By now, you probably have heard the saga of ex-Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY), a married man who was trolling Craig’s list for girlfriends and e-mailed a candidate shirtless photo of himself to prove to her that he was fit..and also, incidentally, as dumb as an unusually dumb brick. The young woman sent the photo to Gawker, which broke the story, resulting in the humiliated Congressman, supposedly a rising GOP star, resigning.
What is the most significant lesson of this rapid fall from political grace?
It isn’t that middle-aged men who don’t comprehend how the internet works should avoid e-mailing photos of themselves that recall George Costanza’s effort to flirt with the Fotomat girl, although that’s true.
It isn’t that horny and untrustworthy individuals who can’t control their libidos should avoid committing themselves to high-profile leadership positions in our government, since the public looks to them to exemplify the best in ethical values and the entire nation is embarrassed when they disgrace themselves. This is true too, but it is painfully clear that such individuals will never learn this, and we are stuck with them, at least until they reveal their true nature.
And it isn’t that all half-naked photos taken in mirrors look depressing and squalid no matter how fit the subject is.
The important lesson comes from a buried portion of the story. Gawker broke the news, Lee’s office’s first response was not to answer inquiries, and its second was to deny the story, saying that Congressman Lee’s e-mail account might have been hacked. Lee and his staff attempted to lie their way out of this air-tight case of miserable judgment even after the photo had been published for all to see. The lesson is that the vast majority of our elected officials are hard-wired by political culture, character and training to lie as a first instinct, even when lying is futile. They will only stop lying when lying no longer works.
A Washington Times blogger argued that the Lee incident “proves” the Republican Party’s ethics because he resigned so quickly, which is putting lipstick on a pig if I ever saw it. The incident shows that an irresponsible fool can be a “rising star” in the party, and that Republicans and their minion, as with their Democratic colleagues, can never be assumed to be telling the truth.
2 thoughts on “The Main Ethics Lesson of the Congressman Lee Affair”
Depressingly enough, whenever some public official gets caught in some peccadillo of one kind or another, somebody else will try and make partisan hay of it; even though there’s abundant evidence that both parties are equal opportunity offenders in the area of public morality. Most famously, or infamously, of late was Nancy Pelosi’s “drain the swamp” speech, sparked by a number of Republican outrages. Unfortunately, those were followed by an equally great number of Democratic outrages, and suddenly Ms. Pelosi didn’t want to talk about public morals anymore. Evidently, institutional memories are no better than individual ones.
It’s hardly the first time the GOP has put its faith in a fine, young leader… only to find out that he’s a fool, a poltroon or an infiltrator from the other side. Speaking as an active Republican, I know personally how these things can happen. The only way to prevent them is by exercising the duty of every citizen to keep watch on our representatives.
But when the system of selection fails (as it obviously has here) it reflects adversely on all Republicans who diligently work to choose the best of people as candidates. Yes, we’ll inevitably have our failures. But we must ever bear in mind that our party exists to find good leaders for our nation. It’s a great responsibility in itself. We must never compromise- ever- on quality for the sake of “electability”.