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Scandal was bipartisan Ethics panel finds minor GOP flaws, but Democrats deserve criticism, too

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds and other Republican leaders came in for a well-deserved, if minor, rebuke in the House Ethics Committee's report on how Congress handled the House page scandal that helped end 12 years of Republican control. Democrats, though, may not have been criticized enough.

It's not all bad news for Reynolds, who points out that the committee's report confirms some major elements of his version of events. What is more, the representative from Clarence deserves credit for refusing to attend a meeting of House Republican leaders after the scandal was referred to the Ethics Committee. He thought it would have looked bad. He was right, but it also looked bad that Reynolds, aware of Foley's e-mails, encouraged the well-connected Florida Republican to seek re-election.

That, really, is the essence of the report, which recommended no disciplinary action: Virtually no one did enough to protect House pages after questionable e-mails surfaced between former Rep. Mark Foley and a former page. Political advantage was more important than human decency.

But while Republicans have taken virtually all of the criticism for failing to act, the bipartisan committee report makes plain that Democrats also knew about the same e-mails (which were not sexually explicit, as instant messages later discovered were). Ten months before the scandal erupted, a Democratic Caucus official told the panel, spokesmen for two Democratic organizations saw the e-mails -- but instead of going to the police or notifying Republican House leaders or informing the congressional heads of the page program, the Democratic officials shopped them (unfortunately, without success) to the news media in Foley's home state.

Indeed, reports at the time of the September scandal were that Foley's unhealthy interest in young pages was well known around Capitol Hill. So, if it is true, as many Democrats have alleged, that Hastert, Reynolds and other Republican leaders averted their eyes from the Foley mess in a raw political calculation meant to protect their sinking hopes of retaining control of Congress, then Democrats made the same disgusting deal with the devil. They were just as delighted as Republicans to ignore the pedophiliac threat to teenage House pages if it would help them at the polls.

Conduct on both sides of the aisle was revolting, unbefitting those who sit atop the American political structure.

Congress is expected to try to reform the page program to better protect the youths who come to work at the Capitol. That's important work, but a more secure program, alone, won't change human hearts, not among sexual predators and not among those who value political advantage over the safety of teenagers who are far from home.

If there is anything approaching decency among the political schemers in Washington, it will be a long time before any of them ever again lectures other Americans about family values.

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