Disgust, outrage, betrayal: The scandal centered on former Florida Representative Mark Foley has left a sour taste in the mouths of American citizens.The scandal began when concerns were raised about inappropriate contact Foley had with teenage pages through electronic messages.
Just when it seemed Americans’ faith in Congress could not slip any lower, it has. Since the unfolding of the scandal, Congress’ approval rating has plummeted to a meager 27 percent, according a New York Times poll released earlier this week.
I am apathetic toward the situation. Like millions of Americans, I am fed up with the corruption on Capitol Hill – on the sides of both Republicans and Democrats.
As there seems to be little I can do to stop the corruption, I am simply tempted to stop caring about our government.
Yet this apathetic approach to political involvement – or noninvolvement – is certainly not the wisest choice. Corrupted or not, politicians on Capitol Hill will continue to make the decisions that affect our futures. It is the men and women of Congress who will set our tax rates, make our laws, and involve us in long-term foreign conflicts.
As a result of the Foley scandal, 5 percent of Americans are more likely to not vote at all, according to The Times poll. The numbers may be significantly higher for college-aged voters, who have not experienced as many political scandals and are more likely to be turned away from political involvement by the current one.
These findings are troublesome. We must not let ourselves fall into this 5 percent. We can run from political involvement, but we cannot hide. Political decisions affect every aspect of our lives.
Rather than disengaging from politics in response to political scandals, we should take the few positive steps we can to prevent them. We should start by getting to know the candidates in the upcoming election.
We must ask some important questions: What is the track record of this candidate? Has he or she been involved in any questionable practices or decisions? Through such questioning, we may be able to lessen the chance of future political scandals.
Many were shocked when President Bill Clinton, a widely-respected leader, was involved in an extramarital affair with young intern Monica Lewinsky. Likewise, Foley’s own wife refused to believe the content of his inappropriate instant message conversations with teenage pages, according to a The New York Times report.
Such cases remind us of another truth: politicians are human. They are apt to make mistakes just like the rest of us.
This does not mean congressmen should not pay for their indiscretions. Foley deserved to be ousted from political office for his actions, as many believe Clinton should have been for his.
It only means we cannot expect politicians and the political system to be perfect. More importantly, we should not become disillusioned and, consequently, disengaged when the political system falters.
Our reaction to political scandals should be one of engagement rather than disengagement. We should voice our complaints and we should research the candidates in the upcoming elections, but we must never give up on political involvement.
We must continue to care. We have far too much at stake to simply give up on the government.
Matt Messel is a sophomore sociology major from Omaha, Neb. His column appears every Thursday.