Say you're Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from California, and the leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives. You'd like to be in the majority in the fall, and you've looked at a couple of scandals on the other side of the aisle as your ticket to the big time. The phrase "Culture of Corruption" rolls off your tongue like one liners from Henny Youngman, loose and easy, with perfect timing. You want everyone to believe, to know, that Republicans aren't just corrupt, but that they invented corruption.
Ah, but there's a catch. A member of your own party gets caught, with video showing him taking money, and with $90,000 wrapped up in foil in his freezer like so much frozen cod.
While Jefferson maintains his innocence, two men have been convicted in the investigation and the FBI claims it has videotaped evidence of him accepting bribe money. The two include a former aide to the congressman as well as a businessman who pleaded guilty May 3 to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to the lawmaker.
It should be a simple matter. You're planting your flag for the fall elections on the oxymoronic "Mount Honest Politician," so you just ask him to step down from any committees, and if he's indicted you get him to resign. After all, you've planted your flag, now you have to defend it. You can't claim any longer that nobody in your party does it, but at least you can say you don't tolerate it.
Whoa. Not so fast. It turns out said member is black, one of your party's traditional victim groups, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. They don't want to see their numbers reduced by one, and they don't even want to have one of their members lose power. They protest. You can't demote this gentleman. It's not fair.
The controversy has left some Democrats in an awkward position. Eager to emphasize their election-year theme of ridding the House of an alleged "culture of corruption," they also appeared reluctant to risk offending blacks who are among the party's most loyal supporters.
So you're stuck. You plumb the depths of your political ability, you call on all your skills to come up with a solution. Ah, you think, perhaps I can go to the chief, and see what the head of the DNC would do. He's strong. He's courageous. He'll take a stand.
Democratic chairman Howard Dean declined to side with either Pelosi or Jefferson. "We are going to stay out of this one," said a spokesman, Luis Miranda.
You should have known. With a spokesman named Miranda of course he'd exercise his right to remain silent. Where else can you turn? Maybe the candidates in a high profile Senate primary in Maryland will help you? One is in Congress and the other is a former head of the NAACP. Heck, that organization is practically a subsidiary of your party. One of them has got to know what to do.
Rep. Ben Cardin, running in a senatorial primary in Maryland against Kweisi Mfume, the former head of the NAACP, also declined to comment. "I would want to talk to Bill first. I have not talked to Bill Jefferson," he said.
Mfume also sidestepped the issue. "He's going to sit this one out," said a spokesman, Mark Clack.
So, do you throw your "Culture of Corruption" tag in the dumpster, and abandon the strategy you've been hanging all your hopes on, or do you try to maintain that "clean government" facade and alienate a group that gives your party 90% of its votes?
What to do, what to do, what to do ...