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Big Easy mayor, Congress singing out of tune

Now playing at a dive near you: Ray Nagin and the Congressional Ethicists. Oh, I almost forgot. They pay you to go to this show.

As the whole world knows, New Orleans Mayor Nagin has been dining on his own tootsy since he suggested that God had unleashed Hurricane Katrina as payback for the U.S. being in Iraq, and that a rebuilt Big Easy would be "a chocolate city at the end of the day."

Aside from being the perfect butt of plenty of jokes - for example, referring to the mayor as "Willy Wonka Nagin" - Hizzoner apparently had no idea that Pat Robertson had already cornered the market on the preposterous connecting of vengeance dots.

Like Robertson, and predictably, the mayor apologized amid a mountain of criticism and scorn.

Nagin's opening act of stupidity on Martin Luther King Day was followed this week on the big stage, where the Ethicists brought down the House of Representatives with two big show numbers.

Dueling proposals about ethics arrived from both parties, the GOP on Tuesday and the Dems on Wednesday.

While the details of the measures differ in places and overlap in others, the lyrics of both sound strangely like that old political standard, "Stop Me Before I Commit an Unethical Act Again."

Accompanying the proposals was the usual partisan finger pointing. Republicans are rightly feeling some serious heat considering lobbyist and all-around white collar criminal Jack Abramoff, who may do some singing of his own.

Abramoff greased skids and palms for a few Democrats, too. And - surprise! - compromised ethics is not a new phenomenon.

While Abramoff may have more ties to the GOP than the Dems, ethical charges against the Clinton administration were as prevalent as "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" was from 1993 to 2001.

Meanwhile, the rest of us continue to hope the man or woman doing our bidding in Washington is honest - and can see the forest, too. These days, Congress is continually awash in tribal warfare - think the two-party system on steroids. Petty bickering has replaced true debate, so while one side determines how best to gut and field dress the other, the business of the people waits as the show goes on.

As scandal unfolds, the natural reaction is to throw our hands up, pronounce the entire enterprise corrupt and disengage. But that "for the people, by the people" business nags.

Not everyone in Congress is on the take or a member of the Grifter's Caucus. But leadership, often breathlessly bandied about in the august halls in which the House and Senate do business, has to start slapping heads and taking names. When riding herd on members because of their ethics is as important as riding herd on them because of their vote, change will take place.

Money talks everywhere, but in politics its siren song is in digital Dolby, powered by PACs and special interests and lobbyists, none of which are illegal, but many of whom, in their current form and function, have skewed the notion of representative democracy.

So out of whack have we become that the two ethics proposals, however flawed, brought snickers when they should have caused minor but polite applause.

Jaundiced? Perhaps. At the very least, we have become a tough crowd, believing some of those who sing loudest under Washington's brightest spotlights rarely take the high road to their next gig.

George Ayoub is a columnist with the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent. E-mail him at george.ayoub@morris.com.