Dupont Circle, I figured his goose was cooked.

Surely, the Democrats would be against him. After all, he is a Republican. A more serious problem was his fellow Republicans. They would not stand by him. They hardly ever do stand by a Republican caught in flagrante delicto. Remember, if you will, the late Richard Milhous Nixon.

Contrast his dark fate with the Democrats' national treasure, Bill Clinton, who committed perjury and obstructed justice. House Republicans found him guilty as charged, but in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans let him off easy, and he has been having a jolly time of it for years while Nixon's reputation has only darkened.

Mr. Radel pleaded guilty to what the philosopher W.C. Fields called his alcohol problem. Fields could never get enough of the stuff; apparently so, too, Mr. Radel. So he tried cocaine. Problematically, cocaine possession in most precincts of America is still illegal.

Possibly out West there is some enlightened spot where it is legal, say, for treating halitosis or a head cold, but not in the District of Columbia. Out in the health-conscious West, you cannot smoke cigarettes, but in various places you can smoke marijuana and even cook it in brownies or — who knows? — pasta.

Yet tobacco is malum prohibitum, and now even in New York and Massachusetts, the solons are thinking about legalizing marijuana. Mr. Radel should have run for office in Colorado or the state of Washington.

Instead, he comes from Florida and a particularly conservative district embracing straight-laced Naples and Ft. Myers. Upon his arrest, he immediately went into rehab and, for all I know, read the philosophers, such as Fields. But his goose was cooked.

Acting according to their standards, his Republican constituents within months began looking for a new congressman. By Monday, he had gotten the word. Republican leaders, who had been urging him to resign, were lining up behind his would-be successors. Possibly, he will go back to talk radio, possibly as a Democrat.

The double standard in politics has been around for decades. It was most spectacularly on display in 1983 in the congressional sex scandals of two congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican.

The Democrat, Rep. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, was caught with a minor, a congressional page who happened to be a male. The Republican, Rep. Dan Crane of Illinois, was caught with a minor, a congressional page who happened to be a young lady.

The House of Representatives voted to censure them, though it is said that they were censured so as to head off a move by Republicans to expel the errant legislators.

Mr. Crane was so discredited among his Republican constituents that he went down to defeat when he was up for re-election in 1984 and has never been heard from again. Studds, claiming to have acted as a hero in trying to protect the identity of the intern, went on to win re-election after re-election until his retirement in 1997. He passed on in 2006, possibly to sainthood.

As I say, a double standard is better than no standard at all. The Democrats, who are untroubled by their own moral anarchy, would have no sense of right or wrong if it were not for the Republicans. The Republicans may get booted from high office for their offenses, but these Republicans serve a purpose. They give us all a sense of right and wrong. Good show, GOP.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator and the author of "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson, 2012).

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