There are double standards and then there are double standards.
One of the latest ones is as obvious as a punch in the nose. Geraldine Ferraro's comments about Barack Obama - how he wouldn't be where he is now if he weren't black - are painfully obvious.
Their undercurrent is a raw nerve in the American psyche. It's been one of the most talked-about stories of Mississippi Primary Day. All over the place, from radio to TV to the net and back again.
But that's just it. At least it's being talked about. We're openly gnashing our teeth and rending our garments and everyone understands, and understands why. Racism, the expression of it, and the miscommunication about it, is broadly acknowledged for its gravity as a painful problem across the country. Call it P.C., call it whatever. At least it's out there on the table and openly dissected, recognized as the most glaring shortcoming we collectively still just haven't quite gotten over. But we have evolved as a society to the extent that we're speaking about it in all company, polite or not.
On the other hand, there's another double standard that remains stuck in the back of the bus. No one wants to look at it, speak of it, deal with it in any way, or recognize it as a serious skeleton of injustice in our closets. It's the matter of impeachment, specifically impeaching Republicans. It seems we just don't dare go there. Granted, it's a relatively recent imbalance compared to many generations of gnawing race issues, but its obviously lopsided inequality is still well worth noting.
How come it's the prominent Democrat who's threatened with impeachment while the high-level Republican offender skates away scot-free? Once the mess surrounding ethically-hobbled Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York splattered all over the news, his opponents in the state legislature from Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco and onward scrambled to every camera they could find, screaming an ultimatum - "resign or we will impeach you."
What's this? GOP politicians actively flinging the "I-word" around in public? I wasn't sure they still remembered the word. After all, they certainly haven't exercised it much in the past seven-and-some years. These days it's the Penalty-that-Must-Not-Be-Named. They seem loathe to apply it to one of their own. They hem and haw, they drag their feet, they change course, distract, deflect, make excuses, and cloud the issue. Even as far back as Richard Nixon, who came the closest to being a Republican target of impeachment still managed to jump before he was pushed, thus avoiding the subject entirely. Ronald Reagan had a near-miss with it over the Iran/Contra scandal, but that's all it was - barely a flirtation.
On the other hand, we can hear roars of indignation against Democratic blunderer Spitzer everywhere. Foaming Republican lathers billow forth as though they were belching out of Lucy Ricardo's mishandled washing machine in an old I Love Lucy rerun. Oh! The Humanity! And indeed - it involves, oh mercy me, another sex scandal. Where have I heard this kind of thing before?
Spitzer, the Doghouse Dem du Jour, is hoist on his own petard - nailed on allegations of fishy fund transfers to what turns out to be a prostitution ring. I must admit to being a little suspicious of the construction of the Spitzer bust. The moment the term "wire-tapped" was injected, my first instinct was to suspect the Bush administration of another political assassination - perhaps looking for enemies not just foreign but domestic. Casting a broad net just for terrorists, or conveniently also adversaries of another, homegrown stripe? Shades of Nixon and the legendary "enemies list."
It's not a difficult connection to make, since we do have a long and distinguished track record across the GOP landscape of hit jobs galore against political enemies, both inside and outside the White House. We've had the fired U.S. Attorneys scandal, Valerie Plame, Don Siegelman, Sibel Edmonds, and more. These people go thermo-nuclear. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, in exhorting coworkers just after 9/11 in a scheme to link the 2001 Twin Tower attacks to Saddam Hussein and Iraq: "Go wide. Sweep it all up."
No waffling. "IMPEACHMENT NOW!" they howl. "We will accept no substitute."
So they can go after a Democratic powerhouse for his pecadillos, armed with knives and forks, screeching for the ultimate political penalty. This week Eliot Spitzer is in the barrel most recently occupied by one Bill Clinton. Is that what it takes to be forced to face impeachment these days? You have to be a Democrat, getting caught messing around illicitly? You're far more likely to get a free pass if you're Republican, it seems. Senator David Vitter was even caught patronizing a brothel and no one called for his professional head. His colleague Larry Craig is still standing (wide or otherwise). There are certainly other GOP fiends who have yet to get what's coming to them, and for flat-out impeachable offenses, whether sex was in the picture or not. But the "I-word" is never uttered there.
How about lying about why we had to go to war in Iraq? Even George Bush's own Pentagon has now completed an extensive review of 600-thousand Iraqi documents confiscated after the 2003 invasion that finds absolutely no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.
How about violating the Constitution of the United States 600-thousand ways from Sunday - the same Constitution that one George W. Bush swore twice to "preserve, protect, and defend"? How would years of illegal wire-tapping on Americans, violating our privacy and suppressing our dissent fit with that oath?
How about the "new" America that this White House has shown to the world - the one that tortures, "disappears" opponents, jails suspects without explanation or the right to consult with a lawyer, and forces our will and our view at gunpoint down the throats of other nations? One whose word can no longer be trusted and motives are now deeply suspect?
How about slapping a veil of phony secrecy on every paper, every email, every phone message, every Secret Service log, and countless hush-hush meetings, not to mention the hapless advisors and assistants now in legal hot water because they've been told it's okay to defy the will, summonses, or subpoenas, of Congress?
Or let's look at it another way. If a Democratic president had perpetrated any or all of this, what would the reaction be? What would Republicans say then? I'd guess that any one of these offenses would be fiercely and relentlessly condemned as impeachable in that case. Heads would roll, for sure. But if you're a Republican, you can drawl along with a twangy send-up, cockily making light of such things, as happened at this year's Gridiron dinner, and everyone in the room fawningly chortles out loud.
I'm beyond fed up with double standards by now. The ones about skin color and/or gender are bad enough. We've learned enough as a culture and should have enough of a sense of outrage by now to call them out as soon as they even threaten to rear their ugly heads. But the only time anyone says a peep about impeachment is when it might be used to take down a Democrat.
A Republican at the top of the food chain can almost suffocate under an avalanche of high crimes and misdemeanors, but they only impeach Democrats, don't they?
Follow Mary Lyon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mary_lyon