New York Representative-elect George Santos recently made his first televised appearance since the New York Times revealed that he lied about several elements of his résumé. It did not go as well as he’d hoped.
As a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Santos, he defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November’s election, running on a campaign built largely around his story of rising from poverty to prominence. Yet, as he admitted to the New York Post, several elements of that story were false.
Among the most problematic lies relate to his Jewish heritage—he clarified that he is “Jew-ish” rather than Jewish because his grandmother was Jewish before converting to Catholicism. This despite claiming to be a “proud American Jew” in campaign materials sent to Jewish constituents. The Republican Jewish Coalition has since stated that he “misrepresented his heritage” and “will not be welcome at any future RJC events.”
In addition, he claimed that he graduated from Baruch College when he never even attended and holds no college degree. He also said that he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup when he was never employed by either.
He has since referred to these errors as “embellishing my résumé” and apologized.
The nature and sincerity of that apology were at the forefront of questions he faced from former representative Tulsi Gabbard, who filled in for Fox’s Tucker Carlson in the interview.
“What does the word integrity mean to you?”
In her first question, Gabbard asked Santos, “What does the word integrity mean to you?”
After being pressed further for a definition rather than a rote response, he replied that “it means to carry yourself in an honorable way. And I made a mistake, and I think humans are flawed and we all make mistakes.”
He’s right, but it’s what we do after our mistakes that matters most, and when asked by Gabbard why people should trust him moving forward, Santos’ response left much to be desired: “Tulsi, I can say the same about the Democrats and the party. Look at Joe Biden. Joe Biden’s been lying to the American people for forty years and he’s the president of the United States. Democrats resoundingly support him.”
As Gabbard then pointed out, “This is not about the Democratic party, though. This is about your relationship with the people who’ve entrusted you to go and fight for them.”
The interview included other notable points as well, but I’d like for our focus to remain on this part for today.
The government we deserve
George Bernard Shaw once remarked that “democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
Prior to bringing Santos on, Gabbard made the point that he is hardly the first politician to lie about their résumé or heritage. She pointed to Richard Blumenthal’s false claims of military service in Vietnam and Elizabeth Warren’s remarks about her Native American ancestors as examples.
Her point in doing so, however, was not to excuse Blumenthal, Warren, or Santos. Rather, it was to explain why “no one should be surprised that the American people don’t trust these politicians” and have “no faith that those in Washington are actually working for the people when they’re so clearly working for themselves.”
I suspect many agree with her—myself included, if I’m being honest.
Unfortunately, our anger and disappointment at their moral failures often stop with them when the real problem hits much closer to home.
Holding ourselves to a higher standard
If our response to our own mistakes is to minimize the gravity of the sin and point out the hypocrisy of others, then we’re not really very penitent. After all, “I’m sorry, but . . . ” is not a real apology, and that’s just as true for you and me as it is for elected members of Congress.
Santos is right that politicians frequently lie in service to their ambitions. That he could say so knowing that there are large swaths of the populace who are willing to tolerate such behavior if it means getting another vote on their side of the aisle is why our government is the way that it is.
But if we want the government to change, then we need to change.
Politicians never have been and never will be the moral compass for the nation, and our situation will not improve until the people voting for them—that would be all of us—hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Fortunately, God longs to help us do just that.
There may be times when we have reasonable explanations for the sins we commit and could point to countless others who have made the same mistakes. But they are not our standard. God is (Matthew 5:48).
If we are truly meant to be the light of the world and a city on a hill that guides the lost around us back to the Lord, then we need to genuinely repent of our sins rather than try to justify or minimize them.
So the next time you sin, ask the Lord to help you practice real repentance and own your mistake.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to do the same.