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Vermont Guardian

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Real world ethics

Posted October 6, 2006

Everyone knows that you should be careful of what you say, as words have a way of coming back to haunt you.

Does the same hold true if those words are borrowed from someone else? In the case of Martha Rainville, it appears so.

This week’s revelation that a high-level staffer plagiarized from Pres. George W. Bush as well as prominent Democrats — including Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York — for Rainville policy statements is embarrassing for sure. But, in the world of politics, borrowing from others’ messages and making it your own is part of the game.

To be sure, Rainville has set a high standard for herself in this election by staking much of her political reputation and her campaign on being above reproach, about being ethical, honest, and transparent — and returning faith in Congress, which has been taken over by some who have “lost their way.”

While she returned $1,000 to Rep. Don Sherwood, a Pennsylvania Republican, because it was discovered that Sherwood had settled a lawsuit out of court related to charges that he abused a mistress, it masked what she didn’t give back earlier this year — a much larger check of $5,000 from Rep. Roy Blunt, R-MO, one of the top cohorts of disgraced, and former, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-TX. DeLay resigned from office after being entwined in the scandal involving uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Then, it was uncovered that she hired a lower-ranking Guard member, while she was both adjutant general and “considering” a run for House, to design her campaign material and website. Forget that this violates policies in all branches of the military, not just the Guard. Her excuse? It was her campaign manager who hired the guy, not her, therefore she didn’t break any rules.

Technically, that’s true. But, combined with the recent snafu regarding plagiarism, one has to wonder who is running the show at Rainville headquarters.

Her message of clean campaigning and high ethical standards would be welcome if it appeared as if her staff, and those who support her, were actually listening.

Take for example, revelations in Washington that top GOP leaders knew about, but potentially ignored, stories that Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican and top fundraiser for the party, had been having inappropriate contact with legislative pages.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner, R-OH, and Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-NY, all allegedly knew about Foley’s inappropriate contact with teenaged pages, but did not take any punitive or protective action.

Just a month ago, Rainville said on Vermont Public Radio when asked who she would vote for as speaker that she didn’t think it mattered. “I think we spend a lot of time on who are you going to vote for as speaker and it really just detracts attention from what we ought to be talking about,” she said.

In a later debate with Democrat Peter Welch, she said it was “critical to Vermont that we have a speaker from the Republican Party.”

While that Republican might not be Hastert, can Vermonters really afford to have another two years of GOP control in the House?

The arrogance, the capitulation to the Bush administration’s mockery of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the elimination of the right to proclaim your innocence and have a fair trial (habeas corpus), not to mention the decimation of key social safety net programs, will take two generations to correct, if not more.

Everyone knows that Rainville’s electoral strategy is to woo moderate to conservative Democrats and independents. Her clean campaign pledge, combined with her pro-choice stance and military background provide her with a winning pedigree.

If nothing else, the plagiarism scandal laid bare this cynical electoral strategy — fund your campaign with money from the same people in Congress you criticize, and use the words of Democrats to drive your points home.

In other words, say what you need to get elected, but remember who got you there. This is not independent thinking, but business as usual in today’s politics.

In this sense, we wonder who has “lost their way” — those in Washington who would like to see Rainville elected so they maintain their tenuous grip on power, or Rainville herself.