Remember the bumper stickers pleading to God for someone to step forward and give George Bush the Monica Lewinsky treatment? The Mark Foley scandal could be the answer to that prayer.
The prospect that Foley's penchant for young male pages could bring down the speaker of the House comes on the heels of potentially ruinous bumbling by serial racist Sen. George 'Macaca' Allen of Virginia.
Democrats couldn't be happier.
The race for control of both chambers of Congress is tight enough that Republican mess-ups like these could spell a Democratic triumph. And what a delightful distraction to see salacious and damaging news about Republicans day after day! This must be what it was like to be a Republican during Monicagate.
After all, who wants to think about the North Korean nuclear test? The legislation that makes it legal to 'disappear' people in our own country using secret evidence and torture? The catastrophe in Iraq? The resurgence of the Taliban?The destruction of the environment?
Bring on the intern stories!
Just one problem: There's no guarantee that the Democrats can win in November on the strength of Republican scandals alone. Right after the Foley news bumped the Allen news off the front pages, there were already signs that scandal fatigue was setting in.
Voters in Virginia were giving Allen the edge again ' he was 11 points ahead of Democrat James Webb in a recent poll ' and blaming the 'liberal media' for Allen's problems.
At first, it seemed likely that Virginians, even if they shared Allen's fondness for the 'N' word, would not want to be publicly embarrassed by a leader who encouraged a crowd to mock an Indian videographer as a 'macaca,' and who once stuck a deer head on an African American family's mailbox.
The national Republican Party may court the old-line Southern racist vote, but it doesn't want to parade it around on the national stage. Still, late in a close election, there's not much the national party can do about Allen's repeated gaffes.
Yet Republicans being Republicans, there's one factor you can't discount: The GOP has a genius for capitalizing on its own weaknesses.
Tom Frank makes that point in his excellent book on the rise of the populist right, What's the Matter With Kansas? After pushing trade and tax policies that proved disastrous for working-class families, Republicans still managed to harness class anger by redirecting it to issues like abortion and the general cultural grievance against those snobby, rich, big-city, gay-loving, God-bashing, chardonnay-drinking liberals.
So the very same people who are screwed by Republican economic policy wind up voting for the people exporting their jobs and cutting their wages and benefits.
Sadly, Frank recently speculated that the scandalous Jack Abramoff pay-offs to GOP lawmakers could end up benefiting the Republicans ' since they run as the anti-government party.
The same cautionary tale applies to Foley. Christian conservatives interviewed by The New York Times denied that his escapades with congressional pages would discourage them from voting in November. They saw Foley's sin as an individual failing, not a failing of the Republican Party.
Some even said that Democrats, being friendlier to gay people, might actually nurture more Mark Foleys. In the end, the scandals that generate the most gossip in Washington often produce a yawn at the polls.
Bill Clinton's dalliance with a White House intern never produced the Republican landslide that conservatives hoped for. Indeed, all you had to do was step outside the Beltway to understand that most Americans did not buy the idea that Clinton's affair was emblematic of general Democratic depravity.
Bernie Sanders, the socialist candidate for Senate in Vermont, has the best analysis I've heard of the politics of character assassination. In his eight terms as an independent congressman, Republicans have tried tarring him as a friend of pedophiles and terrorists.
'Their weakness is, they have nothing to say,' Sanders said of the Republicans. 'What are they going to say about the economy? Poverty is increasing, the middle class is shrinking, and the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider.
'What are they going to say about tax policy when they give tax breaks to billionaires and inadequately fund veterans' benefits? What do they say about the environment when they are among the few remaining people on earth who do not believe in global warming and have just passed a disastrous energy bill that has almost no energy conservation or sustainable energy?'
The only card the Republicans have, Sanders said, is to 'try to destroy the character and the integrity of one's opponent. That's all that they have left.'
Sanders, who is not a Democrat but who could help point the party in the right direction, has plenty to run on. He has tremendous cross-over appeal ' for the liberals in Burlington and for the poor family farmers in the rural part of Vermont.
The same cannot be said for many mainstream Democrats. They are still reluctant to call for an exit from the Iraq war. Some, like Allen opponent James Webb, were adherents of Reagonomics and remain essentially Republican on issues like taxes and trade.
The Dems may eke out a slim majority in both houses in November and repudiate the Bush presidency. But if the country is going to dramatically change course, we will need a more aggressive opposition to capture the hearts and minds of a public grown cynical about presidents and congressmen diddling interns and pages while the world goes up in flames.