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POLITICS AS USUAL (By JIm Baron) It's not the offense, it's the cover-up

June 12, 2011

It usually has to be August before a story like Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeting his privates can come to dominate a week’s worth of the nation’s news cycle, but it’s only early June and here we are.
It is probably a testament to how nothing of any value is happening in Washington that a story like this can gain the traction it has.
Before all of this started, I knew little about Weiner except that he was an occasionally entertaining talking head on the cable news shows. A typically combative New Yorker, he struck me as the hockey player who doesn’t score many goals or assists, but jumps on the ice and punches someone from the other team in the face, causing a big fight that gets his team all riled up and ready to play more aggressively.
Democrats, and particularly liberals, need someone like that on their side; Republicans already have dozens of them.
That’s why it’s too bad for them that Weiner has to go.
As Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton could have told Weiner, it’s not the offense that you commit, but your attempts to cover it up that will ruin you.
While Weiner’s offense is heavy on the yuck factor, especially now that a 17-year-old (still a minor, but technically not underage) is involved, what he did was creepy and unbecoming a member of Congress, but it is not (as far as we can tell so far) illegal, and nobody was physically harmed or even touched. It was an assault on respectability and good taste, but probably not something that should have cost him his seat in Congress. He would have still had to stand up and make a humiliating confession and mea culpa. He may still have had to retreat to whatever rehab hideout he is in right now. But he still could have come back a Congressman.
But then he lied. He lied loud and long. He booked himself on every cable news and radio talk show there is and he lied to anyone who would stick a microphone in front of his face or point a camera at him.
He lied deliberately. He lied with zest and conviction. He lied to try to pin the blame on some anonymous computer hacker. He lied when he knew — he absolutely had to know — that his lie was so flimsy that it would be only a matter of a very short time before the truth would be found out.
That is why, despite his lies, I believe the reason he gave for lying once he finally fessed up. He was planning to send out that now infamous photo to one individual and when he figured out that he had hit the wrong button and had tweeted that picture to the entirety of cyberspace, he just lost his fudge and made up the lie about being hacked.
Because he lied so publicly and profligately, he should now resign or be booted out by his fellow Congressmen and women. He may still decide to do the former, but the latter ain’t gonna happen — not in your lifetime or mine. No politician is going to vote to punish another politician for lying. We all know that Bible verse about he who is without sin casting the first stone. So do they.
But hey, it is a criminal offense for a citizen to lie to Congress (if you don’t believe me, ask Roger Clemens). So why shouldn’t it be a criminal offense for a member of Congress to lie to the people? I would think that would be the more egregious act.
Hoping to localize the Weiner story a bit, I e-mailed the four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation and asked them two questions: 1) Do they believe Congressman Weiner should resign because of his scandal, and 2) should it be a criminal act for a member of Congress to lie to the public?
I noted that the second question was being asked in general and was not meant to apply specifically to Weiner. I even gave the senators some wiggle room, saying that if they didn’t want to answer the first question (since it was about a representative, not a member of their chamber), that would be OK, but I still wanted them to answer the second one.
The answer, I’m sure you will be absolutely flabbergasted to learn, was almost uniformly to the effect of: No comment. No, no, no. Nothing to say about that. Not going to touch that one with a barge pole.
I say almost uniformly because that was the gist of the reaction from Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline. Rep. James Langevin’s people didn’t reply at all. The e-mail I received from Sen. Whitehouse’s office seemed to imply that the no comment was “off the record,” but that is simply preposterous. It is the stuff of satire: I have no comment, but that’s off the record. They’ve got to be kidding.
We now have it documented that, when asked if it should be a criminal offense for members of Congress lie to the people, three of the four members of our delegation say no comment and the fourth says nothing at all. I think that is a telling response, don’t you?

Voting twice
It sounds like they are fixing to screw up the casino referendum one more time.
I am not talking about moving the referendum up from November 2012 to November of this year. That is probably a good idea and should be done.
No, I am talking about the confusing way they are planning to make people — specifically, people in Lincoln — vote on the question of whether Lincoln’s Twin River should be able to operate casino table games.
Anybody who has been paying attention knows the constitution requires that a referendum to approve the expansion of gambling be passed both statewide and in the host community. But the way they are setting it up requires that people in Lincoln vote TWICE, once on the statewide referendum and once in a separate local question. That is redundant, confusing and just plain silly.
Any reasonable person would conclude that you put a single referendum question on the ballot, then, if it is approved by voters statewide, you check to see if the voters of Lincoln also gave it majority approval and, if they did, you bring in the craps tables and roulette wheels.
But it looks like there are going to be two questions on ballots in Lincoln — one that will appear on ballots across the rest of the state, and another that will only be on ballots in Lincoln.
If Lincoln voters want to allow table games at Twin River they must vote accordingly on BOTH ballots, same with people who are opposed. If you are a Lincoln resident opposed to casino games, you must mark the statewide ballot, then vote again on the local question or your opposition will not be counted on the second question.
People aren’t used to voting two times on the same question in the same election. They might very well think the second question is a misprint. Why would the same question be asked twice?
It would be a shame for the state and the town of Lincoln to miss out on a lot of sorely-needed revenue just because the ballot question was asked in an awkward and confusing way.
After this column ran in the newspaper on June 13, Senator Whitehouse's
office informed us that the part of their response indicating that it was off the record was added to the message in error. For the record, Senator Whitehouse's “no comment” was indeed on the record.

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