Do you — or anyone — really need a book of rules and a three-hour briefing on ethics in order to do your job ethically?
If you’re a congress critter, apparently so, for that’s what newly-elected members of the new Congress that’ll convene in January have just received. Nearly all of the newcomers rode to victory on a tsunami of inherently corrupting corporate cash, but now they’re being instructed in a crash course on Capitol Hill eth ics — not learning how to be ethical, but how to avoid ending up being investigated, indicted, or… jailed.
You see, in the rarefied air of Washington, one can be blatantly unethical, as long as your behavior has not technically been declared illegal. It’s a fine line, so this latest class of specialinterest lawmakers were eager learners.
But, in practice, actually crossing that line is no barrier to congressional service. GOP Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island, for example, is back in Congress even though he was caught on tape threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony. The appropriately named Grimm is also under indictment for 20 counts of accounting fraud. Errant Democrats can continue in office, too. Take Charlie Rangel of New York, who has been formally censured by Congress for a mess of ethics violations — but rather than going to The Big House, Rangel is back in the House of Representatives, reelected on November 4 with no Republican opposition.
There’s now a bipartisan move in the House to require annual ethics training for every lawmaker, claiming that this will enhance the public reputation of each member and of Congress itself. Dream on — who do they think they’re kidding? As Lyndon Johnson put it, “chicken manure can’t turn to chicken salad.” If these so-called adults didn’t absorb basic ethics from their kindergarten teachers, they sure won’t learn anything to improve their morality in a congressional classroom.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.