Guilty Until Proven Innocent

One of the most fundamental elements of our legal system is the principle of “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” The notion is that no person should be punished by our government until they have been found guilty in a court of law.

It’s a damned fine principle, one that sets us apart from a lot of the rest of the world. And it’s one I would fight to keep.

But I think I’m about to carve out an exception to that rule, and I think it’s justified.

I have pretty much reached the point where I’m ready to say that when a member of Congress runs afoul of the law, they ought to be considered guilty until they prove their innocence — and tossed out on their ass.

Senator Larry Craig is merely the latest example. Technically, his guilty plea to a very minor misdemeanor should be no impediment to his continued public service. No one was harmed, no one was likely to have been harmed, and — apart from the in-public aspect — it really was nobody’s business.

But the guy’s a moron for doing it, for pleading guilty to it and hoping it’ll go away, and for thinking he can bluster his way out of it.

Likewise Patrick Kennedy. He was nailed for drunken driving (a mark of shame in most families; a rite of passage in his), and has a history of drug abuse and assaulting airport security workers. But he’s still in office.

Mark Foley. By all estimates, he did absolutely nothing illegal. But the guy is still a disgusting scumbag, and his departure from public life was the most we could do. Fortunately, we can also make him a life-long pariah.

William Jefferson Clinton. I can’t think of a single plausible reason why he’d have nearly $100,000 in cash in his freezer. And, apparently, neither can he. Get rid of him already.

Bob Ney. If someone were to lose the key to his cell, I don’t think I’d weep a single tear.

Jim McGreevy. Like Foley, it appears he didn’t break any laws. But putting your foreign national boyfriend in charge of your state’s Homeland Security office — that’s so far beyond stupid, it MUST have been committed by a New Jersey Democrat.

Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Losing the keys to his cell aren’t enough. Move him to the Capitol Building and stick a plaque outside his walled-up cell outlining just what he did. Then leave him there as a time capsule — “TO BE OPENED IN 2276.”

About the only exception I’d carve out to this policy would be Tom DeLay. He’s a major asshole, and I give him a share of the blame for the corrosive, hyperpartisan, and generally vile atmosphere of the Congress today, but my sense of justice forces me to find a smidgen of sympathy for him. When a single prosecutor fails to get one grand jury to indict you, persuades a second to issue an indictment that violates the US Constitution (in particular, charging you with violating a law before it was in effect, breaking the “no ex post facto laws” clause), and then goes for a third bite of the apple… well, then, the odds that the prosecutor is the one who’s out of control, not the target.

Right now, the approval ratings in the polls for Congress are in the teens. I normally don’t give a rat’s ass about polls, especially approval/popularity polls, but in this case I’d have to say that those numbers are too damned high.

I don’t support term limits, but I think that the time has come for the voters to impose them in the most direct fashion. I don’t think it would be a terrible thing if, come November of next year, every single damned Representative — and every single Senator up for re-election — were to be tossed out on their asses. Tenure, party affiliation, and personal achievements all be damned.

Yeah, we will lose some good ones. But I have reached the point where I think that the good they can do is vastly outweighed by the harm the rest have repeatedly shown they can — and do — inflict.

It’s time to clean House. And the Senate.

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