By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Like many people, I am absolutely gobsmacked that Republican George Santos was elected to represent Long Island’s Third Congressional District despite larding his résumé with lies.
These aren’t just little, garden variety embellishments. They are triple whoppers with stinky cheese topped by thick slices of BS bacon. Santos claimed his grandparents survived the Holocaust as Ukrainian Jewish refugees, that he attended Baruch College and New York University and has a degree, that he worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and that he ran a nonprofit organization to help animals. All of that, and much, much more, is false.
It’s dismaying enough that no one, particularly the media and his Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, thought to look into Santos’ background well before people went to the polls. It’s utterly amazing and absolutely dismaying that Santos thought no one would come forward from one of his supposed alma maters or places of employment or even his own family and say, “This guy is full of horsefeathers.”
Then again, we live in an age when pointing out someone’s flagrant falsehoods and misrepresentations is stoutly defended with the response that the revelation is merely a partisan and purely political attack. We have Donald J. Trump to thank for that. He’s a master of deflection and of rallying his base to What-About-ism and Two-wrongs-make-a-right-ism.
Besides the standard comeback of “Biden lies” — the grotesque Marjorie Taylor Greene even trotted out the canard that “the left” lied about the manner of George Floyd’s death — I’ve seen reader comments on Facebook to the effect that Santos should still serve in the House because Democrats failed to detect his malarkey in time. Never mind that he is a fraud of highly questionable character.
Politics has always been a manure and hypocrisy factory, but until Trump came along, we could expect at least some attempt at camouflage and perfume. His boast about being able to shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and not lose votes, and his behavior in and out of office, proves that if you have enough political and financial support, you can say and do anything and hold elected office. It’s really just a matter of continuing to win, baby.
The days when getting caught in a fib or extramarital affair would sink a political career now seem a quaint relic from Mayberry R.F.D. So I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that Santos thought he could get away with serving up wholesale baloney. He even, without irony, claimed to be “the embodiment of the American Dream.”
But there was a period of a few quiet days between the disclosure of his bushwah and the increasingly angry reaction when it was stunningly possible that he would evade punishment and serve his term. With the GOP holding the majority in the House, the chance of two-thirds of its members voting to expel Santos is much less likely to happen than pot-bellied pigs piloting F-16 fighter jets.
Now, however, federal, state and county prosecutors are investigating. And Santos may have run afoul of the False Statements Act that sent Martha Stewart to luxe accommodations in a hoosegow.
Even the GOP, which gleefully raised $250 million off of Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud, is starting to realize that the party’s reputation as the Home of the Whopper is not attracting voters who are fed up with the party’s Machiavellian, anti-Democratic, we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-facts ways. “As a Navy man who campaigned on restoring accountability and integrity to our government, I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” GOP Rep.-elect Nick LaLota (NY-1) said in a statement.
In the meantime, Kevin McCarthy (who needs Santos’ vote in order to become Speaker of the House) remains — gasp! — conspicuously silent and Santos is refusing to step aside. The more I see of Santos, the more he reminds me of John Spano, the pathetic con man who nearly succeeded in convincing the National Hockey League to sell him the New York Islanders for $165 million in 1996. When Spano kited down payment checks, the NHL was caught with its trousers down around its tassled loafers, having failed to do due diligence that would have quickly revealed cobwebs and not a business fortune. However, Spano ended up serving a six-year prison stretch for bank fraud and, years later, another 10 for forgery.
As Spano so aptly noted, "You ride in the right circles and people just stop asking questions.”
It remains to be seen what, if anything, will happen to Santos. Hucksters are always out there, but these days are such that they feel free to be much more brazen. I thank Donald Trump for that.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.