What do Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford have in common?
Each politician, along with other political brothers-in-arms, faces a serious credibility crisis. Charges of plagiarism have Paul looking like a Bluegrass State punk, just when he was coasting along toward his 2016 presidential ambitions. And what about Ford? It’s a great gig to be a heavyset white guy who can admit to smoking crack and still run Canada’s biggest city.
In each of these cases, what’s strange is that they both get to keep their jobs.
And though it’s not plagiarism or hitting the pipe, don’t think this perk doesn’t apply to President Obama, too. His spectacular fail on the Obamacare rollout is causing a 2014 electoral death spiral for Democrats when it shouldn’t. The president, of course, will keep his job through the thick of plummeting poll numbers and thin of public patience. But it’s not like he’s pressed—since our Constitution is three-term-proofed.
Yet the public impatiently awaits a head roll, since, well, that’s what typically happens in these sorts of situations, right? Which is a main reason the president’s trust numbers, until recently his most reliable asset, are dropping. The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows a fairly convincing 52 percent of the nation not considering the president “trustworthy,” while only 47 percent believe the words “honest and trustworthy” apply to Obama, according to Gallup. Not a good look for the White House, overall.
If the legions of President Obama’s flacks and surrogates, along with his rather insulated and white-dude-dominated inner circle, are pressed to unlock the secret of his sagging numbers, they should look no further than common sense. No one’s been fired—at least visibly. Those spinning the virtues of the Affordable Care Act keep saying that’s not necessary. Nor, they say, would firing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who, in my opinion, should never have been hired to sell this in the first place) really help the situation any, since she’s deeply vested and synced with this thing. That makes sense, given the political volatility that it would create, not to mention the annoying public glee of Tea Party goons jumping up and down like a House of Pain loop.
But someone—preferably high-level—should walk a plank. It’s the American way.
If it’s not a morality tale about “personal responsibility,” it’s a politician selling us the virtues of transparency. Few elected officials, if any, really ever practice this while sitting atop their own personal Mount Olympus. Nor do we expect them to. Yet we rightfully expect some degree of contrition, followed by a sacrificial firing, to soothe our collective stomachs like a cup of Pepto-Bismol.
You can say whatever you want about the need for a health insurance exchange or casually dismiss a broken, nonsecure website as nothing more than a “glitch.” At the end of the day, any of us would have been promptly pink-slipped for such an offense. Security guards would have shown up at your gray-toned cubicle adorned with bobbleheads, the boxes already packed up and a pile of accumulated personal junk left for Express Mail, as if you really wanted it. (Moral of the visual: Always keep an office or desk light, because you can always find yourself let go without warning.) We have become a nation of proud no-second-chancers, workplace bullies and a—hole managers eager to drop the ax.
But our politicians—those elected and tasked to set laws that we live by—seem to easily avoid such challenges. Thus a vicious double standard. That alone creates the disparity of trust in government that’s worrying many longtime political observers concerned about rumors of revolutions.
Rand Paul clearly bit from Wikipedia entries for various writings he passed off as his—yet not only does he get to proceed with the rest of his term, but he also doesn’t seem moved to fire the inept speechwriter on his staff who did it. In high school you’d get an F, right? In college they’d kick you out.
Maybe we need to bypass all that and simply get a gig in Paul’s Senate office.
Toronto’s City Council may vote to strip Rob Ford of some of his powers, but they can’t get rid of him. Still, couldn’t they fire his chief of staff or someone else on his executive team for sticking it out with this cat?
And when it comes to the White House, maybe all it takes is being black and on the wrong side of a faux scandal. Green czar-turned-CNN host Van Jones got sacked when Republicans tackled him for speaking his mind. White House social secretary Desiree Rogers got booted over a mindless party-crashing stunt. And there was no courtesy ride on Air Force One for the grandmotherly—and innocent—Shirley Sherrod when conservatives ripped her head off over a falsely contextualized comment. Seems like that’s all it takes—so get packing.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. When he's not mad, he can be reached via Twitter.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.