George Santos doesn’t deserve such treatment - GulfToday

George Santos doesn’t deserve such treatment

George Santos

George Santos

Matthew Yglesias, Tribune News Service

Rep. George Santos appears to be a fraud who’s lied about everything from his Jewish identity to his employment history. But that doesn’t mean the first-term Republican from New York deserves to be kicked out of Congress. Democrats, naturally, see an opportunity to make hay about an embarrassing scandal by calling for him to resign. His predecessor, Tom Suozzi, goes further, arguing that Santos “must be removed by Congress or by prosecutors” since resignation isn’t going to happen. Some current House Democrats have also demanded expulsion. One has even pledged to introduce the Stopping Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker Act (the SANTOS Act, get it?), which would “require candidates to disclose under oath their employment, educational, & military history so we can punish candidates who lie to voters about their qualifications.”

The Santos story certainly has its amusing aspects, and represents a kind of joint failure of journalism, Democratic Party political operations and the Long Island voting public. But is it the kind of crisis that demands the extraordinary action of expelling a member of Congress, or altering the legal requirements for office?

Further complicating the debate is the politics of the situation. Santos is holding down a seat in a somewhat Democratic-leaning district. If he were to resign, there would be a special election that Democrats would stand a strong chance of winning. Republicans, meanwhile, don’t want to risk losing a seat, especially since they are struggling mightily to keep their narrow majority organized.

It’s hardly surprising, and not necessarily bad, that the parties are playing politics. But it would be a mistake to confuse this predicament for an actual threat to the republic. It’s possible, of course, that Santos also engaged in criminal behaviour. And though Brazilian authorities say they plan to look again at a 2008 case against him involving a stolen checkbook, so far no charges have been filed over the fabrications related to his campaign.

For all Congress’ problems, there is actually a very good system for filtering out this kind of pathological lying: elections. Not only do candidates need to defeat opponents from the other party in a general election, but in many cases they also need to compete against fellow partisans in contested primaries, where the party has a strong incentive to winnow out poorly vetted, scandal-plagued candidates.

It is genuinely strange that Santos’ Democratic opponent was not able to start unraveling his lies — and it’s even odder that the GOP nominated him in the first place. There are plenty of experienced Republican office holders on Long Island. One of them should have been able to see through Santos’ lies and challenged him.

As it turns out, neither of those things happened — and then his wrongdoing was publicised after the election but before the start of the new Congress. If the truth had come out earlier, Santos wouldn’t have won. And if the truth had stayed under wraps for longer, it would have emerged as a dominant issue in his reelection campaign, which he would lose.

Santos is not, it almost goes without saying, the only politician who’s ever said something untrue. What makes his case unique isn’t that he fibbed — it’s the breathtaking scale and scope of the lying. But it’s hard to make a rule that specifies how much dishonesty is unacceptable. While Santos’ behaviour is both egregious and clear-cut, it’s not unusual for observers to disagree about which of a politician’s statements are lies and which are just normal rhetoric. Should Sen. Elizabeth Warren face punishment, or even expulsion, for passing on some family lore about her Cherokee heritage? What about Sen. Richard Blumenthal, for his occasionally exaggerated tales of military service? Or the 100-plus members of Congress who deny the results of the 2022 election?

These are the kind of holistic judgments that voters make all the time. They don’t always make them perfectly, but candidates who are seen as kooky or dishonest are regularly punished by voters. That gives political parties — in particular the Republican Party — plenty of motivation to do a better job of vetting candidates.

If the Santos story had broken at almost any other time, it would have been clearly and universally seen as a problem to be addressed through the ordinary to-and-fro of electoral politics. The quirk of its timing is genuinely frustrating. But it’s also genuinely weird, and trying to make new rules or laws to prevent it from happening again would be a cure that’s worse than the disease. The George Santos story is so compelling in part because it is so rare. That’s a good indication that the best approach is just to leave well enough alone.

Related articles