“I know it is the sun that shines so bright.”
— Dialog between Petruchio and Katherina in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
You don’t have to know Shakespeare to appreciate how people sometimes lie to gain an advantage, whether it involves stretching the truth to get someone to like them or more serious lies to obtain money or favors or to cover up crimes.
And lies in Washington? Well, where to begin? The fictional Captain Louis Renault in the movie “Casablanca” comes to mind. I can almost picture him, with an ironic smile, standing in the House chamber and exclaiming in feigned disbelief, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that lying is going on here!”
CNN did a similar reckoning on President Joe Biden’s first year in office and found false claims “in the dozens.” Some of these involved stories about his own past. CNN noted that he said in a speech he had been arrested “in the context of the civil rights movement – even suggesting this had happened more than once …”
This, CNN said, was “a classic Biden false claim: an anecdote about his past for which there is no evidence, prompted by a decision to ad-lib rather than stick to a prepared text, resulting in easily avoidable questions about his honesty.”
The president also exaggerated his own academic record back in the 1980s, including that he finished near the top of his class in law school. He did, however, attend and graduate from law school.
Even against that backdrop, Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., stands out as a special case. That’s true, as the New York Times said in a recent “morning newsletter,” “even by the standards of this era of self-aggrandizement and alternative facts …”
Santos’ lies are epic. They include where he went to high school and college, where he worked, saying his mother died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and a host of other things too numerous to list.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy obviously doesn’t want to do it, but he needs to join the growing crowd of people calling for Santos to resign. Frankly, the American people have had enough. Or if they haven’t, they should have.
A lot of us were taught as children not to excuse our behavior by rationalizing that other people are doing it, too. It’s time for politicians and their fanatical adherents to stop arguing that the other side is just as bad. That’s hardly ennobling. Instead, it’s time for each party to police its own, and to restore some sense of integrity to a group that, collectively, has a 75% disapproval rating among Americans, according to the latest Gallup poll.
Yes, a House ethics probe is underway. The Justice Department may be initiating a criminal investigation, as could be prosecutors in New York. This is all the more reason for House leadership to get ahead of events, rather than to risk looking complicit.
McCarthy, the House speaker, has obvious reasons to hope Santos can hang on until things blow over. Republicans hold a narrow 222-213 majority in the House. If Santos goes, his district would hold a special election to fill the seat, and a Democrat might win.
But any choice that weighs integrity against political advantage ought to be a no-brainer.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was right in his brief exchange with Santos before the state of the union speech on Tuesday. “I don’t think he ought to be in Congress,” Romney told reporters afterward, calling Santos an embarrassment.
Romney said that to embellish is to say “you got an A when you got an A minus. Lying is saying you graduated from a college you didn’t even attend.”
Actually, while there may be differing degrees of severity, both things should be unacceptable to a public that entrusts representatives with their vote.
The New York Times quoted Katie Sanders of the fact-checking service PolitiFact saying this is becoming “a huge moment for truth and lies in politics.” It could test voters’ tolerance for such things in a post-Trump environment.
All the more reason for the party to show Americans it knows the difference between the sun and the moon.