The lesson from George Santos? Don’t elect such candidates in the first place
There is convincing evidence that freshman U.S. Rep. George Santos, a Republican, lied about his alma mater, his employment history, his ethnic heritage, his family history, his sporting prowess, his financial skills and the source of his campaign funds.
Santos has admitted to “embellishments” (hardly the full story) but has denied breaking any laws. Yet Politico reported Wednesday that Santos’ campaign had filed numerous expenses all with the improbably precise amount of $199.99, just one cent below the threshold that would have triggered a requirement to preserve invoices or receipts.
Like so much with Santos, that little scheme boggles the mind.
We add our voice to the massed choir that calls for Santos’ resignation. If a fabulist of this level of invention is fit to serve in Congress, then the message sent to young Americans about what public service represents and demands is utterly compromised. It befuddles us that Santos’ Republican colleagues apparently don’t see this situation through a longer lens than the political expediency of the moment.
But that’s not our main point here. The Santos situation is a reminder that once unsuitable candidates are elected for public office, they are very difficult to remove because colleagues weigh the possibility of other consequences, especially for themselves. Exhibit A here is former President Donald Trump.
There were plenty of early misgivings in the media when it came to Trump. But when it comes to local races, voters cannot always trust the media with the biggest reach to do that job for them.
For example, as The Washington Post eventually noted, a small paper on Long Island cast serious doubts on the veracity of Santos’ back story, as the paper was doing its early due diligence by scrubbing the candidate via publicly available records.
Back in September, Long Island’s The North Shore Leader figured out that Santos had not adequately explained the source of a sudden increase in his net wealth, and that he appeared to own no actual U.S. real estate despite claims of owning mansions. The North Shore Leader is a Republican-leaning newspaper, but Santos was a bridge too far. “He’s most likely just a fabulist,” the paper wrote. “A fake.”
Strong words. Gutsy words. Accurate words, subsequent events have suggested.
That should have been the end of Santos’ candidacy right there, but the problem was that no one appeared to have paid attention in the ensuing weeks. The fine work done by the North Shore Leader did not stop Santos.
In part, this surely was an example of East Coast media types spending too much time on Twitter and sexier, more competitive stories than paying attention to the well-researched words of a small paper on Long Island concerning a Republican candidate for Congress.
Perhaps the paper itself did not do all it could have to get the word out about this “fabulist” and “fake” on the ballot. But this surely was a reminder that even though we hear a lot about the collapse of local news in America, there remains some excellent, on-the-ground journalism. In this case, at least, the issue was not a lack of reporting on the inconsistencies in Santos’ story, because clearly there was such reporting, but on the problem of nobody with a bigger megaphone actually paying timely attention.
It’s one thing to talk about a crisis in local news, but sometimes the crisis is caused by misplaced priorities within the national media.
The Santos affair looks to us like a consequence of snobby, old-fashioned, journalistic elitism. The result was the election of a man who egregiously deceived his supporters (on any number of important matters) and who thus had no right to be in office as their representative. The facts were in plain sight if anyone had cared to look.
Of course, voters have an obligation here, too. The Santos affair is a reminder that it is imperative to get to know the candidates for whom you are voting, whatever the nature of the election.
This can be especially true in primaries, but anyone who plans to vote, say, for Chicago’s next mayor has a duty to check out these candidates.
Do their personal histories ring true? Are there records of all the things these candidates claim? This newspaper has worked hard for decades to root out fakes and fabulists and, as far as we can tell, there are no Santos-like candidates in the mayoral race. Just honorable candidates who believe they have the best plans for the future of our city. As we have now met with them all, we salute their dedication to public service and their desire for a job so tough that many people would demur.
But Santos is one heck of a reminder of how far one man can get if the usual checks and balances within our democracy do not function as they should. We should have learned that lesson the last time it happened.