You won’t find a better reason to overcome your impostor syndrome than Congressman George Santos.
I realize I’m starting to get really into character studies of my political enemies, but the sheer volume of absurdity pouring out of this saga is breathtaking. The freshman congressman from New York was elected last November after a series of demonstrably false claims allowed him to raise enough money to buy a competitive edge in his district.
Read that last sentence again. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s true of literally every person who campaigns competitively at the federal level.
Still, I have to give Santos credit for the unflinching boldness of his lies. Where most politicians would do soft-shoe sidesteps (like claiming to care about working people while gorging on contributions meant to ensure major corporations are allowed to continue exploiting an increasingly desperate workforce unchecked), Santos did a full-on powerslide into indisputable whoppers — like his mother dying in the 9/11 attacks, and then dying again in 2016.
Santos’ alternative facts included claims about his résumé and biographical information, but they also shared a goal: pandering to his audience to get the donation. It’s worth noting that virtually every candidate training program teaches this. Was Santos artful? Evidently not enough to escape outrage, but it did get him enough money to be treated like a contender and ultimately flip a formerly blue seat by a sizable margin.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, am I right? No one actually expects politicians to be truthful. Lie about your positions and intent, sure, but why stop there? Why not lie about your résumé or heritage or about how much money you loaned to your campaign and where it came from? Why would any of it matter once you get elected?
My favorite tidbit is how congresspeople pretend to be furious that someone from his team pretended to be Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff to wring donations out of unsuspecting people — as though they don’t send thousands of no-reply fundraising emails (with automatically recurring donation boxes “helpfully” pre-checked) to voters masquerading as personal requests for feedback on their performance every day.
I found myself tickled by the performance of revulsion at Santos’ claiming to loan his campaign over $700,000, despite having no demonstrable ability to accumulate that much money. Did they forget that Ted Cruz and the U.S. Supreme Court took the teeth out of enforcement provisions for campaign finance violations stemming from candidate loans to their campaigns back in 2022? Or maybe they’re just feigning anger on behalf of voters while banking on SCOTUS’ ultra chill stance on letting candidates loan campaigns unlimited amounts of money and pay themselves back at any time — including well after they’re in office. SCOTUS didn’t seem bothered by Ted Cruz’s case, which made it easier for a motivated and savvy donor to set up an ideological PAC (or several) to funnel in bribes by “repaying loans” the candidate graciously made to their own campaign.
George Santos was definitely motivated, but the “savvy” part of the equation seems to need work.
The hook for criminal liability in this ought to be fraud. But that will go unprosecuted due to virtually every politician’s interest in ensuring they cannot be prosecuted for demonstrably fraudulent statements made in search of donations and/or votes.
Unless, of course, Santos’ colleagues find him so unsavory that they decide to make an example of him. You know. The way they’re not doing with congresspeople who participated in an act of domestic terrorism just over two years ago?
No, if the House does anything besides ensure that Santos doesn’t get to sit with the cool kids in committees, it will be because he lied about the one thing that really matters to them: the ability to cleverly disguise enough money to buy a seat without scaring off donors. Lying to voters is business as usual, but lying to the money? Or worse: lying about having money? Those spell real trouble.
I can’t see the kerfuffle bring about Santos’ removal. Speaker McCarthy seems content to let the voters have their say in two years which is honestly sort of inspiring, given his office was dragged into the grift.
By “inspiring,” I mean: I am now inspired to empower you, reader. Please accept my permission to fudge every single qualification you can dream up to get what you want in life. Chances are you’ve earned it more honestly than most members of Congress.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].