Despite what readers may think, when people we never liked reach their expiration date, The Scrapbook tends to lean in the direction of de mortuis nil nisi bonum. (Loosely translated: Don’t speak ill of the dead.) It’s a little different, however, when political careers die—and so we freely confess to a quiet satisfaction at the news that Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) has announced that he will not seek a twelfth term in Congress. Good riddance.
We say this not because James Moran is a Democrat: There are more than a few Democrats we like; there are plenty in the House to the left of Moran; and most Democrats in Congress are considerably more competent than the representative from Virginia’s Eighth District. Nor do we say this because we tend to disagree with Moran on nearly everything, from his profligate spending of taxpayers’ money to his conviction that the “Jewish lobby” promoted the Iraq war.
We say this because James Moran, apart from his political opinions and appropriations prowess, neatly personifies everything Americans dislike about politicians.
He is corrupt. He had to resign from his very first public office—the Alexandria (Va.) city council—when accused of misusing public funds, which set a pattern for the decades to come: Conflicts of interest, bribery allegations, influence-peddling are the usual subjects when Moran makes the news, even in the sympathetic pages of the Washington Post. He has regarded public office not as a public trust but a means of rewarding himself and his friends.
He is extreme. We live in an age of rhetorical overkill in politics; but even by contemporary standards, Moran is almost in a class by himself, routinely characterizing Republicans as racists, claiming that time spent in uniform is not public service, comparing his political opponents to the Taliban, blaming Israel for the problems of the Middle East. He is famous for his tirades, and lack of physical control, at public meetings. “I like to hit people,” he has said.
He is violent. Moran has probably been involved in more public altercations than any congressman in recent memory—perhaps in congressional history—ranging from barroom brawls to domestic disputes to shoving/punching matches on the floor of the House. And as a member of Congress, and in earlier years as mayor of Alexandria, he has been largely exempt from arrest, or the legal accountability to which ordinary citizens are subject when they hit people.
In short, Moran is not just a substandard congressman, of whom there are plenty, but a thoroughly unpleasant human being whose contribution to the public weal has been nil. So unpleasant is Moran, in fact, that The Scrapbook has sometimes wondered if his problems are deeper than mere orneriness. There are 435 members of the House, and in recent years a handful—Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, Bob Dornan of California, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Anthony Weiner of New York, and others—have impressed us with their all-too-evident instability. The name of James Moran probably heads this dubious roll, so we’ll keep our distance, thanks, as he heads out the door.