Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Higher Ethical Standard

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to remove Rep. William Jefferson (D-New Orleans) from his position on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, because of questions about his ethics. The voice vote indicated a strong consensus. However, a small number of Representatives criticized the action as being unprecedented (which is apparently true), noting that Jefferson has not yet been indicted (which is true), and Jefferson should be deemed "innocent until proven guilty". It's this last point where they're wrong. When it comes to institutions where people are invested with serious fiduciary responsibility, they must hold themselves to a higher standard. They must not only refrain from crime or impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety. In this case, the FBI has found $90,000 in cash hidden in the Representative's freezer, and someone else has already plead guilty of the crime of bribing him. To call Jefferson's situation as having the appearance of impropriety is rather an understatement. The actions of the House in this matter are entirely proper.

The Congressional Black Caucus had the misjudgment to play the tired race card here, suggesting that Jefferson was singled out because he was black. This is utterly ridiculous. Jefferson was singled out not because he is black, but because the FBI has cold (literally) hard evidence showing him to be corrupt. (Likewise, Cynthia McKinney was "singled out" not because she is black, but because she has a bad attitude, no manners, and a tendency to violence. Someone should really explain to the Black Caucus that using their race as a bald excuse for inexcusable behavior does a serious disservice to those people who really do suffer discrimination on account of their race. Though in fairness, there were rumors of dissension within the caucus, which the lack of calls for a roll call vote would support.) Jefferson's own arguments -- that the House action is denying the people of his district of the service of their Representative -- are plain pathetic. If Jefferson cared about serving the people of his district, he wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. And if he cares about them now, he would resign Congress immediately and allow them the chance to elect someone honest to replace him.

Nancy Pelosi is entirely correct to say that "this isn't about proof in a court of law", and in her determination to "hold Democrats to a high ethical standard". (Some may argue or question her motives in this, but regardless, it's nice to see someone doing the right thing.) Pelosi went on to add "I wish the White House would do the same", a reference to the collective sigh of relief over in the White House at the news that Karl Rove would not be indicted by the special prosecutor investigating the Valerie Plame leak case. Apparently, at the White House, the standard of ethics is to avoid the appearance of impropriety. impropriety. criminal acts. getting convicted.

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