"The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet." -- Mark Twain
In a way, Mark Twain was born in Nevada. Samuel Clemens first used the penname there in 1863. Twain would have appreciated the humor in the recent announcement by fellow Silver State denizen Sen. John Ensign that he is running for reelection. Sen. Ensign, of course, is best known as the ethically and morally challenged lawmaker who spent the better part of a year sleeping with his best friend and chief of staff's wife, who worked for his campaign. After the affair ended, he fired them both and had his parents pay the couple off. In a continued effort to keep the matter under wraps, Senator Ensign then helped the husband set up a lobbying shop to lobby Ensign's own office in violation of the revolving door ban.
Now, despite ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice and the Senate Ethics Committee, Senator Ensign plans to seek reelection. It is hard to know exactly what Sen. Ensign is thinking, but it is not hard to imagine that he followed closely the campaign of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who was just reelected despite having been caught seeking the services of prostitutes and knowingly retaining as a Senate employee a staffer convicted of charges stemming from a knife attack on his girlfriend. Almost certainly, the senator is relying on a survey released last week by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showing him with a 64% job approval rating among likely Nevada Republican primary voters, and 71% approval among self identified conservatives.
Perhaps the problem is that Senator Ensign doesn't stand out.
"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." (Mark Twain-"Following the Equator")
Take a look at Sen. Ensign's Capitol Hill compatriots. In a country poisoned by vitriolic partisanship, members of both political parties share little more than their ethical lapses. In 2010 alone, my group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has highlighted stories of a representative who misappropriated scholarship money for family members, another who abused his office for personal financial gain, and yet another who took a "loan" from a local businessman with no interest rate and no repayment schedule.
Since CREW was first founded in 2003, we've named an astounding (and disappointing) 56 members of Congress to our Most Corrupt list, uncovering a jaw dropping 426 violations by them, ranging from prostitution, to outright bribery. Thankfully, more than half of these hucksters are safely out of office, but at least 20 of them will be returning to Washington in January to be a part of the 112th Congress.
Americans deserve better, which is why CREW is constantly working to build a better Washington - one where scoundrels like Sen. Ensign are unusual, rather than the norm. It's time for both sides of Capitol Hill to make a strong commitment to ethics. The Senate Ethics Committee must take immediate action against Senator Ensign. On the House side, presumptive Speaker Boehner needs to reverse course and make a full and complete commitment to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent body charged with keeping the House honest.
As for Senator Ensign, he should look in the mirror, take full responsibility for his actions and resign before he faces criminal charges. The senator should take a cue from Twain:
"Do the right thing, it will gratify some people, and astonish the rest"
Follow Melanie Sloan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CREWcrew