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George Santos, Dishonesty, and 'Aboutism'

Screenshot via Twitter

What should happen to George Santos?  And how did everyone miss this stuff?  Those questions were posed repeatedly over the holidays, as the scope of the newly-elected New York Republican Congressman's serial fabrications came to light.  The Santos scandal -- and it is a scandal -- started with a damning New York Times story that called into question major components of the biography he presented to Long Island voters over the course of two election cycles.  The answer to the latter question seems to be that Republicans looked the other way as suspicions about embellishments mounted, while Democrats believed their game plan of tying their opponent to Trump and hammering on abortion would suffice.  They were apparently so wedded to their baked-in national narratives that they neglected to examine the actual human being in front of them.  Malpractice.  

If you haven't been following this minor saga, here's just part of what the Times uncovered:  

A New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as various attempts to verify claims that Mr. Santos, 34, made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the résumé that he sold to voters. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Mr. Santos’s campaign biography, told The Times they had no record of his ever working there. Officials at Baruch College, which Mr. Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year...He has also asserted that his professional life had intersected with tragedy: He said in an interview on WNYC that his company, which he did not identify, “lost four employees” at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016. But a Times review of news coverage and obituaries found that none of the 49 victims appear to have worked at the various firms named in his biography...

...As he was purportedly climbing the corporate ranks, Mr. Santos claimed to have founded Friends of Pets United, which he ran for five years beginning in 2013. As a candidate, he cited the group as proof of a history of philanthropic work. Though remnants of the group and its efforts could be found on Facebook, the I.R.S. was not able to find any record showing that the group held the tax-exempt status that Mr. Santos claimed. Neither the New York nor New Jersey attorney general’s offices could find records of Friends of Pets United having been registered as a charity. Friends of Pets United held at least one fund-raiser with a New Jersey animal rescue group in 2017; the invitation promised drinks, donated raffle items and a live band. Mr. Santos charged $50 for entry, according to an online fund-raising page that promoted the event. But the event’s beneficiary, who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution, said that she never received any of the funds, with Mr. Santos only offering repeated excuses for not forwarding the money...The Times attempted to interview Mr. Santos at the address where he is registered to vote and that was associated with a campaign donation he made in October, but a person at that address said on Sunday that she was not familiar with him.

Read it all here.  Santos narrowly lost in 2020, then won somewhat comfortably two years later.  Since the publication of that piece, the proverbial dam has burst, with new revelations and allegations adding to the pile-on.  It has been ugly.  He lashed out at the press before admitting to some of the lies.  He's been picked apart on national television.  He glumly fled reporters gathered outside his Congressional office, locking them out.  He sat sullenly in the House chamber on his first day in office, tapping on his phone, receiving pariah treatment from his own party.  It has been a dramatically inauspicious start to what could be a brief career as an elected official.  But how brief?  Practically speaking, House Republicans need his vote in this closely-divided Congress.  They may avoid eye contact with Santos, but they can't afford to lose any more votes, as this week's leadership circus has thrown into stark relief.  Some have demanded Santos resign, or be booted from the House.  But why?  Yes, he lied over and over again to voters, about, well, everything, it seems.  It's a horrible, embarrassing look.  But I'm not sure it rises to the level of expulsion-worthy -- especially these days, a point I'll expand upon in a moment.

If it turns out that he committed any crimes, that would be a different story.  I don't think anyone can confidently rule out that possibility.  He's credibly accused of crimes in Brazil, and there are unanswered questions swirling about how he went from being a cash-strapped deadbeat tenant just a few years ago, to a cash-flush candidate throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars around.  The official story doesn't add up, which has been a hallmark of Santos' broader "official" story about himself.  But speculation and innuendo are not tantamount to proven criminality.  If serious proof emerges, the calculus changes.  But  unless and until that happens, George Santos is a duly-elected member of Congress.  As others have said, the remedy for lying to voters sits with those voters.  Republicans in NY-03 can decide whether they want to stick with Santos in 2024.  I'd be surprised if they do, but if that's their choice, the general electorate will likely be less forgiving.  Democrats won't whiff on these attacks a third time.  

