When George Santos was elected to Congress to represent Long Island, New York, the media narrative at the time was that he was the first openly gay Republican elected to the House of Representatives as a non-incumbent. It was a minor story in the news cycle, which focused more generally on how voters rejected the fringier and Trumpian candidates the Republican Party put forward in November.
But now Santos is getting all sorts of national press coverage, because it turns out huge chunks of his biography—including his education and past employment—are complete fabrications.
Earlier this month, after investigating Santos’ background, The New York Times reported that it could not verify much of the information he had told voters. Santos publicly admitted some of his lies in an interview over Christmas weekend with the New York Post. He has not worked for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, as he has claimed. (He was apparently working as a call center employee for Dish Network during that time). He also never graduated from Baruch College in New York City, as he had claimed.
It’s not clear at this point how much of Santos’ background is actually true. Is he even gay? He was once married to a woman, The Daily Beast reports, but divorced her in 2019 just prior to his first (failed) run for Congress in 2020. This, of course, doesn’t mean he’s not gay. (He recently married his male partner). But it is a bit unusual.
The misleading claims even turned comical when he admitted to the New York Post that he’s Catholic and not Jewish, as he had claimed. “I never claimed to be Jewish,” he explained. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.'”
It sounds like something a character from Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia might say when they’re caught in a lie. Reason‘s Jesse Walker tweeted a memory of Harry Shearer telling a similar joke in the 1990s.
While the whole scandal is hilarious, it is also deeply distressing. Democrats are demanding that Santos resign for his lies or that Congress somehow refuse to seat him, but, really, is anybody in U.S. national politics in a position to seize the moral high ground here? Sen. Elizabeth Warren? President Joe Biden?
The scandal is not that Santos lied. The scandal is that Santos lied about so many things that we can’t even be certain of who Santos is. And that does call into question whether Santos’ campaign platform accurately represents him.
But isn’t that somewhat true of all politicians? Ultimately, we get to know our representatives by how they act once they’re actually in Congress—what they vote for or against, what bills they introduce, and even whether they show up to do their job.
On the campaign trail, politicians promise whatever they think will be necessary to swing the election in their favor. They could completely lie about who they are to impress voters. They could make promises to pass laws or create policies they have no intention of keeping or don’t have the authority to keep. They can change their minds entirely once they get into office. Remember when Barack Obama campaigned for president promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
It is unfortunate that the truths about Santos didn’t come out prior to his election. There are also some financial discrepancies in Santos’ stated finances as part of his campaign run. Where did all his money come from if his job history is a lie? That may be what gets him in legal hot water.
Otherwise, Santos presumably has a seat in Congress for two years unless he decides to resign over the scandal. At the moment, he is adamant that he will serve his term. There is no mechanism for his voters to recall him (or any other member of Congress). The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can’t refuse to seat him as long as he meets the constitutional requirements and was legally elected.
There is accountability for Santos in the form of the 2024 election. If it turns out that he is this weird con artist, presumably his behavior in office will follow suit. Certainly the press will watch his actions closely.
What is the moral of the story here? Well, first of all, political parties need to do a better job investigating their opposition. Apparently the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did pick up some discrepancies about Santos’ finances and the animal rescue charity he claimed to have connections to, but it didn’t research his employment and educational background.
Instead, the committee focused on his ties to Trump, claims of election fraud, and positions against abortion, which to be fair, did turn out to be a winning political argument elsewhere in the country. But the report took a lot of stuff about Santos at face value that it shouldn’t have.
As for the rest of us, it’s a reminder that the tremendous power and wealth accorded to those in the federal government attracts many of the worst sorts of people. For those reasons, it’s important to restrain the amount of power the federal government has. Santos is an anomaly not in his way of saying whatever will get him elected but in his willingness to take it much further than anybody else. Or so we think.
Author: Scott Shackford