LETTER: Republican embarrassment

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The Independent Online
JOHN CARLIN'S article about Bob Packwood's resignation ("Money, not morals, drove senator out", September 17) was substantially off the mark. He argues that it was Packwood's financial misdeeds, rather than his repeated sexual advances towards female subordinates, that led the Senate Ethics Committee to recommend his expulsion. So serious was the threat these misdeeds posed to the Senate's reputation, according to Carlin, that "the reputation of the entire US Congress, the legitimacy of the American system itself, was at stake".

Although Packwood's financial misdeeds were indeed serious, there was nothing that he had done that has not been done many times before, both in the US and in Europe. Packwood's influence-peddling, while deeply reprehensible, was not a "bomb" that would "blow Congress sky high". Far more serious financial crimes in the US Congress have been exposed in the past with considerably less ado.

The real reason the Ethics Committee voted to recommend expelling Packwood is twofold. First, public hearings on Packwood's sexual misbehaviour, the alternative to expulsion, would be too politically costly for Republicans during election season. Not only are Republicans anxious to avoid further evidence that they are indifferent to the issue of sexual harassment, but their "family values" mantle would be seriously damaged by the fact that one of Packwood's female targets was a minor.

Second, the Republicans cannot afford to involve Packwood, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in public hearings at the very moment they are steering their most important pieces of legislation through Congress. Better to remove him altogether and put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of his number two man, Senator William Roth. Not the most noble reasons, it is true - but a far cry from the bipartisan conspiracy Carlin suggests.

Nicholas Beim

St Antony's College, Oxford