The other evening, I watched the greatest hypocrisy-fest ever committed to public video since Nixon declared he wasn’t a crook and Marc Rich received the best pardon money could buy.
Was it Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of WorldCom testifying before Congress? Nah! He’s no hypocrite, merely the most polished reciter of the Fifth Amendment since Don Michael Corleone appeared before the Senate in “The Godfather.” It sure wasn’t the rest of WorldCom-Enron-Global Crossing crew. They merely assumed their all-American privilege of blaming the other guy, even on the few occasions when they could remember who the other guy was.
No, it was watching the House of Representatives amid steaming sanctimony and vapors of self-righteousness rise as one in order to protect the sacred soil of the nation from … [if you're thinking incompetent airport security people, corporate crooks or safer streets, forget about it.] … fellow Congressman James Traficant! By the end of that election-year driven show-trial, I actually found myself wanting to vote with Gary Condit.
I will grant that everything they say about Traficant is true – he’s a buffoon (20 percent), a character (1 percent), a liar ,wears a rug (perhaps 30 percent), abused his office in some way (106 percent) and is a felon. In case you’re wondering, the numbers in brackets represent my best guess of the percentage of Traficant’s colleagues who also fall into those categories.
Almost as bad was the federal judge who sentenced Traficant to eight years in the slammer. It’s insane. There are murderers who will spend less time in jail. And there certainly have been a lot of crooked congressmen who’ve spent less time in jail – a lot less. According to an account in the Associated Press, since 1976, more than a dozen of our elected hacks have been convicted of felonies while in office (no count was done for those convicted of felonies before they took office or after they left office). Among these stellar solons were:
- Four congressmen who took money from FBI agents posing as Arab businessmen in the Abscam scam. The longest sentence there was three years. No one can accuse any of these hacks of racial profiling.
- The famous Mario Biaggi of New York, who strong-armed a defense firm for a measly $2 million. He served exactly two years and two months of his sentence. La Cosa Congress.
- Congressmen Mel Reynolds diddled an underage campaign worker (five-year sentence here) then earned an additional six-and-a-half for bank fraud. Bill Clinton pardoned this hack after serving only a few years.
- Congressman Walter Tucker III got just over two years for trying to hustle bribes while mayor of a California city.
- Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, who in his day was the star of the congressional Hack-o-Rama, served 15 months for mail fraud. Pardon-king Bill Clinton gave him a pass in 2000. Clinton was clean on this one, nothing to the Clinton library from Reynolds or Rostenkowski .
So where is Traficant in all of this? Well, the feds who prosecuted him asked the judge for seven years – and the judge gave him eight. Eight years! For the kind of crimes – for example, getting aides to work on his farm – which are third-degree misdemeanors compared with the above list. So what happened? Here’s my theory:
Congress – Senate and House – is rife with guys who took money and orders from Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing and the rest. They intervened with the SEC for special favors, obtained lucrative exemptions from government regulation, and took campaign cash by the barrel. It’s an election year – much better to take an unpopular buffoon, like Traficant, and sacrifice him on the altar of voter wrath than to reveal the real thievery.
So Jimmy Traficant, a character whose hair is never blow-dried, who doesn’t have consultants telling him how to dress or what to say, is given eight years in the slammer so his fellow “judges” can posture on television and proclaim their righteousness. Traficant steals thousands while Congress conspires in ripping off the country for billions; Traficant’s buffoonery is ridiculed while all the “serious” hacks left our borders unprotected, allowed corporate fat cats to run wild, catered to foreign potentates and generally debauched themselves at the public’s expense during the 1990s.
If they’re going to make lie detectors mandatory for FBI clerks, they ought to do the same for members of Congress.