Why Trey Radel Must Resign

Radel has a better chance of getting well as a private citizen than as a member of Congress.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla.

As much as some partisans hope it might be, Florida Republican Rep. Trey Radel's guilty plea in D.C. Superior Court to a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge is not enough to end the matter. Likewise, his admission he has a problem and will be seeking treatment for it is not enough to put it to rest. The discussion can and should end only after he resigns his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thus far, the House GOP leadership has maintained relative silence since the news of his arrest and plea broke late Tuesday. No one wants to compound the tragedy as it is unfolding. Radel has some serious issues to deal with and a long struggle ahead of him, and it would be unseemly to be seen as piling on.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

There is, however, an reasonable expectation that public officials should obey the law just as the rest of us are expected to do. When a congressman or senator is involved in an ethical lapse involving drugs, alcohol or, increasingly, sex, the typical way of dealing with it is for the media and other officials to treat it as a personal failing outside the boundaries of fair public comment, at least when the elected official involved is a Democrat.

It's not quite the same when a Republican is involved, owing to the increasingly partisan, pro-Democrat bias in the national media, which exposes the foibles of the right while, knowingly or not, covering up the misdeeds of the left. This is a shame, because each one of us has the right to expect a minimum standard of behavior from every elected official regardless of party affiliation. Every time the double standard is allowed to rear its ugly head, the bar for that minimum standard is implicitly lowered.

None of us has the right to judge Radel for his actions, though many are doing so. The point of insisting he resign is as much for his own good and that of his family as it is for Congress or the Republican Party. A scandal of this sort is inevitable fodder for the Democrats and their allies on the left who will point to it as yet another example of Republican hypocrisy on values issues. In doing so, they apparently miss the point that such a message can be taken as conceding that cocaine use and alcohol abuse are okay if you are a Democrat because that party's candidates do not campaign on a so-called "values agenda."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Radel's primary obligation right now is to himself and his family. It will only place additional stress on his recovery if he were to try and balance that against the pressures of serving his South Florida constituents. To put it another way, there are plenty of people who could ably take his place in Congress; the same cannot be said of his responsibilities as a husband and father.

The GOP will survive the Radel scandal. It has survived much worse. The bigger question is whether or not Radel will. It seems self-evident that he has a better chance of doing that as a private citizen than he does as a member of Congress.

  • Read Lara Brown: Trey Radel Could Teach Rob Ford About How to Handle a Cocaine Scandal
  • Read Susan Milligan: Austin Deeds Shows How Critical Mental Health Care Can Be
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