Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"Gannongate" (a.k.a., Nothinggate) and Divided Government

I feel as though I should have said something about "Gannongate" by now, though so many others (particularly Media Matters) have done such a good job that I have little to add. However, Hendrik Hertzberg's column in this week's New Yorker got me thinking. He claims (for reasons I'll mention below) that Gannongate should be called "Nothinggate" since nothing will ultimately be made of it.

Like many of you, I've been outraged by this scandal and I've been following it closely. But I also had the sense that few people outside the blogosphere (despite Keith Olbermann's best efforts) have been paying attention to it. So I did a little experiment this afternoon. I called my mother to ask her if she had heard of "Jeff Gannon" or of the story of the fake White House correspondent (and alleged male escort) who has been lobbing softballs at press conferences. She hadn't. Now my mother follows the news closely - far more closely than the average person but certainly not as closely as news junkie political scientists. So the fact that she hasn't even heard of this story is a pretty good indication of how much most Americans know about (i.e., nothing).

Hertzberg's right; the story isn't going anywhere. But his explanation for why is instructive. He argues that all of the presidential scandals of the past thirty years have happened during times of divided government. That is, the opposition party controlled at least one chamber in Congress and, therefore, could conduct investigations into questionable executive activities. I've always disliked divided government because it makes even the semblance of "responsible party government" impossible. But Hertzberg's is a pretty powerful argument in favor of it.


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