By George Hopkins
Political scandals come mostly in two flavors: money and sex. Sex is more survivable than money because it’s less likely to wind up in criminal court. That’s the key to understanding the sudden downfall of Congressman Aaron Schock.
Recent Illinois history should have forewarned Aaron Schock of the danger he faced. Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Dan Rostenkowski, all fell victim to money scandals. Henry Hyde, on the other hand, survived a sex scandal (adultery), because it was merely sordid, not a criminal offense.
Commingling taxpayer funds and campaign contributions (for which Schock was under scrutiny), and using them for personal benefit are career-killers. Sexual hanky-panky, on the other hand, often withers in an “ethics” probe. In addition, voters can be very forgiving of this most human of transgressions. But when money is at issue, juries tend to convict, no matter how charming the personality of the accused.
Which brings us to Aaron Schock, who is plenty charming and also clever enough to hold his own against Steven Colbert on Comedy Central. “Is it true?” was Colbert’s first question. Aaron’s aplomb in dodging Colbert’s innuendos, put the formidable Colbert off his game—a rare TV event.
But charm and cleverness are no match for a federal prosecutor, something Aaron must have realized when he “lawyered up.” The Office of Congressional Ethics was taking notice of his financial dealings.
Several news stories have focused on Aaron’s support from both constituents and his fellow millennials. He’s attractive, nice, and a hard worker. Most importantly, people just seem to like him—even many Democrats.
But do they have any idea what his voting record was in Congress? Likely not. Some news reports have called him a moderate Republican. He’s not.
Since his election in 2008, Schock voted against Big Bird (Public TV funding, though he claims he’s never watched Downton Abbey, despite office décor issues); Obamacare, (obviously) reproductive health measures, gay rights issues, environmental improvements, and of course union issues. He voted to privatize Medicare and Social Security.
Legislative scorecards from different organizations demonstrate Schock’s appeal was not to centrists, but to conservatives and the fringes. The American Conservative Union scored Schock at 83 percent; the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, 0; the Religious Right’s Family Research Council, 90; the Children’s Health Fund, 0; Christian Coalition, 100 percent; the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, an “F”; National Rifle Association, 92; the League of Conservation Voters, 15; U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 93; the AFL-CIO labor federation, 31; National Right to Life Committee, 100; Planned Parenthood, 0; American Farm Bureau, 100; the National Farmers Union, 0.
Mainstream groups giving Schock failing grades for his votes include the Alliance for Retired Americans, the American Library Association, the American Nurses Association, the Arab American Institute, Food Policy Action, the NAACP, and the National Education Association.
That’s when he showed up to vote. He had a poor attendance record.
So what will become of Aaron Schock? While it lasted, his political career was a rocket ride filled with limitless possibilities—future Governor, US Senator, even (dare we say it?), President?
One might even make rough comparisons with Alexander the Great. When old Alex died in 323 BC, after conquering most of the known world, he was exactly Aaron’s age—33! Admittedly, both were sons of well-to-do fathers who could ease their paths upward, but even so they both had the moxie to climb life’s “greasy pole” when fate beckoned. Alex lopped off heads that obstructed his ambition, while Aaron jumped the generational lines of Republican succession that obstructed his.
So here’s a suggestion for Aaron to think about: Take a plea to stay out of jail. Then remember this is America, the Golden Land of Second Chances, and you’ve got “It” (as Colbert insinuated). You’re now free to chase after a bigger life, perhaps follow the path of your pal Eric Cantor to Wall Street, become a lobbyist, join a conservative think tank, even become a TV personality like Sarah Palin!
With your Hollywood looks and six-pack abs, you might find a better fit, lifestyle-wise, on the Big Stage of Celebrity Culture, something you’ll never find here in Peoria.
George Hopkins is Professor Emeritus of History at Western Illinois University in Macomb.