In a development that should come as no great surprise, the Democrats running Congress — you remember them, they promised a new era in openness and “the most ethical Congress in history” and and “drain the swamp” of corruption other forms of folderol — are looking to gut the closest thing they have to an Internal Affairs: the Office of Congressional Ethics.
But what is a bit surprising is the group that is leading the charge: the Congressional Black Caucus.
So, what is the great racial injustice here? What is it about “Congressional Ethics” (a tragic oxymoron, right up there with “Microsoft Works”) that is such a concern to the CBC?
On the surface, nothing comes to mind. It’s not like Congress has two sets of ethical rules, one for each race. (Although “one for each party” seems all too possible… but I digress.) And I don’t recall any convincing arguments that the rules are enforced differently based on race. (Again, by party, maybe…)
However, it is pretty clear that in the past few years, quite a few black members of Congress have run afoul of ethical concerns:
- Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL): he’s managed to keep his nose clean in office now, but he was impeached and removed from the bench in the 1990’s.
- Representative William Jefferson
Clinton(D-LA): Caught with almost $100,000 in his freezer, from bribes and other forms of corruption.
- Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY): Head tax-writer in Congress, he seems to hold a casual contempt towards the very laws he writes and freely ignores them.
- Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA): Under investigation for intervening on behalf of OneUnited Bank, with which she had serious financial ties.
- Representative John Conyers (D-MI): Reprimanded for using his staff for personal purposes, married to Monica Conyers, recently convicted of corruption while serving on the Detroit City Council.
Of course, I’m cherry-picking here. A shorter list would be “members of Congress who aren’t sleazebags.” But it was the Congressional Black Caucus that decided to make ethics a matter of their concern specifically.
So, what is the connection between the race of the lawmakers and corruption? Is there one?
I have a theory I’d like to float.
It could be that these politicians, because of their race, have an extra line of defense against attacks. Should their opponents get too close to causing real harm, they can play the “race card” and accuse their opponents of persecuting them on racial grounds. If they pull that off a few times, escaping their downfall at a lower level, then they can go further in their careers before they are brought down.
It’s not an indictment of black people, or even of black politicians. It’s more an indictment of our political system and our society, where we — in an attempt to seem “fair” and “unprejudiced,” we hold some politicians to a lower standard than others based solely on race. It’s what President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
The Black Caucus, by making gutting the ethics rules a priority of theirs, have introduced a truly repugnant notion: that black politicians simply can’t be held to the same ethical standards as others.
Corruption is corruption. It knows no boundaries — race, sex, ideology, party membership, age, experience, sexual orientation, or anything else. And it must be confronted and punished at every opportunity.
Even if it annoys the Congressional Black Caucus.