As for the Democrats trying to shame Republicans over Santos, they certainly have plenty of Santos-provided material to work with -- but do they have a leg to stand on?  Sen. Elizabeth Warren lied for years about her own heritage in order to advance her career, then abruptly abandoned the facade once she'd reached the pinnacle of her chosen field.  When this racket was revealed during her first Senate campaign, Democrats indignantly defended her.  She got elected in deep blue Massachusetts.  Six years later, she got re-elected.  She's now a media darling in good standing, appearing often on the late night 'comedy' shows run and hosted by partisan operatives.  She's a progressive heroine, in spite of her history egregious, ahem, cultural appropriation.  In this sense, she is an embodiment of white privilege, as is Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a conspiracy weirdo who's lied in order to deflect criticism of his longstanding membership in an elite all-white social club.  There was zero serious effort among Democrats to oust either of these people from their coveted Senate seats (even though the opposite party stood no chance of capturing either of them, which is not the case in Santos' swing district), in spite of the flagrant dishonesty and identity politics felonies at play.  

Sen. Richard Blumenthal lied for much of his adult life about having served in the Vietnam War, which is appalling.  George Santos appears to have lied about everything under the sun, but to my knowledge, at least he avoided the deep dishonor of stolen valor.  After Blumenthal's shameless and shameful mendacity was exposed by the New York Times in 2010, he was promptly elected by the liberal voters of Connecticut.  He won again six years later.  He won again six years after that.  The man flat-out lied, repeatedly, about serving in a war, and voters barely blinked.  Democratic leaders in the Senate did absolutely nothing in response, happily counting on his reliable vote, on all things, for years.  He routinely sits in self-righteous judgment of others, pontificating and sniping from his seat on the judiciary committee.  Senator Stolen Valor is now a longtime Democratic fixture in Congress' upper chamber.  He's thriving.

Which brings us to the President of the United States.  Joe Biden is an established serial fabulist and plagiarist.  He has lied about things -- big and small -- throughout his decades of public life.  In fact, his dishonesty is sometimes portrayed as part of his charm; an amusing foible.  There goes Uncle Joe again, people sigh, through knowing smiles.  Relatedly, this exchange has stuck with me in recent days:


I don't want to fixate on Biden's academic career, but I'll note that he was given an 'F' for plagiarism in law school (he stole five pages of material for a term paper he submitted), which makes one wonder whether he should have a law degree.  He also lied so, so much about said academic career.  Just watch this:


Some of Biden's lies have been far more disturbing and gross than this relatively light fare.  Read this whole piece, but I'll highlight two, for the purposes of this conversation: First, Biden wrongly and repeatedly accused the man involved in a fatal accident that tragically claimed the lives of Biden's first wife and daughter of being a drunk driver.  It simply wasn't true.  For years, the man's family begged Biden to stop repeating the smear.  Second, Biden has said on numerous occasions that his son, Beau, died in Iraq.  He did not.  He died years after his service as a military lawyer in Iraq concluded, passing away from cancer in the US after getting elected to public office.  Joe Biden has speculated that his son's time in Iraq may have contributed to the cancer, though this link has not been remotely proven.  That claim, at some point, transformed into his son dying in Iraq, a complete falsehood.  Lying about or distorting the (easily falsifiable) circumstances surrounding the deaths of people in one's immediate family -- decades apart, in these cases -- reflects a pathology that most people cannot comprehend.  George Santos might, but most people cannot.  This stuff isn't "normal" politician BS'ing.  It's something else.  

Add those examples to the mountain of weird lies Biden has told over the years, along a wide range of magnitude, and what is our lesson?  It's this: Endless prevarications on many subjects, including prodigious whoppers, have not been disqualifying for any number of modern political figures.  The fabricator-in-chief was a Senator, then the Vice President, then got himself elected president.  Under the Biden model, George Santos might consider shooting for the stars.  Incidentally, this is not "whataboutism" or moral relativism.  It's aboutism.  These are the standards, or lack thereof, that have been applied to major political figures by the Democratic Party.  They are directly relevant to the Santos furor.  Citing Warren, Blumenthal, Biden, et al is not an affirmative defense of Santos.  What Santos did is cartoonishly dishonest and indefensible.  With disappointment, I would not vote for him in a primary or general election in 2024.  But I'm not interested in lectures about integrity and truth from Democrats on this subject.  Barring criminal developments, under Democrats' own rules, Santos should remain a member of Congress as long as his district's voters will have him.  In a few years, we'll see if those voters have higher standards than many Democratic voters evidently do.

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