Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have pushed through an ethics reform measure. In the future, ethical lapses by House members will be the in the hands of the new Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside panel.
Political insiders are brushing the move aside as mere "damage control." With the approval-rating of Congress lower than the approval rating of door-to-door vacuum salesmen, the conventional wisdom is that Congress is simply trying to mend its broken image and win some confidence from voters in an election year.
But damage control is not a bad thing, if it controls real damage. And the new panel, composed of six people appointed jointly by the House speaker and the minority leader, is an attempt to sidestep all the partisan food-fights that have bogged down ethics investigations in the past. The fear, of course, is that the partisan bickering will now simply be shifted to the ranks of the new panel.
Still, the fact representatives recognize that Americans are weary of seeing them in tawdry situations does offer a beam of hope. And if members of Congress are trying to burnish their image, so be it as long as they burnish it by trying to squelch the out-of-bounds behavior that has become a pox in Washington, D.C.
In fact, our hope is the Utah Legislature will see that it, too, has an image that needs to be spruced up. An outside panel to look into allegations of misbehavior by state lawmakers would not be a bad idea.
Americans are tired of politicians running for office on platforms of honesty and decency, only to watch as those same champions of the high road sink into the quicksand of self-interest.
The nation is not surprised by such behavior. After 200 years, citizens have come to expect it. It's why comedians and cartoonists have such a heyday lampooning elected officials. But the nation though not surprised is tired and impatient. And any gesture that attempts to right the ship of state even a gesture that others see as doomed to fail is preferable to the status quo of self-indulgence, self-importance and self-congratulation that haunts the halls of the House on a daily basis.