Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) benefits from the precedent set by Bill Clinton: Although many voters consider him personally unfit for office, they deem him professionally apt. So in a primary earlier this month, Democrats held their noses and nominated Moran to run for another term.
That may not be all bad.
Moran performs a function that has been largely abdicated by Virginia's Republican representatives: He dares to criticize and attempts to curb George W. Bush's excesses.
The president's penchant for secrecy and obsessive security often results in unnecessary restrictions on freedom. As purported champions of limited government, Republicans should be the first ones to protest. But perhaps they fear White House retribution, because they often remain silent -- at least in public.
How could defenders of free speech not object to the Bush administration's treatment of U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers?
After she discussed with the media problems in staffing and assignments, Chambers was suspended from her job. Yet few Republicans have been as vocal as Moran, who pointed out that Chambers merely committed "the allegedly egregious crime of telling the public the truth" and that her subsequent punishment by the White House "sends the wrong signal to other federal managers."
Under the new Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, which the Bush administration is determined to impose, travelers will be required to forgo their privacy by allowing government screeners to comb databases and gather information about them. Worse, the Transportation Security Administration won't say what information will be gathered, who might see that information or how it might be used.
In better days, Republicans understood that the principal distinction between a free society and a police state is who keeps tabs on whom. So why aren't more of them joining Moran in criticizing the screening system -- loudly?
One of the most absurd restrictions imposed by the Bush administration after the 2001 terrorist attacks was to shut down general aviation at Reagan National Airport, throwing hundreds of people out of work and depriving citizens of the use of their own facility. Nowadays, the only private planes allowed to fly into Reagan are those ferrying certain government officials and President Bush's parents.
To his credit, Moran is critical.
"Restoring general aviation at [Reagan] National can be done safely," he says. "It is long past time to get these planes back in the air and bring back what was once a vibrant component of our local economy." Why isn't Virginia's entire congressional delegation clamoring for the same?
Virginia's Republicans did join Moran in pressing Bush to reopen the airport to commercial flights following the terrorist attacks. And 11th District Republican Thomas M. Davis III worked with Moran to get funding to ease congestion around Fort Belvoir that was created when streets through the base were closed as a so-called security measure. (In fact, closing the streets probably diminishes security, according to Fort Belvoir officials, by making roads so congested that key personnel would have trouble reporting for duty in an emergency.)
Certainly, members of the president's party aren't eager to skewer him in public. Many adhere to Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment": Never speak ill of another Republican. But it does not reflect well on Virginia's GOP to be occasionally outshone by Moran -- a man whose antics and altercations make him an embarrassment to the commonwealth.
What good is Republican rectitude if it doesn't bolster the cause of freedom?
George W. Bush wants congressional lapdogs, and too many Republicans accommodate him. Virginians, like all citizens, would be better served if more representatives acted as watchdogs.