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The Most Important Story of 2006: Republicans' Pathetic, Human Collapse

12/28/2006 03:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On February 11th, 2006, the top domestic policy adviser to the president resigned "to spend more time with his family". Less than a month later, on March 9th, he was arrested in the Maryland suburbs, charged with stealing merchandise from Target and Hecht's through a not-so-elaborate scheme of fraudulent returns.

Claude Allen would buy something, take it out to his car, leave the item he purchased in his car, then go back into the store, pick out another copy of the same item he'd just purchased, and "return" the thing he'd just plucked off the shelves. He'd get the refund for the item he'd just picked up in the store, and also get to keep the merchandise that was already secreted in his car in the parking lot.

It happened more than 25 times, according to Maryland police, with items as cheap as $2.50, and as expensive as a $525 home theater system.

When Claude Allen was accused as the White House serial shoplifter, he initially denied it. There'd been a "mix-up" with his credit cards because he'd moved recently; as soon as the facts came out, Allen would "clear his name". Ultimately, he pled guilty in August to a single count of shoplifting; he wept and broke down in court, and got probation.

Claude Allen wasn't the biggest news story of the year, obviously. His convenient resignation from the White House before his arrest insulated him from intense media focus. But the sad, quiet disgrace of the president's top domestic policy adviser can be seen in retrospect as the first creaking floorboard -- an initial sign of rot in the Republican superstructure.

In time, this year, Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham would be in jail, for breaking the all-time American record for most bribes taken by a sitting Congressman. Republican Congressman Bob Ney would be in jail. Republican uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff would be in jail. Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's mugshot would grin out at us from the front page of every newspaper in the country. Republican Congressman Mark Foley would become the new face of pathetic, closeted American lechery (is he ultimately going to jail?). David Safavian, Chief White House Procurement Officer, would find himself in prison. Susan Ralston, executive assistant to Karl Rove, would resign in disgrace. The list of people who pled guilty, resigned, or were investigated in connection with the hemorrhaging Republican ethics scandals got long and even tedious: Adam Kidan, Neil Volz, Ed Buckham, John Doolittle, Conrad Burns, Grover Norquist, Tony Rudy, Steven Griles, should I go on?

Claude Allen's shoplifting humiliation, it turned out, was the pathetic first bleat of the Republican party being felled in 2006 by the most pitiful and human of failings. Being wrong on Iraq, wrong on terrorism, and wrong on the economy is a policy disaster. Being wrong because you wanted sad little golf trips and free dinners and box seats is maybe even worse -- it shows the absence of even the basic honorable ambition to represent constituents in government.

The fact that Claude Allen's disintegration was downplayed by the White House and in the press makes it all the more seminal as 2006's most important news story. The Republicans, in their arrogance, never thought that the American people would pay attention to all these individual feeble human failures. They never thought that Americans at large would connect the dots and realize that a party ideologically opposed to government, when handed control of the government, would inevitably find ways to pervert public resources for their own personal ends.

The American people did connect those dots, and in the November 2006 elections, we handed the Republicans their walking papers in the most significant political uprising since the 1994 Republican "revolution".

2006 is the year that the Republicans blew it, in the form of myriad personal, measly, low-tech failures. In retrospect, Claude Allen's sad downfall at the hands of Target security guards was the first sign of the small, human, common defeat of the GOP that was to come.

Rachel Maddow is the host of "The Rachel Maddow Show," which airs nationwide on Air America Radio affiliate stations from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. ET.