August 9, 2002

In defense of James Traficant

Now that the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to expel Representative James A. Traficant (D - Ohio) following his conviction in federal court on bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion charges, what's next?

Traficant insists that he is wholly innocent, but if the charges are true, then his actions would sound pretty bad to most people.

But is Congressman Traficant really such a bad guy, compared to his colleagues? I'd suggest not. In fact, compared to most of his colleagues, Mr. Traficant is a class act.

I was born and grew up near Youngstown, Ohio, and James Traficant is the only Congressional representative I've had; he has served since before I knew what a representative was.

Occasionally through the years, and even before the most recent scandals, I heard local radio talk show callers say Traficant is "an embarrassment to the community," apparently because of his bizarre hairstyle, thrift store attire, and bombastic manner on the House floor. Personally, I always thought he was something Youngstown should be proud of. How many other people's Congressmen not only get attention for their positions on the issues, but also provide a great source of entertainment? How many other people, when they travel around the country, hear people say, "That's your Congressman? Wow, I love that guy?" Certainly not the folks in Cleveland, or those in nearby western Pennsylvania.

More importantly, how many people in other districts could say that their Congressman takes bold political stands and isn't afraid to go against his party or the whole of Congress and stick to his political beliefs? There are some such other members of the House, but they are few and far between. Youngstown residents should consider themselves fortunate indeed to have had such a representative.

Even if Traficant, despite his insistence to the contrary, actually committed the crimes for which he was convicted, I'm rather inclined to ask: So what? In his role as Congressman, he did far more good than harm for me and my fellow taxpayers, and not only in Youngstown but all across America.

Most congressmen try to force government into our lives in new ways, and constantly commit legalized theft against us by forcibly taking our hard-earned money through higher taxes. Traficant, in contrast, fought to get government out of our way by pushing for and achieving substantial IRS reform, calling for the outright abolition of the IRS, and opposing burdensome bureaucratic regulation and government waste. He put the rights of Americans first, above the interests of greedy would-be dictators, as an advocate for getting the U.S. out of the U.N., and the U.N. out of the U.S. And he worked diligently to expose his fellow Democrats' dealings with the communist Chinese, in spite of the political costs to him.

On the negative side, he was big on bringing ridiculous pork projects back to his district, and supported backward-looking trade barriers to protect steel manufacturers. But on the whole, his contribution to the nation was probably more positive than negative, something that can be said of few in twenty-first century Washington, D.C.

True, it is unacceptable for a member of Congress to commit crimes. But at the same time, I just can't get too upset, because, through their voting, most other politicians perpetrate far worse offenses against me and other taxpayers every day than Jim Traficant ever did or would ever want to do.

Aside from the Traficant coverage in the national media, I'll admit that I haven't paid much attention to news from back home lately. So I don't know who is poised to replace Traficant (if, that is, he is not re-elected from his prison cell, as some pundits predict). I'm sure, though, that his replacement will be some sensibly dressed fellow who not only brings home the pork like Traficant did, but who, with a lock-step mentality, toes the party line: He'll vote to have the IRS forcibly take more of your money every year, vote for more control over how you can use your property, vote for more U.S. military intervention around the globe, vote to allow the FBI to run roughshod over your rights, vote for handing over control of your life to international governmental bodies like the U.N., and vote for all of the usual things that a "respectable" member of the House is expected to vote for. It will be business as usual, that business being the legalized theft committed by the central government in Washington every day as it methodically goes about its routine business of sacking and pillaging the American people.

Yet for all of the new guy's stealing from you and me in all that he does, Traficant, ironically, will be the one everyone remembers as a crook.