Perhaps it’s true that we do not elect our officials to shape our children’s character. Good thing, huh? If we instructed our kids to emulate elected officials, they’d be driving ladies off bridges, popping money in the freezer, and taking vacations on the dime of sleazy lobbying firms. And that’s not to mention what they might be doing in restrooms. On the plus side, they might be making a small fortune in cattle futures.
We elect people to be strong and effective public servants who will represent our political points of view. We have come to expect them to be flawed. But there has to be a limit.
Actually, there appears to be more limits to what the electorate will forgive when the alleged violator is Republican. Take the case of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig who is accused of soliciting gay sex in a Minneapolis airport stall. Craig lasted mere days before announcing his resignation. Of course, Craig, who loudly proclaimed his innocence in the matter and who may have had a good chance of beating the charges, had already pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. And that’s a poor indicator of innocence.
Glance at a partial list of other Republicans who’ve been implicated in one scandal or another. President Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate, following in the steps of Vice President Spiro Agnew who had earlier resigned due to charges of tax evasion.
Bob Livingston was a Republican congressman from Louisiana who was about to become Speaker of the House before he stepped down in the wake of marital infidelity charges. Ohio Congressman Bob Ney got a sentence of thirty months on conspiracy charges. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California resigned from the House after pleading guilty to accepting bribes, and is now serving an eight-year sentence. Tom DeLay was House Majority Leader when he became embroiled in the Abramoff lobbying scandal and was targeted by the Austin district attorney. DeLay won the 2006 primary, but then dropped out of the race, fearing GOP voters would not reelect him. And, of course, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally resigned in the wake of the flap over U.S. Attorneys being fired.
There is a lesson for Republican officials here. They will not get away with much of anything. For the Democrats, it’s a different story – especially with regard to the voters in Democratic precincts.
President Clinton may have been the most scandal-ridden president in U.S. history, but he beat impeachment and many people believe he could have been elected to a third term in spite of the scandals. His wife, who was implicated in many of the scandals from the Rose Law Firm billing records to the Travel Office firings to the cattle futures affair, is the frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination. Democrats sure do like to forgive and forget.
In a case more similar to that of Larry Craig, Rep. Barney Frank was reprimanded in the House for using his influence on behalf of a gay prostitute that Frank had paid for sex. Where’s Frank now? He’s chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. In fact, following the censure, Massachusetts voters returned Frank to office with 60 percent of the vote. Then there’s the case of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson, caught in an FBI raid with $90,000 hidden in his freezer. That evidence notwithstanding, he was re-elected to office where he remains even as he fights sixteen indictments that could send him to prison for life.
And since we mentioned a Republican attorney general, let’s mention a Democratic one. Janet Reno sent in the tanks against the Branch Davidians in Waco, resulting in the deaths of 79 people including 21 children. You’d have to go back to the Civil War to find as deadly an attack by the government against its own people. Few remember that Reno, while still a prosecutor in Florida, pioneered the idea of “recovering” memories from children and using that “evidence” to file false charges against innocent people. But Reno never paid a price for any of her crimes.
Of course, some Democrats have paid for indiscretions; Gary Hart comes to mind and Cynthia McKinney was turned out of office by Georgia voters. But overall, way too many unethical and downright corrupt elected officials are simply forgiven by their constituents. If we want a better brand of public officials, we’re going to have to demand it.