How Congress Got Filled With Future Ex-Cons

Roundup
tags: Congress



Gil Troy, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at McGill University. His tenth book on American history, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, was just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @GilTroy

With one U.S. senator standing trial and one ex-con congressman running for Congress, let’s face it: Americans admire goody-goodies, but love a good rogue.

Since Sept. 6, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has been on trial, fighting a 22-count indictment for corruption; yet last year, 42 percent of New Jerseyvoters approved of him, with only 32 percent disapproving. Ex-congressman Michael Grimm just announced he wants to return to serving the people, having served time for tax fraud. He insists the prosecution was politically motivated—and is being hugged and high-fived in Staten Island diners.

This soft spot for rascals seems surprising in a nation founded by bluenose Puritans and virtue-obsessed Revolutionaries. But considering that Donald Trump beat Hillary ClintonGeorge W. Bush beat Al Gore, and Bill Clintonbeat George H.W. Bush, charming sinners clearly trump priggish saints in our politics.

The same narcissism that makes politicians say “vote for me, save the world,” leads to reasoning: “the rules don’t apply to me, I’m saving the world.” From cowboys to pioneers, from inventors to moguls, America’s most popular history-makers have often been rule-breakers. Breaking-out-of-the-box encourages a culture of breaking the law. Seeking the smoky, sexy bad boy as leader—and it is a male model of mischievous jock, not straight-A student—accepts the risks of going astray rather than staying staid.

While, ex-politicians usually end up in law firms, lobbying shops, or retirement homes, those who end up in the Big House fall into three categories. Most abuse the power they’ve gotten. Some violate the laws they’ve been trusted with writing. And while many corrupt pols claim to be martyrs to some cause, few American politicians go up the river on principle.

If convicted, Menendez will join other disgraced pols in the hall of infamy remembering those who violated the public trust. Some are former congressional colleagues like Chaka Fattah, convicted of 23 corruption charges in 2016, and Jesse Jackson Jr., who pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud—but allegedly personally used more than $750,000 in campaign funds. ...




comments powered by Disqus