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Congressman Behaving Badly, Bipartisan Edition

By Margaret Carlson & Ramesh Ponnuru
December 14, 2012 11:31 AM EST

This is part of a continuing dialogue between Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson about Washington politics.

Ramesh: You know what’s really embarrassing, Margaret? When you get your head smashed into a metal trash-can cage outside a bar.

That’s the faux pas that Patrick Moran’s girlfriend committed earlier this month. According to a police report, a policeman and a bar regulator saw Moran, the son of Democratic Representative Jim Moran of Virginia, doing the smashing. The girlfriend seemed to have had a broken nose and a skull fracture.

The congressman said the couple deserved “privacy” and “look forward to putting this embarrassing situation behind them.” His spokeswoman said it was all an accident. The girlfriend now says she "fell into the side of a trashcan" because "one of my high heels gave out."

Patrick Moran pled guilty to assault, which is odd, since it appears that at most he was guilty of not reporting a malfunctioning shoe to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He was sentenced to probation.

Cases like this one happen every day all over the country, unfortunately. But it’s not every day that a member of Congress makes excuses for it. There’s a limit, as we all know too well, to what the criminal-justice system can do when victims stand by their victimizers. There is no limit, on the other hand, to what the people of the congressional district where I live are willing to put up with from Jim Moran, who was recently elected to his 12th term.

It didn’t matter when he got in a shoving match on the House floor. Or when his then-wife called the cops on him for grabbing her. Or when, soon after his divorce, two women got into an altercation at his house. Or when police got involved after he got in a fight with an 8-year-old boy. Or when he blamed the Iraq war on “the Jewish community.” Or when he condemned a political opponent, a combat veteran, for not having “served or performed any kind of public service.”

And it didn’t matter much when Patrick, working as the field director for his father’s campaign, last fall, was caught on tape counseling a man on how to commit vote fraud. The son lost his job, and the father got re-elected with more than 60 percent of my neighbors’ votes.

So why shouldn’t Moran think he can get away with blaming this arrest on high heels? Moran’s voters are used to a little embarrassment.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him in Twitter.)

Margaret: I can see your Jim Moran, Ramesh, and raise you one.

You despair over the voters in your suburban Virginia district who keep re-electing Moran. As bad as Moran father and son have behaved, I would like to bring the behavior of another member of Congress to your attention: Republican Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee.

DesJarlais is an ardent anti-abortion, family-values representative who was elected in 2010 on an arch-conservative platform. In the 2012 campaign he was hit with leaks from a 2000 divorce proceeding. The details were lurid. DesJarlais, who’s a doctor, had sex with at least one patient whom he is on tape pressuring to have an abortion. In the transcripts, he calls her a “psycho.” He also asked his former wife to have an abortion twice.

He was so promiscuous his wife asked him for a divorce. When his marriage was in its last throes, the good doctor stuck a gun in his mouth for two hours and threatened suicide. She claimed he set off a gun on another occasion. He said he was only twirling it.

Whatever. In his mouth or on his finger, details. Tennessee voters apparently do not mind a gun-wielding doctor straight out of "Rosemary’s Baby." He was re-elected by a 12-point margin. You can read about the sordid tale in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which reported on all of it before the election and secured the court transcript right after.

A public interest group filed a complaint against DesJarlais for having sex with a patient, and Tennessee authorities could take away his license. The same group filed a complaint with the ethics committee in the House. My money is on medical ethics trumping congressional ones.

Speaking of voters, and the wisdom thereof, let’s end on a happy note: The good people of the Eighth District of Illinois threw out one of the worst members of Congress ever, Joe Walsh, sued by his ex-wife for $117,000 in child support. (The case was settled out of court in April). She sued him for non-support after he stiffed her while taking his girlfriend on vacations abroad and loaning his campaign $35,000.

So maybe we should celebrate small victories -- or defeats, as the case may be.

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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