The U.S. Senate is the world's most exclusive club, a place of seductive power and privilege. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is the latest to publicly succumb to the arrogance and sense of entitlement engendered by the Senate's overly rarefied atmosphere.
As the jurors in his federal corruption trial quickly decided, it isn't right to accept a small fortune in secret gifts from people who directly benefit from favorable congressional actions.
And yet Stevens was clearly shocked at the verdict, unable to see any fault in his actions after 40 years of isolation from the commonplace morality of Americans. He vows to fight on, self-righteously certain that he is somehow the victim of a biased prosecution by the most thoroughly Republican-dominated U.S. Justice Department in modern times.
In truth, if there is any scandal in how federal prosecutors handled this case, it may be in failing to charge Stevens with bribery rather than merely with technical violations of Senate rules for reporting gifts. The deluxe massage chair and chalet makeover certainly weren't bestowed upon Stevens because he is a sweet old guy, but because the givers got something in return.
The same is true of Stevens' relationship with Alaska citizens. Among the nation's most reliably Republican and libertarian voters, they were pleased to keep returning Stevens to the Senate in return for an astounding torrent of taxpayer money from the Lower 48. Stevens famously went out of his way to levy bullying threats against any of his Senate colleagues who stood in the way of his gravy train.
Now, with national polls pointing to a decisive turn away from the disastrous, self-dealing policies of the past decade, even Stevens' top GOP peers say he should resign. It would be nice to think that this reflects a strengthened moral sense. However, it likely really is a desperate effort to convince the nation that Senate Republicans are not morally bankrupt.
Certainly, Stevens should resign. This will not happen. Alaska should opt for a new direction, away from the pork spending that Stevens championed. Sadly, this may not happen either; the Alaska Republican Party wants "Uncle Ted" to stay where he is.
The Senate has little backbone for policing itself, but if Stevens is re-elected, he must at a minimum immediately be stripped of all power. He must then be ushered out the Senate's doors as soon as possible. Its hallowed halls must again come to house the best of who we are, and not be a haven-for-life for our most successful con men.