Senator Kyl's lies: Why demagogues need not apply

Here is today's powerful - and timely- guest post from Robert Gittelson:

When a private citizen “demagogues,” on a political issue, they are presumably protected through their first amendment rights. In other words, they could misleadingly claim that the healthcare bill being promoted by the Obama Administration would cover undocumented immigrants. They would be wrong, of course, but they would be within their rights to make these erroneous allegations.

In point of fact, this has been exactly what opponents of healthcare reform have been doing - and with remarkable success - as recent polling has concluded that 55% of Americans have been falsely led to believe that this is so, precisely because they believe the false claims of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration reform “Restrictionist-Obstructionists.”

However, as wrong and as evil as this practice of fear mongering by private citizens has been on this issue, there is a much more sinister and insidious case of demagoguery being propagated from within the body politic. Specifically, I am referring to the intentional statements of Senator John Kyl, who, while fulfilling his elected duties, and in the course of conducting the business of the United States Senate, has intentionally and maliciously lied to the public about this issue, with the express intent of deceiving the public about the proposed healthcare reform legislation.

It continues to be the stated goal of the Republican Party to make this healthcare bill “Obama’s Waterloo.” By conflating the issues of immigration reform and healthcare reform, both of which Kyl is dead set on obstructing, he must have sensed that he had an opportunity to damage both issues with a single “tall tale.”

According to an article in yesterday’s Roll Call,

“Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday defended critics of Democratic health care reform plans who claim the proposals would provide subsidized health care to illegal immigrants….It’s a logical question for people to ask,” Kyl said during a conference call with reporters. “That illegal immigrants get care ... it’s a big burden on hospitals,” Kyl said.

Now, even Republicans are moving to swiftly distance themselves from Kyl’s statements. The same article stated,

“In Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) faced immigration questions at all four of his town-hall events. None of those events saw heated exchanges over the issue — and Grassley said there are no bills being considered that would extend benefits to illegal immigrants.”

Even if Kyl were just another run of the mill Senator, the politically motivated action of lying to sway voters to oppose a bill on false pretenses would be an ethical offense. However, since Kyl is a member of the political leadership in his party, (he is the Republican Whip), this is a much more serious offence. Unfortunately, the fact that Kyl sits on the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary, casts a whole new and sinister light on the severity of his transgression.

He is charged with a sworn duty to legislate immigration issues. How can he possibly uphold the honor and integrity of that august body, in light of his shameful lie about undocumented immigrants being included in the healthcare reform legislation?

According to the Senate’s own rules governing the Enforcement Of Ethical Standards In Congress,

“The direction to discipline or ``punish'' its own Members, and the authority to expel, relate directly to and inform the right ``recognized by common parliamentary law'' of self-preservation of the institutional integrity of the legislature and its proceedings.

To my way of thinking, Kyl is deserving of discipline, as clearly the act of outright lying for political gain is, and should be, an ethical breach of his duties as a Senator. His offense may or may not rise to the level of expulsion from the Senate. However, since that would take a 2/3 majority of the Senate to vote for expulsion, it would probably not happen.

Indeed, the voters of Arizona may, should, and probably will have their own ideas about whether or not they support a Senator that intentionally lies about immigration issues to deceive the public about the content of an important piece of legislation.

Fortunately, our founding fathers, in their infinite wisdom, have allowed for other forms of punishment to those Senators that fall short of the ethical standards we would expect from our elected officials. Indeed, Kyl could be reprimanded, censured, or disciplined in other ways. Certainly, at a minimum, he must be stripped of his membership in the Immigration Subcommittee. He has clearly rendered himself to be unfit to sit on that particular committee, as his impartiality and fidelity to the legal issues surrounding our immigration laws has been irreparably compromised. He is the architect of his own demise.

This really begs the question; Just how big does a lie have to be for a Senator to be disciplined? I mean, for example, how many people does the lie have to hurt? In this case, his lie was made with the intention to defeat the President’s healthcare bill. That would and could cause at least 40,000,000 people to continue to be uninsured, and we can deduce that the net effect of that will be deaths for American residents or citizens. Of that we can be certain. And what of the damage that his lie does to the hopes and aspirations of the 12,000,000 undocumented residents? They will be tainted negatively through Kyl’s lie, and thus may be needlessly withheld the comprehensive immigration reform that they are so desperately waiting and hoping for. Perhaps it is a matter of degree? Does a lie have to be 50% false to warrent discipline? 75%? 100%? Just how disingenuous does the lie have to be to have negative repercussions, or does it even matter? Can a Senator just go ahead and lie for political gain, with no repercussions at all?

We are facing a serious healthcare crisis in this nation, and our President is trying to orchestrate legislation aimed at fixing a broken system. Similarly, we are facing a severe crisis in our broken immigration system, and the President has promised to address legislation aimed at repairing that crisis next. In point of fact, these two issues are inexorably interconnected, and are as complicated as they are polarizing. Therefore, we owe it to our nation, to insure that the legislators that are charged with crafting these difficult solutions are above reproach, as well as above the fray of party politics. These are massive undertakings requiring men and women of great integrity - and with great and open minds. Proven “demagogues” need not apply.