Not since comedian Flip Wilson said “The Devil made me do it” with a twinkle in his eye or back when wild-eyed prohibitionists excoriated “Demon Rum” has human frailty been used to such advantage in explaining questionable behavior. Whether it is in-your-face corruption, driving irregularities or sexual indiscretion, alcoholism, other addictions or mental lapses are said to be causative, and immediate departure by the offender for some rehab facility is announced.
When Patrick Kennedy had a mishap involving a road marker last May he said he was suffering from an addiction he hadn’t been able to control and signed up for rehab. Some years earlier a young George Bush became entangled in a patch of roadside plantings after a night of drinking in Kennebunkport, and, while he didn’t sign up for rehab, he found Jesus eventually which is said to have been curative in his case.
In today’s heated political climate misdeeds are often described as having been enacted “under the influence” and that is not a reference to some of the foul legislation Congress has passed recently. Representative Bob Ney just pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud among other things and is said to have signed in to a rehab facility for treatment of his alleged alcoholism. He, you may remember, was the bright light that insisted French fries he re-named freedom fries in the House cafeteria when France declined to join us in Iraq. Was he “under the influence” when he made that suggestion, riding the crest of 911 fervor or perhaps just wasting time in Congress with really stupid stuff?
Now with the disturbing revelations about Florida Representative Mark Foley’s attraction to young boys, in this case teen-aged congressional pages, House leaders are in a frenzy trying to find ways to avoid admitting there were hints of his predilections for some time. Heated e-mails between Foley and a sixteen-year-old page have surfaced and are making the rounds to loud clucking sounds on both sides of the aisle. The congressman has resigned and, guess what, found his way – – you guessed it, to a rehab facility. His lawyer said Foley’s poor judgment was the result of his drinking problem.
Now while alcohol and other drugs have never been recommended as judgment enhancers neither do such substances explain adequately corrupt behavior that involves accepting bribes or campaign contributions to do the bidding of special interests, nor do they provide cover for serious mental disorders or sexual depravity. It is quite stunning that the “values” party as Republicans so describe themselves should find itself foundering in a sea of corruption that includes so many of their members in Congress.
If signing up for rehab is to become the normative path taken by all politicians suspected of indiscriminate and illegal acts the country may need a few more facilities. It is one thing to be stopped for driving under the influence when one is actually under the influence. But it is quite another to attempt to disavow acts that are clearly corrupt or signs of deeper psychological dysfunction by resorting to the substance-abuse excuse.
One can only wonder, if as Bob Ney has self-destructed, can Conrad Burns be far behind? And what of Tom DeLay – – it doesn’t seem like his style, but maybe one day in the not so distant future he’ll be signing in to a clinic somewhere to treat the malady that clouded his judgment.

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