IT WAS IN PART at at the urging of Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, that the contemptible Bob Packwood finally threw in the towel last Thursday and resigned from Congress. Nevertheless, Simpson was embittered by the double standard at play in the Senate chamber.
"I looked around that room," he said, "and saw people who had done things much worse." Now, which senior senator from Massachusetts do you suppose he was referring to?
If you're looking for double standards in the way members of Congress who behave sleazily are treated, Massachusetts is certainly the place to focus.
When a US senator or representative from any other state is disgraced by sexual corruption, he leaves Congress. Always. Either he resigns or he is thrown out by his constituents. Powerful chairman or lowly backbencher, Republican or Democrat, straight or gay, it makes no difference: Soil your reputation with sexual scandal and you kiss your congressional career goodbye.
In 1974, Arkansas Democrat Wilbur Mills, boss of the House Ways and Means Committee, pursued stripper Fanne ("The Argentine Firecracker") Fox right into the Tidal Basin. Two years later he was gone.
In May 1976 it transpired that Wayne Hays of Ohio, another Democratic heavyweight, was keeping a blonde tootsie named Elizabeth Ray on his committee payroll for purposes other than typing. By September, Hays had resigned.
Maryland Republican Bob Bauman, a rising conservative star, was kicked out of office in 1980 after getting arrested for soliciting oral sex from a 16-year-old boy. The following February, Republican Jon Hinson of Mississippi was caught doing much the same thing in a Capitol bathroom. He left Congress in April.
Illinois voters booted Rep. Dan Crane (R), a married father of six, after he was censured for sleeping with a 17-year-old female page. In 1987-88, two California congressmen, Republican Ernie Konnyu and Democrat Jim Bates, were charged with sexually harassing women on their staffs. Both got the hook on Election Day.
Chicago Rep. Mel Reynolds (D) has just been convicted of criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and child pornography. He's on his way to prison. His predecessor in the South Side seat was another degenerate, Rep. Gus Savage (D), whose record included repeated sexual assaults on a Peace Corps worker during an overseas junket. Savage was luckier than Reynolds: He wasn't indicted, merely defeated.
There have been other cases. And everywhere, one rule prevails: Get caught in a sex scandal, get forced out of Congress.
Everywhere but Massachusetts.
Twelve years after he was censured by the House of Representatives for propositioning three male teen-age House pages and having sex with one of them, Massachusetts Democrat Gerry Studds is still in Congress. He has never expressed contrition for what he did, never shown a hint of shame. Worse, he has always insisted that his actions -- getting a kid 19 years his junior drunk on vodka and cranberry juice, then pressuring him into unwanted sex -- did not constitute improper sexual conduct, that the whole business was "mutual and voluntary." Disgrace? Not in Massachusetts. Studds is routinely reelected.
So is Rep. Barney Frank, whose affair with Steve Gobie, an $80-a-pop call boy, was revealed in 1989. Renting a hooker was the least of the offense. It turned out that Gobie was a convicted felon with a prison record. That he ran a prostitution ring out of Frank's apartment. That Frank made him a personal aide, paying him $20,000 -- unreported to the IRS -- and giving him the keys to his car. That he wrote letters of reference to Gobie's probation officers. That he had Gobie accompany him to public functions -- once, even, to a White House ceremony. Most pathetic of all was Frank's claim that he'd been "victimized" -- that he was just a "good liberal" who was "trying to help" Gobie, but got "suckered."
This was too much even for a "good liberal" newspaper like The Globe, which concluded in an editorial that "Barney Frank must go." This being Massachusetts, voters in the 4th Congressional District concluded otherwise.
Which returns us to the senior senator from Massachusetts. How can a US Senate in which Bob Packwood isn't fit to serve have room for an Edward Kennedy?
The Senate Ethics Committee amassed 10,000 pages of evidence about Packwood's wandering hands and intrusive tongue. We learn, for instance, that in 1969 he forced "a sloppy, sudden kiss" on 23-year-old Gayle Rothrock. What might we learn by investigating Kennedy's long record of horny groping? His 1969 activities included driving 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to her death at Chappaquiddick under circumstances unmistakably sexual and dishonorable.
However crude Packwood's behavior, it pales beside the lecherous exploitation of women for which Kennedy has long been notorious. If Packwood is too gross to be a senator, so is Kennedy.
Except that Kennedy is from Massachusetts, so his swinishness has never been a problem. Maybe in Oregon or Illinois depravity can cost a member of Congress his seat. In this state, where standards are lower, sleaziness is a bar to nothing.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)