Clinton, Gingrich must follow ethics

Erin Payne

Last Tuesday Washington, D.C., played host to the swearing in of the 105th United States Congress.

With the ceremony came promises from both the Democratic and Republican parties that this term would bring change for the nation.

But in all reality, changes are promised, but the political pattern rarely changes. Despite campaign promises, politicians tend to behave similarly regardless of their party affiliations. Perhaps the most obvious issue is ethics.

In many Americans’ books, there are few honest politicians, if any. And if there are honest politicians we don’t hear about them.

Yes, some political types are evidently not too bright when it comes to making decisions that affect the people.

But overwhelmingly, politicians are highly educated Americans who know what they are talking about. However, they are humans and make mistakes.

With every decision we make, we face the possibility of making the wrong decision and making a mistake. And with every mistake we make, we must deal with the consequences.

However, it seems as if many politicians are immune from dealing with the consequences and, instead, the people suffer. Government privileges have saved many politicians from facing public scorn.

This is exactly why politicians should have to face the consequences of their poor decisions. Instead of burying scandals, granting immunity and then using political tactics to hail the wrong-doer in another fashion, the process should be simplified by merely making politicians take responsibility for their own actions. After all, that’s what they expect the rest of the nation to do.

Ethics violations are made on all sides of the political arena, regardless of party affiliation.

The most recent cases include probably the most powerful individuals of the Republican and Democratic parties: Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.

A Republican from Georgia, Gingrich was re-elected Speaker of the House Tuesday by a narrow margin — only three votes more than the 213 necessary for a majority.

Just days before the vote and on the determining day, Gingrich apologized to fellow Republicans for ethics violations. One representative from New York said some GOP members were looking for an apology prior to the vote.

Gingrich has been under fire for violating teaching a college course at two Georgia colleges, which was then beamed across the country. Gingrich reportedly allowed a tax-exempt charity to pay for production costs of the course. These groups are legally barred from funding political activity.

However, what could be the most detrimental to Gingrich is evidence that he lied to the ethics committee.

When Gingrich told the ethics panel that his political action committee, GOPAC, was preparing a college course, Gingrich said GOPAC didn’t have a role in the course.

But investigations have found that Gingrich and his committee did have a role and a goal — political recruitment. In a GOPAC letter, Gingrich aimed the course at capturing “… first [Americans’] imaginations and then their votes.”

What is disturbing here is that despite clear ethics violations, violating the very fabric of our country’s lawmaking body, Gingrich was re-elected house speaker.

Is that the kind of model we want for our future? It is not a good example. The committee plans to render its decision on Jan. 21, but it is likely that Gingrich will get no more than a slap on his hand.

Politicians have no deterrent for following ethics rules. Most underage college students would go to the bars if they knew they weren’t going to be punished for violating the law.

On the Democratic forefront is the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against President Clinton. Today the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether a sitting president can be required to stand trial in a civil case.

Clinton and his lawyers will argue that a civil case would undermine the executive branch, and that the president should be granted immunity until he leaves office. Jones, on the other hand, wants to bring forth a civil suit because Clinton allegedly sought sex with her and exposed himself to Jones in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas.

Although the fabric of the Supreme Court case is the constitutional powers and privileges of the president, ethics come into play. If Jones’ accusations are true, Clinton could be found guilty of sexual harassment. What is troubling here is that someone whose job it is to enforce the law could commit such an act.

If the Court says Jones can go ahead with the civil suit, Clinton could be forced to answer uncomfortable questions about the incident Jones alleges, as well as other actions Clinton took as governor.

Although the president should have some privileges, why shouldn’t he be forced to answer questions about his past, as all other Americans must. Clinton’s answers could be incriminating, which is all the more reason to question him. Face up to your actions, Mr. President.

Arguably, ethics and politics aren’t two synonymous words. But they should be.

Erin Payne is a junior in journalism and mass communication and political science from Rock Rapids.