Quantum advances in communications devices (e.g., the Internet, e-mail, Facebook, texting and Twitter) have not only opened new avenues for sharing information, they have also provided individuals with intriguing methods to make trouble for themselves. The ready availability of this information carelessly broadcast opens to the world a bag of worms virtually impossible to close.
Consequently, when celebrities exhibit feet of clay — be they athletes such as Tiger Woods or Ben Roethlisberger, entertainers such as Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen or elected officials such as Rep. Charles Rangel or Sen. John Ensign — their antics become public property and fodder for rapid and wide distribution. Most of us, except for those who are prone to schadenfreude, take it with a grain of salt in hopes that it dies a quick death. At least, I hope that is true.
I am reasonably certain that most by now have had enough of the latest scandal involving a sitting member of Congress and his incredibly poor judgment and breach of honesty, integrity and responsibility. For late-night talk shows, stand-up comics, some political factions and people who are easily entertained, it is a gift that keeps on giving. But in reality, as Molly was wont to say on the old "Fibber McGee and Molly" show, "Tain't funny, McGee."
I won't go into the details of the now infamous Rep. Anthony Weiner's transgressions other than to relate that not only were they frightfully stupid, he also was guilty of several bald-faced lies. And, his foolish indiscretions are far more serious than those of mere celebrities — his guilt includes betrayal of public trust.
His early denials of guilt mirrored those of others of similar repute. From a supposed glitch in his Twitter account, to someone playing a prank, to political enemies, his excuses ran the gamut. Conspiracy theories play well in Washington — from the "liberal left-wing media" to the "vast right-wing conspiracy," there is ample precedent for this defense.
When Mr. Weiner was finally caught with his pants down (literally), he resorted to the time-honored and tearful apology to his family, friends and constituents, uttering the now-required and obsequiously phony, "I take full responsibility for my actions."
Give me a break. Who else but the knucklehead who commits the act is responsible? As for the apology, he is sorry only for getting caught.
Rep. Weiner is not the first elected official to betray the public trust and become an embarrassment to himself and the electorate, nor will he be the last. Whether the actions — past, present and future — are criminal in nature or are lapses in morals, character or integrity, for the subject to continue in office is unthinkable.
Unlike actors, entertainers, athletes and private citizens, elected public officials must be held to higher standards of conduct and integrity. Are they not the ones we charge with making and enforcing our laws and empower with the appropriation and dispensing of our monies?
Judging from the man-on-the-street reactions, there appears a sizable number of people willing to forgive affairs and indiscretions as "invasions of privacy." But where is the logic in trusting a public official whose private life is a sham? This "let sleeping dogs lie" attitude is exactly why our respect for elected officials is at its lowest and why the majority of Congress, unfortunately, is painted with the same low esteem.
Neither political party holds a monopoly on members who should be shown the door for criminal, moral or character lapses. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the respective leadership to first ask, then order the offending member's resignation for the good of Congress. Should the individual refuse, the expulsion process is undertaken — in the House, the member is referred to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, in the Senate, to the Select Committee on Ethics.
Impeachment is not an option as members of Congress are not considered officers of the United States for that purpose. Consequently, in the instance of an individual who resists party pressure to resign, the leadership of both parties should bring to bear the full weight of either the House or the Senate to force the issue. The unwritten law, "We can't force you to do a thing, but we can make you wish you had," applies.
The commissioning certificates of the officers of the U.S. armed forces contain the following: "Know Ye, that reposing special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities of _____, I do appoint," signed by the president. Why then should we who elect the members to Congress expect other than that "special trust and confidence" in return?
Public trust must be denied the less than honorable. These words of Spencer Johnson come to mind: "Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to other people."
To accept less from those we empower on our behalf is inconceivable.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.