Wednesday, July 13, 2005 | “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx

I wonder, how would Duke Cunningham have handled Groucho’s conundrum? The Duke’s recent actions may have given us a hint. And that ain’t bad because his hints make more sense than his normal (for him) prose. When he turned down an invitation to flip pancakes, a spokesperson said the congressman didn’t want to provoke a circus atmosphere.

An apt metaphor: a circus. The Duke has never had any problem making a clown out of himself. The problem is in the ear of the beholder. It’s up to the listener, not a congressman, to make sense of self-righteous proclamations of holiness and piety, especially when used to defend the indefensible.

Although it bears retelling, I’ll spare you one more iteration of what he said in defense of getting rich by some mysterious deals involving houses in the high-rent district of San Diego County and a boat owned by a contractor.

While the local congressman didn’t flip pancakes, he did attend a meeting hosted by the Escondido Rotarians. The meeting was restricted to those on the A-list of invitees – nice polite folks who knew when to applaud and what questions not to ask.

One would suspect that, if this goes unchallenged, we will see local politicians emulate those at the top of the masthead and only attend public meetings about public affairs without much of the public being allowed in. The president generally limits his appearances to soldiers who are ordered when and how loud to cheer.

At least the North County folks didn’t shout, “Hoorah!”

But they did ask questions, just about as challenging as those asked by Jeff Gannon of the president. You would think the guests at the Rotary meeting didn’t give a big hoot about their congressman and his selling of houses for enormous profits, rent-free boats, suddenly rich contractors and millions of dollars and stuff like that. According to the reports that leaked out, everybody behaved like proper North County Republicans.

Heck, they not only behaved, they gave him not one but two standing ovations when one would have been overkill and none preferable, given the circumstances. Then they serenaded the guy with a nice song based on “Anchors Aweigh.” I presume it referred to the Duke’s service in the Navy, not to his sailing on “The Duke-Stir,” the boat he lived in rent-free.

Far from using a public forum to ask questions of a public figure on public matters, the Rotarians and other special guests treated their hero like the hero he had been 35 years earlier. Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler again praised him for those acts.

Then she got right down to the nitty-gritty, his responsiveness to the needs of his constituents: “He has brought money back to support our water treatment plants, our recycling plant and Citracado Parkway is very important on his list. If we didn’t have a great representative in Washington, we wouldn’t have all the great projects in Escondido.”

Somehow, I missed any mention of the word “honesty,” in her honor’s remarks. Maybe someone will ask her about it next election. But perhaps not. What’s a little thing like honesty when a congressman is being extolled for pork barrel politics?

And remember the famous line in “Dr. Strangelove” by General “Buck” Turgidson? Ol’ Buck, played to perfection by George C. Scott, had just committed our bombers on a mission that would end the world. But Turgidson defended himself with, “A man is entitled to one mistake, isn’t he?”

I think some folks awfully similar to ol’ Buck were in the audience.

When the Duke was leaving, a reporter managed to get in one question: “Congressman, are you considering resigning?”

The answer: “Why should I?”

Why indeed? He certainly has a hard core of support. Also on Jan. 4, he voted to weaken the House ethics rules. Some thought that may have been to benefit Tom DeLay.

Or, he might have been voting to protect another shyster some 1,340 miles to the east.

Dipsey Dumpster sometimes writes under the pseudonym Keith Taylor. He can be reached at

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