Charles Gray | Glory outside the halls of Congress
While politics often brings out the worst in people, it occasionally brings out the very best
September 13, 2011, 12:21 am · Updated September 13, 2011, 1:13 pm·
The other day, someone told me that he had long given up having an interest in public affairs for one reason alone: he’s come to the conclusion that the vast majority of public figures are out for themselves.
I didn’t have a response at first because, for the first time this summer, I briefly felt the same way.
This May, seeing the revelations regarding former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) antics disgusted me. The scandal occurred only a few weeks after the Senate released its investigation on Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who was also caught trying to cover up a sex scandal.
This is not a partisan issue. It’s been happening in both parties for a long time.
But one of the many things that really bothered me about the whole story was how cynical I felt the entire time. From the start, I thought Weiner was lying when he professed his innocence. That’s the sort of cynicism that the behavior of our public officials has created.
But as Frank Sinatra once sang: “Sunshine always follows the rain.”
After endlessly hearing about Weiner for about a week, I was watching television one night and wanted to try my best to avoid the story. That night, C-SPAN was featuring a speech by former Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.). Seeing Rogan on television brought back a lot of memories.
The first time I really started following politics was during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998, when my dad let me stay home from school for three days to watch something that had only occurred once before in our nation’s history.
As a former prosecutor on the House Judiciary Committee, Rogan was an important swing vote who was forced to decide whether to take a strong position on the impeachment by becoming a House Manager for the effort.
The problem was that Rogan came from one of the most liberal districts represented by a Republican Congressman. He’d been elected with only 50.1 percent.
From the start, everybody — including Rogan — knew he would lose re-election and give up his political career by supporting the proceedings.
But he did it — because he was convinced that he had a Constitutional duty to do so. Every day, Americans are expected to tell the truth when they are under oath in front of a grand jury, so why shouldn’t the same be expected of the president?
Rogan was willing to give up the position he had worked to reach his entire life to protect a principle that he thought was right. No matter how you feel about impeachment, that sort of moral clarity and personal integrity is rare in Washington.
As expected, Rep. Rogan lost re-election and has largely been forgotten by history.
But I’ll never forget him, because when I was sitting as a kid watching the impeachment proceedings, his behavior set an example that was one of the reasons I became so interested in politics.
While politics often brings out the worst in people, it can occasionally bring out the very best.
At that level of public affairs, it’s very easy to become consumed by oneself and focused on one’s own gratification and preservation. I believe that arrogance was what affected Rep. Weiner and Sen. Ensign, and what Rep. Rogan was able to avoid.
But when someone is able to ignore this temptation and truly serve his or her country, it’s inspiring. That’s the way I felt when first seeing Rogan on C-SPAN 13 years ago and the way I felt again when hearing from him this summer.
The reason I tell this story is that’s how I wish I could have answered the person who told me he’s decided to completely ignore politics.
Right now, we’re on a path of fiscal suicide, induced by public figures who don’t want to tell us the truth about our situation, because they’re convinced they’ll lose re-election if they do so.
We can’t sit on the sidelines. Rather, it will take a dedicated and virtuous group of public officials — and the citizens who elect them — to catch our flag and prevent the worst from happening.
It’s funny how things always work out when politicians just do the right thing. Even though Rogan lost the job he wanted since he was a boy, life’s moved on. Rogan’s now a judge and married with two daughters. He doesn’t have to fly back and forth to Washington every week.
Not bad, Rep. Rogan. Not bad. Glory doesn’t have to come in the halls of Congress.
Charles Gray is a College and Wharton senior from Casper, Wyo. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gray Area appears every Tuesday.