Would Democrats Be Half as Bad?

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As the off-year elections approach, the Republicans are turning up the fear factor against the opposition.

First, it was fear that Democrats were defeatists and weak on safety from terrorists at our doorstep.

That may have worked in 2004, but it doesn't seem to be catching any fire this time. Judging by the polls, a strong majority of voters think that the administration has made a mess of things in Iraq and that we may be even more vulnerable than before.

Now the Republicans are resorting to fear of Democrats taking over the House. It should be a loser, too.

Start at the top. The GOP is ringing alarm bells that the liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the current Democratic leader, will bring "San Francisco values" to the speaker's office.

She would replace Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the former wrestling coach who is tangled up in the accountability fiasco of the Mark Foley scandal. What values has Hastert got? Pelosi has been free from any taint of scandal in her career.

Keep in mind that Hastert's predecessor, Republican Newt Gingrich, had to leave Congress under an ethics cloud. Don't forget, too, that another Republican, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, had to resign and is still facing a criminal trial in Texas. He's hardly the epitome of statesmanship.

Republicans say Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, ranking member of Ways and Means, would be out of control as chairman. The current chairman, Rep. Bill Thomas of California, may be one of the prickliest personalities in the House.

A warning from GOP strategists is that Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan would be a purely partisan leader of the Judiciary Committee. The current chairman, Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, is a take-no-prisoners type who led with partisan vengeance the impeachment case against then President Clinton.

Then, there are some chairs or prominent members of lesser importance.

GOP Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, the recent chairman of the House Administration panel, has just admitted his guilt to selling his office in the Jack Abramoff scandal. His next leader will be a warden in a federal prison.

The aforementioned Foley of Florida, who was chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus, resigned in disgrace over his dealings with young male pages and touched off a widespread probe of his shameful conduct.

Another Republican, Rep. Curt Weldon, a veteran from Pennsylvania and second in command of the Armed Services Committee, finds himself under investigation for allegedly steering lucrative government contracts to his daughter.

We could even add the notorious GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California to the list. But he's already in prison and yesterday's news.

And I think the case has been made that the current powers in the House should consider their own dirty linen before continuing this tactic.