The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published June 5, 1989.)

Maybe we're being unreasonable when we expect our congressmen to be honest.

We're asking too much.

What do we expect of ordinary mortals, anyway, perfection? Sure, some members of Congress cheat and steal, but it's because we don't pay them enough.

Is a little graft, a few thousand corrupt bucks, too much for us to forgive these underpaid public servants?

Why do we make them defend themselves against silly charges? Because we've all heard the statements that congressmen accused of misconduct make in their own defense and because there's talk now of more charges against more congressmen , perhaps it would save us all time if the congressmen simply referred to their defense statements by number.

Here are the names and numbers of 10 of the most familiar defenses congressmen use:

1. "There is absolutely no truth to this rumor." Often used the day charges are first made public.

2. "I look forward to this investigation. I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I'm confident that, when all the facts are revealed, I shall be vindicated." That's for a few days later when it becomes obvious the charges are true.

3. "I was quoted out of context. The media is abusing its First Amendment rights and making a mockery of government in order to sell a few newspapers."

4. "I'll be the first to admit it. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes." This is the basic mea culpa or "Yes, I did it" defense. The congressman doesn't point out that, in actual fact, he was not the first to admit he made a mistake. Or, that he got rich making the mistake.

5. "I may have used poor judgment. Is there anyone in this room who hasn't been guilty of using poor judgment once in his lifetime?" This "poor judgment" defense is actually a variation on the mea culpa defense. It's used when a congressmen is caught investing $100 in a dry oil well and reaping $10,000 on his investment, although none of the other investors gets anything -- and it turns out the person who gives him the $10,000 has an interest in a bill before Congress which could make him a few million.

6. "I resent my wife's honor being impugned and my family being dragged into what is essentially a political attack on me. Is there no limit to the lengths my opponents will go?" This is for when someone in the real estate business in the congressman's hometown pays a congressman's wife a salary to gain influence with the congressman.

7. "Let me just say that I have never knowingly violated the rules of ethics of this body. I would never break any rule of this House that I was aware of. I didn't know stealing was illegal if you were a congressman. I think my record is clear on this."

8. "I want to be frank and honest with you. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't do it that way. If we all had 20-20 hindsight, we would do things differently." The last resort is the resignation statement, used when it becomes obvious the representative will either be run out of office or indicted.

9. "I have decided that, in the interest of this great deliberative body which I love and, without in any way admitting my guilt in these matters, I will not put it through the pain of any further investigation."

10. "I have decided that I will resign to spend more time with my family.

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