American confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. Polls over the past year have shown favorability ratings that vacillate between the upper-teens and the mid-thirties. And, it’s little wonder. Congress has been on a spending spree with the people’s money, has failed to face long-term financial liabilities that could cripple our children, and has spent more time re-naming post offices than doing the real business of the American people.
And, then there are the scandals. It seems that ever year there’s another scandal or a new story about betrayal of the American trust.
Make no mistake about it: There are people in Congress, people who run for Congress, and people who were once in Congress who do not deserve the public faith. But there are also whole industries of people who make a living preying on the public faith by trading in false smears and malicious innuendo. Whether it’s making a buck or swinging an election, these people are interested not in truth but in headlines – at any cost.
And, last night, long after prime time, the new Democrat leadership, on a largely party-line vote, rammed through an “ethics” package that sends us further down this road. Their package would allow lobbyists, 527s, and others to raise a cloud of suspicion over any elected Member of Congress without any supporting facts, without any corroborating evidence and without any accountability to the people or the venerated institutions of our democracy.
Their “ethics” package flies in the face of every tenet of responsible justice. Their “ethics” package lowers the standard of wrong-doing to the mere appearance of impropriety. Their “ethics” package keeps real non-partisan ethics attorneys and investigators from being able to do their jobs.
Under their proposal, any two partisan Washington insiders would be able to initiate an “official” investigation into any sitting Member of Congress just prior to an election, fueling negative ads and mailers, push-polls and robo-calls. That a Member could be entirely innocent of the allegations and that a Member could be totally cleared at the end of the investigation after the election is irrelevant. That the motive of the accusers is to influence an election is entirely irrelevant as well.
Their “ethics” package is all about show-trials, witch hunts, baseless innuendo. Their “ethics” package is little more than a full-time employment proposal for defense attorneys, political consultants and gossip columnists.
Their “ethics” package is an homage to the politics of personal destruction and Scarlet Letters; not an America of freedom, justice, and democracy.
Their “ethics” package was so flawed and so bankrupt of real reform that the new House leadership was forced to bring the bill to the floor via a cheap parliamentary trick known as a self-enacting rule. Under such a maneuver, Members take a single vote on whether to debate the proposal and upon approving debate the proposal itself is enacted and takes effect.
There was no ability to discuss alternative proposals – such as the one that the House Republican Conference offered. There was no ability to discuss the concerns raised by nonpartisan, experienced ethics attorneys that this proposal would interfere with honest and professional investigative processes.
There is troubling irony in passing ethics reform through such dubious methods.
And meanwhile, American’s demands for real ethics reform go unanswered. Congress has substituted partisan show trials for tough ethics enforcement.
This decision does a great disservice to the noble democracy we have been left by our Founding Fathers – a republic that has been a beacon of hope and light in a dark and dreary world. The American people deserve better than this.
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