Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Taking Ethics Seriously

In this era where "congressional ethics" has practically become an oxymoron, I'm somewhat encouraged to read that Speaker-elect Pelosi seems to be taking it somewhat seriously that Democrats should try to hold up an ethical standard, such as not allowing congressmen to serve in key leadership positions if they are under an ethical cloud. The example du jour being Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL), a former federal judge who was impeached for sentence peddling (and subsequent cover-up). He has been a senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, but Pelosi declined to give him the chairmanship. This follows up on a commitment to ethics made earlier this year, when Pelosi removed Rep. William Jefferson (LA) from the House Ways & Means Committee after strong evidence of bribery turned up in his freezer. In both cases, the Congressional Black Caucus complained loudly, but they miss the point. These men were not removed from positions of responsibility because they are black. They were removed because they are crooked. If the fools in these Representatives' districts want to send a crook to Congress, that is their right. And those Representatives, being duly elected, are entitled to speak on the floor of Congress, and to vote. But they are most certainly not entitled to any special responsibilities, such as committee chairmanships, and such responsibilities should not be given to them.

DeWayne Wickham opines in USA Today that Hastings committed his crime long ago, has paid his penance, and should be given a break. I don't think so. If Hastings' crime had been one arising from hard circumstances or even been another sort of crime, I could imagine the possibility of rehabilitation. But Hastings' crimes go straight to the issue of ethics. The man took money as a judge to sell a lenient sentence, and then perjured himself to cover it up. Hastings and his defenders like to point out that he was acquitted of bribery, which is true, but only because he lied on the stand. Which is what lead to his subsequent impeachment. I am probably one of the few Americans alive today willing to imagine that a child molester might possibly become rehabilitated, but even so, it would be imprudent at best to put him in a position of responsibility for, say, a children's choir. Asking for an allegedly rehabilitated Hastings to be put in charge of a Congressional committee would be equivalent to putting an allegedely rehabilitated child molester in charge of the boys' swim team.

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