In the Public Interest

ballot box

ballot box
Not long ago I found myself needing to get in touch with the campaign director for a United States senator who was running for president. Rather than go through various state, local, and national party headquarters and spending 20 minutes on the phone being put on hold and transferred from one person to another, I chose to call the senator’s office in Washington DC. I identified myself to the senator’s media relations person and asked, “I’m trying to get in touch with the senator’s campaign director. Can you give me his phone number?” “I’m sorry,” replied the staffer, “But we’re not allowed to give out any information regarding a political campaign.”

It seemed like a rather odd response given the benign nature of my question, so I called the offices of several other senators and congressmen who also happened to be running for president, just to see if my first encounter was a fluke. It wasn’t. Every D.C. staffer I spoke with gave the exact same reply.

I suppose I should be grateful that our elected officials adhere to such a high standard when it comes to the separation of politics and serving the public interest, except that everything they do is about politics, and everything about their adherence to that standard is hypocritical. Take for example, the so-called Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Prior to the start of that trial, all 100 senators had to stand and swear an oath that they, as jurors, would be impartial. They then walked to the well of the chamber and signed their names to a document which memorialized the oath they had just sworn to. The problem is that nearly every one of those senators had previously gone on record as having either supported or opposed removing the President from office. That means those senators deliberately lied and violated the oath they swore to. Those who had previously announced how they intended to vote on impeachment, should have been immediately recused from serving as jurors. But, as we well know, there are two different standards of behavior in America. One for the 535 men and women who serve in Congress, and one for the rest of us. Imagine for a moment that you’ve been called for jury duty in a trial about domestic violence. During voir dire, you are asked your opinion of men who beat their wives, and you say, “They should all be executed.” In the real world, you would be admonished by the judge and excused from jury duty. Why? Because you have publicly admitted to a prejudice about the case. Not so with our highly moral senators. They all got to bring their prejudices into the impeachment trial, and no one was reprimanded or removed for their hypocrisy.

I guess we’re living in a new era where an elected official can’t be held accountable, or, to paraphrase attorney Alan Dershowitz, “the election of anyone is in the public interest.” Translation? You can do anything you want to do to get re-elected, because your victory is in the public interest. That convoluted theory played out successfully as the Senate voted to acquit the President even though he had withheld military aid to Ukraine unless that country’s president launched an investigation into Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election. They also gave Trump a pass on obstructing Congress, giving him and future presidents the right to quash subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

And so, nearly 100 senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, made up their minds before swearing an oath to be impartial, and now our system of checks and balances is broken, perhaps permanently. It’s all so sad and so hypocritical. But hey, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Senate staffers won’t give you the phone number to their campaign office, because that would be partisan, and we can’t have that, can we? It wouldn’t be in the public interest.


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