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The first step to hitting the ‘reset’ button

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The first step to hitting the ‘reset’ button

Sep 28, 2023 | 6:21 am ET
By Darrell Ehrlick
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The first step to hitting the ‘reset’ button
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New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Michael Schwenk).

Government shutdowns. The Trump organization being dissolved. A writers strike and an auto workers strike.

The news is both fast and furious, but let’s pause for a moment on the spectacle and theater that is the unfolding scandal of Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who seems to have earned himself a bribery indictment that reads like it’s borrowed from a comic book, complete with references to pockets full of cash, gold bars and luxury vehicles.

If there’s a clearer contrast to how both political parties treat indictments and the rule of law, it’s Menendez’s case.

But this isn’t pointing out the obvious, and it’s not a matter of partisan politics. Instead, the Menendez case may be an equally clear answer to a question that many of us have been asking: How do we reset politics? How do we put the genie back in the bottle?

For years, we’ve asked the question: How do we reset or “do over” what has become extreme partisan politics where one party overlooks anything, even criminal actions, of people in their own party? How do we return to a time when politics was fine for policy matters, but the law was something that went beyond partisanship.

Let’s face it: Few doubt that if Richard Nixon had attempted the Watergate burglary in say, 2018, that he would have been acquitted, exonerated and canonized as a political martyr by his own party, even though it was the Republican Party that forced “Tricky Dick’s” resignation in 1974.

And we lament what we have lost: Principles that seemed to transcend party.

Yet, while Menendez was trying to say that hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash was socked away for an emergency, members of his own party, like Pennsylvania’s Sen. John Fetterman, were taking to social media to say his family just makes sure they have flashlights in case of emergencies.

And those are Menendez’s colleagues.

By Tuesday’s end, nearly one-third of the U.S. Senate had called on Menendez to resign.

For his part, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said:

“I’ve read the detailed charges against Sen. Menendez and find them deeply disturbing. While he deserves a fair trial like every other American, I believe Sen. Menendez should resign for the sake of the public’s faith in the U.S. Senate.”

 

Compare this to response that has been offered time and time again by Republicans who refuse to even read or respond to the serious charges being brought against former President Donald J. Trump. Not only has Tester called on Menendez to step aside, he also read through the charges.

We should expect our elected leaders to do just as Tester has: Read, think and act. And, even though Tester is facing what promises to be a tough re-election bid, he demonstrated a way to help put the country back on track instead of this knee-jerk partisan defense.

But the efforts to restore integrity to the government can’t stop with the executive branch or the legislative branch, it must also include the judiciary, including passing strict ethical guidelines for our nation’s highest court. Our nation’s highest court should also have the highest standards, not just some traditions and practices that allow them to do that which would cause fellow federal judges to be impeached.

The reporting by ProPublica and other media outlets about the repeated ways that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has hidden his involvement in far-right politics and accepted luxury trips and gifts is unacceptable for anyone in public office. That Thomas has failed so repeatedly and so often to hide these details is breathtaking for a traffic court judge, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.

But Thomas isn’t alone. Other excellent reporting has been done about Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. While not as extensive, the charges against them are problematic enough that they should also leave the court. Our nation’s court must be beyond politics. And if the Supreme Court or the judiciary itself can’t screw up the courage to bring about reform, it must be left to Congress or even the people via Constitutional amendment.

Don’t let politicians or pundits fool you: The path back – the reset button, if you will – isn’t so far out of reach, even though so much has happened in the past decade or so.

Former President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”

The only question is: Have we had enough yet?