Monday, April 3, 2006


By Lynn Vincent and Robert Stacy McCain

Nelson Current, $24.99, 295 pages

Political journalist and humorist Will Rogers once said “I am not a member of an organized party, I am a Democrat.’ The authors of “Donkey Cons: Sex, Crimes and Corruption In The Democratic Party,” would have replaced “organized’ with “honest.’

Lynn Vincent and Robert Stacy McCain cut the Democrats no slack in this screed, which focuses on the party’s alleged and actual ethical and criminal misdeeds from the nation’s founding through modern times. They don’t break much new ground, but are adept at synthesizing existing material in this heavily footnoted book.

From the founding of Tammany Hall — the corrupt entity that ruled New York City for more than a century — to the impeachment of President Clinton, the Democrats are “like the Gambino mob with matching funds,’ according to Mrs. Vincent and Mr. McCain.

“At times, being a Democrat is like holding a ‘get out of jail free’ card in a Monopoly game — almost. Plenty of Democrats do manage to find their way into prison. Yet no one seems to have noticed the pattern in this criminal behavior,’ they add.

While the authors make some valid points, and provide political buffs with lots of interesting tidbits, the effect of all the piling on sometimes borders on information overload. They might have made their case more effectively if they had been more selective in what they discuss.

Nevertheless, the evidence they present is quite damning. They recycle stories of the ties of Kennedy family members and Roosevelt administration officials to the mafia and corrupt urban machines. Further, they do extensive retelling of the misdeeds of many rank-and-file Democratic member of Congress.

The authors are experienced journalists — Mrs. Vincent is features editor at World Magazine and Mr. McCain is an assistant national editor at this newspaper — yet they come up short in following the time-honored reporting practice of balance. They would have been more effective at making their case if they had included quotes from Democrats responding to these allegations. Maybe they contacted some elected officials or party leaders and were turned down for interviews. If so, they should have mentioned that.

Also, they seem unwilling to give Democrats any breaks. In discussing the corrupt and criminal behavior of former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and the Abscam scandal, the authors don’t mention that the indictments were sought by the administrations of Democratic presidents. When recounting the scandal of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, the authors erroneously talk about the money that “Abramoff and friends’ donated to Democratic Party committees. While Abramoff did tell others to give money to Democrats, he never contributed money himself to the party.

These flaws don’t take away from the series of good points that the authors make, though one could no doubt write a similar book on the corruption in the GOP’s history.

Mrs. Vincent and Mr. McCain have written a field guide to Democratic scandals and a trip down memory lane. It is the literary equivalent of one of those “greatest hits’ CDs they advertise on television. Those longing to revisit the days of Chappaquiddick, Monica Lewinski and other sordid events will find their appetites satisfied.

The philosopher George Santayana once said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Mrs. Vincent and Mr. McCain have done their best to ensure that people won’t forget the Democratic Party’s past.

It remains to be seen if by reminding people of these mistakes, “Donkey Cons: Sex, Crimes and Corruption In The Democratic Party” will cause voters to abandon the party even more than they have in recent elections.

Claude R. Marx writes a political column for the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.

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