Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Fit For Public Office

As we consider people for public offices, we seek to understand their political ideas in the light of our own preferences. We also evaluate candidates’ character to decide if they are worthy of our trust. The political lives of two candidates for the US Senate show they are not fit for public office, one on grounds of character and the other because of ideology.

Mark Kirk is a liar. Kirk is running for the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Over his political career Kirk has used deliberate lies about his past to promote himself as a better person. Although he has been a Congressman for 5 terms, his lying only recently attracted attention. In 2002 Kirk said in a Congressional hearing, “I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year,” claiming personal expertise in national security matters. In fact, Kirk got no such individual award from the Navy; he was part of a large unit, which was given a different award by a private organization.

In 2003, Kirk said on the House floor, “The last time I was in Iraq, I was in uniform flying at 20,000 feet and the Iraqi Air Defense network was shooting at us.” This was also a lie, as Kirk had never been fired upon in Iraq. Kirk sent a letter to constituents claiming he was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, when he actually remained in the US. His Congressional website said he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but he didn’t.

Kirk also lied about his civilian life. He claimed to the Illinois Education Association, on the House floor, and many other times, that he had been a teacher in a nursery school, when he had merely supervised a play group.

Kirk lied to his Congressional colleagues, to his staff, and to Illinois voters. He lied on TV, on the Internet and on paper. Kirk’s lies about his past have been compounded by his lies about these lies. He claimed that his campaign biography was “not precise”. He said a staffer wrote the false letter to Illinois voters. He has brushed off his years of lying as tricks of memory.

The honesty of Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, is not an issue, but his politics are. Last month, Paul said he did not support the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibited private businesses from discrimination, based on his belief in a marketplace free of government regulation.

In 1964, women were shunted into low-paying jobs and prevented from climbing the corporate ladder. Jews were excluded from country clubs and elite universities. African Americans were excluded from bars, hotels, restaurants, barber shops, and thousands of other commercial sites across the country.

In the 46 years since then, the systematic discrimination against blacks, Jews, and women practiced by white Christian males in American businesses and organizations has nearly, though not completely, disappeared. Now Rand Paul says private businesses should be free to discriminate if they want to. Defending this position to the Louisville Courier Journal, Paul said, “In a free society we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior, but if we're civilized people we publicly criticize that and don't belong to those groups or associate with those people.” As a white Christian male, Paul doesn’t seem to care that this means that minority groups would have to choose not to get good jobs, not to patronize the best restaurants, not to try to get into the best colleges, not to have the same opportunities that he has. He is willing to tolerate discrimination against people not like him.

For very different reasons, Mark Kirk and Rand Paul are unfit for the Senate. They do not represent the character or beliefs that should define our political system. It is not their party affiliation that should influence our votes, but rather what they stand for: dishonesty and discrimination.

Jacksonville, IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 29, 2010

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