- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

Is Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan the second coming of Harry Truman? We don’t think so, but maybe the North Dakotan lawmaker begs to differ. He certainly grabbed as much of President Truman’s mantle as propriety allowed at a press briefing last week, when he waved a photo of the man from Independence to push his latest ploy: Investigating the Bush administration’s record on just about everything, from Iraq contracting and prewar intelligence to the implementation of No Child Left Behind and plans for private Social Security accounts. “The congressional watchdog remains fast asleep, and we intend to wake him up,” said Mr. Dorgan, clutching Truman’s image, of his plans for a series of “oversight” hearings in the coming months.

We don’t know if President Truman is rolling in his grave, but he should be. Just about everyone in Washington knows Mr. Dorgan’s hearings will bear little resemblance to Truman’s famously successful discovery during World War II of massive fraud and abuse in defense contracting. Then-Sen. Truman’s Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program discovered egregious problems in one area, defense, and held President Roosevelt’s feet to the fire to clean up the abuses. Mr. Dorgan’s hearings, by contrast, promise to be a hit-list of leftist grievances against President Bush.

Still, since the senator wants to claim some of Truman’s glory, let’s give him a lesson about what upholding that legacy would entail, so that he knows fully what he’s getting into. For one, he has months of secret travel ahead of him. As David McCullough’s landmark 1992 biography “Truman” recounts it, Truman logged 10,000 miles driving cross-country, alone and incognito, visiting bases and defense installations to find evidence of wrongdoing. We’re glad Truman did it, but we haven’t heard anything about Mr. Dorgan’s plans to scour Iraq or spend weeks looking at Halliburton’s books in an effort to save taxpayer money.

For another, Truman had to put partisan politics aside and actually chair an official Senate committee — the kind with both Republican and Democratic senators on it. When he got back to Washington, Truman worked in earnest with investigators and in cooperation with FDR to examine each case carefully before reaching any conclusions. Mr. Dorgan, by contrast, plans to conduct his efforts in the Democratic Policy Committee, which is not exactly the Committee on Government Reform. To translate Mr. Dorgan’s words: He is going to hold a series of Democratic Party press availabilities. Coming a few weeks after Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers held his bizarre “hearings” to boost bogus claims of voting fraud in Ohio during the election, we’re hardly convinced the senator’s hearings will be “set up as fairly as possible.”

This page editorializes frequently in favor of accountable government, and against waste and fraud at taxpayer expense. To the extent that members of Congress use their offices to further those ends, we applaud them. To they extent that they engage in partisan PR gimmicks, we will limit our reaction to a mild chuckle.

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