Opinion: Columnists

Conservatives don't circle the wagons around corrupt politicians

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Corruption,Chris Christie,Anthony Weiner,Bob McDonnell

If 2013 was the year of Filner and Weiner, 2014 is (so far, anyway) the year of Republican corruption. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in hot water after his staff (without his knowledge, he insists!) implemented a traffic study that just happened to clog traffic in the borough of a mayor who hadn't endorsed him for re-election.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have now been indicted for not just accepting but in fact seeking out and requesting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from a political donor, according to court documents.

In recent weeks, there's been a curious journalistic narrative about conservatives' and especially conservative journalists' reaction to all of this. Why haven't they started circling the wagons and defending these guys?

We've seen what happens when wagons do get circled. The results are often hilarious.

The classic case is Ted Kennedy, who pulled off a good enough coverup to remain in political life for decades after leaving a woman to drown in his car. Charles Pierce may have had his tongue planted lightly in his cheek, but he spoke from the heart of others when he wrote, "If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age."

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner managed to keep his county's Democratic Party on his side for several days, until the number of his female accusers had simply become too many.

When Bill Clinton was caught in perjury over his sexual dalliances, former Time magazine White House correspondent Nina Burleigh went so far as to say she'd be happy to break out the knee-pads and fellate the president herself, and not just in the usual metaphorical sense. Her reasoning was that Clinton's vigorous support for late-term abortion justified overlooking such a transgression - which was, in fact, less serious than the allegations against either McDonnell or Christie.

So where is the conservative knee-pad squad when Republicans need them? Doesn't one's work championing conservative causes merit some consideration now?

The conventional wisdom is that conservatives view both Christie (the moderate 2016 frontrunner) and McDonnell (who raised taxes) as moderates and therefore the enemy. It's true that a handful of prominent conservatives have taken that posture. One could say the same of several previous Republican scandals - those of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, or former Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood. Conservatives were lining up there to say, “I told you so.”

But to focus on their politics misses the more obvious explanation. Conservatives do and probably should defend their own – and even defend moderates – against silly controversies like “binders full of women” or remarks that are taken out of context. But McDonnell's and Christie's cases are different from these in kind, and not just in degree.

Both Christie and McDonnell are far more conservative than those listed above. Still, if the allegations are true, their views cannot make up for behavior that is not just immoral and embarrassing, but also antithetical to conservative ideas about government's role.

Conservatives' default preference for smaller, more limited government is not based solely on the fact that big government is expensive and unnecessary. It is also connected to a deep suspicion of concentrated power even where intentions are good. When government is big, bribery, cronyism, and venality inevitably deprive citizens of their property, life and rights. Conservatives view big government’s dreams for improving the world as mere abuses of power waiting to happen.

One should keep an open mind about whether the allegations against Christie and McDonnell are true. But politicians caught using elected office to harass political opponents or enrich themselves cannot present their conservative achievements as a defense to their base. Yes, we're glad you tried to help solve the problem - but why should we overlook the fact that you helped cause it?

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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