The national political conventions have held the spotlight for the past two weeks. At the Denver and St. Paul gatherings the nation’s mainstream politicians and their adoring supporters scripted hugely popular public performances in a circus like atmosphere playing to captivated audiences of millions. The high drama of last week’s political theater almost allowed us to momentarily forget that the abiding stuff of politics is so much more than the grand, media driven public spectacles that occur every four years. Because all eyes are watching, modern political conventions are those times when politicians should be about their level best in profiling leadership and modeling civic behavior.
Political conventions are public moments that demonstrate American democracy’s crowning belief about the nature of our hard won political culture, the great hope and promise that --- because our elected leaders are all cut from the great red, white and blue cloth of constitutionally sanctioned civic virtue --- honesty, integrity and truthfulness will be the standard of the Republic’s leaders up and down the line.
Last week civic virtue and the three named values took a double barreled hit in Detroit and South Jersey. Out of sight of the glare of the circus atmospherics of mass political conventions, the bold lies and patterns of deceit that are the normal stuff of political theatrics was on full display. In Michigan and the 1st Congressional District of New Jersey the shenanigans on the flip-side and under-belly of American political culture bore dialectical truth to the old political adage, “perception is reality and in politics if you tell a lie long enough it will be perceived as truth.”
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s new career reality emerged last week with his resignation from office after confessing that he lied about an affair with a female staffer under oath. Besides resigning he also faces jail time and a million dollar fine. This young, up and coming leader is now disgraced and cannot run for elective office for at least five years. The Kilpatrick spectacle in Detroit was rightly adjudicated and the culprit was barred from office.
The former mayor remains hugely popular with the electorate in the precincts of Detroit.
In juxtaposing Kilpatrick’s crime of lying and covering up such lies with misdirection and such to the artfully woven pattern of the recent lies and deceit of veteran South Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews, the difference is not in the lying, per se, but in the legal convention of oath taking in the presence of a duly appointed judge and jury which somehow makes one kind of political lie dramatically different than another.
In the case of Andrews, the 18 year veteran and darling of South Jersey Democrats -- who took the constitutionally required oath of office upon becoming a member of the U.S. House of Representatives -- we have a real bummer that begs for a standard application of justice even if it’s never realized this side of heaven. Besides his own lies, his foul exploitation of his wife and the finely orchestrated backroom duplicity of the Democratic Party leadership who acted as Andrews’ co-conspirators in deceit, last week Andrews put any remaining claims he has to moral integrity in utter jeopardy by placing himself back in a congressional race he repeatedly swore he would not do.
For months this past spring during the Democratic primaries, Andrews swore that his voluntary exit from his House seat was legit. He told us over and over that, win or lose, his primary run against Senator Lautenberg was to be it for him and his tenure in South Jersey politics. The South Jersey Democratic machine accepted his lies without the slightest mourning, very little protestation or period of public grief and then, not-so-mysteriously, picked his wife as replacement.
At the time his wife was picked to be a place holding surrogate by the Democratic Party, I intimated that I smelled a rat in her selection as stand in. My own fledgling primary campaign for Congress was a shocked as others were by this Andrews’ family trick and I severely questioned whether Andrews was morally qualified for leadership given his engineering of “this farce of disenfranchising 1st District voters” (“Whose Qualifications Are Really Shaky?”, 5/26/2008, opednews.com).
One could only wish that some court would convene with judge and jury to adjudicate for justice in this pattern of lies that the Andrews case has made so plain the Courier Post calls it another acute embarrassment for South Jersey politics (C-P online, 9/5/2008).
But, unlike Kilpatrick’s case, Andrews committed no punishable crime according to legal canon definitions. His lies broke no political rules that two party partisanship seeks redress for. Moral and political ethics and the actual rule of the law are often at variance in constitutional democracies and there is no criminal sanction for many types of violations of morals and ethics. The Constitution that Andrews swore to defend and uphold seems silent on his particular untruths, except maybe in its directions mandating the establishments of courts of law and the strictures of the various amendments in the Bill of Rights, particularly the 14th Amendment.
So it’s legally okay for Andrews to lie and deceive. To the cynical it’s all rather Machiavellian anyway. There are no real political consequences for him, his wife or the Democratic machine in South Jersey. Moreover, since he has long reigned as the darling of 1st District voters for so long, the verdict of the majoritarian democratic electorate favors his overwhelming election victory over his hapless and extremely under-financed Republican and Green Party opponents.
And so, again unlike Detroit’s now ex-mayor, Andrews will get to continue a career now so awash in a spectre of incredulity that it borders on the ridiculous. This is the state of affairs we are left with.
Yet, the will toward realization of the democratic ideal of civic virtue based on good morals regarding political culture cannot be defeated so easily. Even with the majoritarian electorate poised to re-elect him South Jersey people of good will and fine tuned moral sensibilities remain in substantial numbers. Among them are those who believe that political lies ought to have serious consequences that transcend the limitations of criminal codes.
It will be these people of the 1st District who exercise their own juridical power to decide the fate of liars and deceivers.It is to their wisdom in the coming November congressional election, borne along by Providence’s eternal arch of grace filled mercy, that we must hope for redress of Andrews’ egregious wronging and sullying of the democratic process in our area.
What concretely can concerned voters do on election day? Fortunately, they can write in the name of someone they believe still personifies the virtues and upholds the civic values they cherish. This is one of the options the laws of our state and Republic makes available to those who hunger for moral rectitude in the political process.
It is up to us to exercise that option. Only then will the Andrewses of the world and their co-conspirators be made to understand that lies and deceit do have a price.