We’ve all heard enough about the travails of Rep. Anthony Weiner and his twittering propensity that proved to be so sad and pathetic when exposed to public scrutiny. Whatever the personal failings of Rep. Weiner that prompted him to seek the attention of many female friends on Facebook and Twitter, he is not alone.
Weiner is a member of sizeable group of state and national elected officials whose tawdry behavior became fodder for national news. U. S. Senator David Vitter, caught in the “D.C. Madam” scandal as a frequent customer, remains in office. Former U.S. Senator John Ensign resigned earlier this year only after expulsion from the Senate became a real possibility, and still faces ethics and possible criminal charges for the cover-up of his affair with the wife of a top aide.
State capitols have their own share of sordid scandals, as we now know with our own former Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And who can forget South Carolina’s Mark Sanford’s disappearance, claiming to be hiking on the Appalachian trail while actually jetting off to a rendezvous with his Argentinean lover. John Edwards, former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, was caught in his web of lies and appalling personal behavior while his wife was facing death from cancer.
The country heard much too much information about President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern, and we now know that while then-Speaker of the House and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was publicly ranting about Clinton’s behavior, he was simultaneously conducting his own extra-marital affair with a staffer who is now his third wife. Gingrich set a new standard for explaining personal failings when he blamed his philandering on “how passionately I felt about this country.”
Along with greed and corruption, getting caught in sex scandals may be the most bipartisan activity on Capitol Hill these days.
Are we better off not knowing about the sexual transgressions of political leaders, or at least having them made public only after the fact, as was the case with former president John F. Kennedy? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s possible to put that genie back in the bottle even if the public demanded it.
The cumulative scandals fuel the perception that elected officials seem to believe — privately, if not publicly — that rules are for the other guys. Winning election to office means one is a political star, rather than a public servant. And political stars are entitled. Entitled to cars, drivers, perks, freebies, gifts, and generous benefits paid by taxpayers that those same elected officials don’t believe taxpayers themselves deserve. Political stars are entitled to campaign for higher office at public expense while neglecting the office they were hired to fulfill. Is it any wonder so many feel entitled to such scandalous and hypocritical personal behavior?
What bothers me is the scandals we don’t hear about. Today’s news media too often takes the easy road of reporting endlessly on developments and non-developments in unfolding personal scandals while ignoring the hard work of reporting on those other bipartisan activities — corruption, collusion and graft. Oh, we know about Rep. Charlie Rangel’s tax problems and we learned about the $90,000 hidden in Rep. William Jefferson’s freezer and his later conviction for bribery.
What we don’t hear enough about is the pervasive practice of drafting laws that affect special interests while simultaneously collecting unlimited campaign funds from those special interests that can now be made anonymously thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. What we don’t hear enough about is the revolving door that shuffles government employees — including Congress, senior congressional and executive branch staff — between the private sector and the public positions that regulate that private sector.
The revolving door between government officials and the multitude of special interest lobbyists and consultants is a whirlwind of constant motion, and public service is not the goal. According to Congressional Quarterly, 195 members of Congress have left office to begin lobbying their former colleagues since 2005. Public service for private gain has become the new normal.
Somehow, reporting on the wholesale selling of our nation’s governance seems more important than twitter images sent privately by an immature congressman.