House ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, who lost his powerful leadership post after a 17-count criminal indictment, was the quintessential pro at bringing home the bacon for his friends and constituents.
Rosty's problems stem from an alleged habit of carelessly sticking taxpayers not only with the legitimate price of bacon but a whole hog farm that benefited mostly himself.If only half of the financial hanky-panky with which he is charged is true, he is inexcusably corrupt.
But there is also a pervasive sense in Washington that his political style is as much on trial in the court of public opinion as any specific misdeeds are on trial in a court of law.
The pragmatic, brutal, non-ideological politics that he has come to symbolize-- and which earned him little love but great respect-- is under assault from the far right, and gaining steam.
Wheeler-dealers, once admired by the home folks for the buildings, bridges, programs and subsidies they produced, are now on the defensive for their inattention to the nation's soul.
Relative newcomers are clamoring for a seat at the table of political power by promising to deliver emotional uplift rather than economic benefits. They preach the value of noble character, volunteerism and self-help, qualities that have less to do with governing than with social nostalgia for romanticized myths of the past.
The newcomers claim to scorn the practical favors on which Rostenkowski and his political generation thrived because such benefits are best acquired through negotiated compromise instead of principled confrontation. Newsweek, searching for a label for this new conservative phenomenon, calls them the Virtuecrats.
The most aggressive and outrageous of this modern breed is Oliver North, who just won the Republican Senate nomination in Virginia despite the determined opposition of the state's senior GOP senator, John Warner.
North claims as a badge of honor the fact that he lied to a disapproving Senate about the illicit, secret war in Nicaragua that he ran from the White House basement. He makes no claim of being able to work with his new colleagues, should he be elected.
He vowed he would never "join the club and pay the dues of compromise...You'll never see Oliver North crawl up the hill to kiss their big fat rings."
Voters may be disgusted with government, but they still expect public policy guidance and a multitude of services from it. And they want their elected representatives to influence how and where those services are delivered.
But the new preachy conservatives are not focused on bread-and-butter issues. They are more interested in somehow imposing their own standards of personal behavior on the country.