Ensign’s disgraced departure

ENSIGN’S DISGRACED DEPARTURE…. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) officially resigned from the Senate yesterday, a day before he was scheduled to testify under oath about his humiliating sex/corruption scandal. He couldn’t have known when he announced his departure two weeks ago that the timing would be so fortuitous — Ensign’s departure was largely overlooked in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But before the far-right Republican’s name slips into the history books and out of the public eye, I’d note for the last time how very fortunate Ensign has been, at least as far as the public and the media is concerned. The New York Times‘ Eric Lipton, who has done some great reporting on this story, noted recently that Ensign’s scandal is the biggest for a sitting senator since Bob Packwood was forced to resign 16 years ago due to sexual misconduct.

But in 1995, Packwood’s scandal, involving the sexual harassment of women staffers, was a huge story for the political media. Ensign, in contrast, has had it quite easy.

The media feeding frenzy just never happened. All of the elements were in place — salacious sex scandal, high-profile sitting senator, breathtaking hypocrisy, secret payoffs, violations of lobbying and ethics rules, etc. — but major news organizations just didn’t bite. There were no camera crews staked out in front of Ensign’s home. There were no op-eds on the need for Ensign to step down. There were no reporters chasing him through the halls of Senate office buildings, demanding answers for his alleged crimes. There was no breathless speculation about what the Ensign scandal would mean for the Republican Party.

Just a few days after a sitting senator announced he would resign in disgrace, most of the Sunday morning shows didn’t even think to mention the development.

Indeed, even after getting caught and finding himself a target of the FBI and the Senate ethics committee, John Ensign, as recently as February, planned to seek re-election — and no one pointed and laughed.

Nevertheless, apparently eager to avoid testifying, Ensign delivered a farewell speech yesterday, apologizing for his misconduct.

“Often times, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become,” Mr. Ensign, a Nevada Republican who is retiring on Tuesday, said as he spoke for the last time on the Senate floor. […]

The senator, first elected in 2000, said he had grown “blind to how arrogant and self-centered that I had become.” He said he regretted calling for the resignations of two former Republican colleagues — Ted Stevens of Alaska and Larry Craig of Idaho — for transgressions of their own when he served as his party’s Senate campaign chief.

“My caution to all of my colleagues is to surround yourself with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming and then make them promise not to hold back,” said Mr. Ensign, considered a rising Republican star before his career imploded. “I wish I had done this sooner, but this is one of the hardest lessons that I’ve had to learn.”

Those who’ve followed this story closely know how absurd this is — Ensign’s friends, including other Republican colleagues in the Senate, were honest with him, and urged him to clean up his act. Ensign refused.

He added, “I even tried not to become caught up in my own self-importance. Unfortunately, the urge to believe in it was stronger than the power to fight it.”

I might note that the last thing the senator should be talking about are his “urges.”

For what it’s worth, fellow senators traditionally turn out to hear fellow members’ farewell speeches. Ensign spoke yesterday to an empty chamber.