We have clear founding principles in America. We adhere to a belief of equality of opportunity, equal representation under the law and freedom of choice. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or so the story in natural form is told.
These beliefs are universal. Even the most ardent, rational American critic struggles to argue against our principles in their purest form. Most of our civil struggles over the last two centuries have not been clashes over the contents of our foundational beliefs. They’ve been clashes over who is included in them.
For the last 50 years or so, we declared that all were included. There are no racial or religious tests. There are no gender requirements. Not according to the law.
The debate has since shifted from who to include legally, to what extent the law should insist on it culturally or economically. Though we’re divided and politically stressed, our baseline principles are still not broadly debated.
Our government serves a singular purpose:
To ensure that our institutions and those who serve in them are bound by a rule of law that supports those principles. And that those selected are qualified and not passed down through patrimonial edict. And that the accountable action individuals are responsible for is in service to the American people.
Though that service may come with privilege, privilege isn’t the point. The point is accountability. It is the foundation of our rule of law.
If that description sounds idealistic and even a bit naive, it’s worth noting that there’s a term for the distance between those high principles and what we’re willing to tolerate as an enfranchised people. That term is political decay.
It takes a long time to establish a rule of law. Far less to erode it.
There is perhaps, no clearer instance in modern American politics of decay, than the campaign of California’s 50th District Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Congressman Hunter was elected to office in a neighboring district to where I live in San Diego County in 2008 at the age of 31. His father, also Duncan Hunter, held the seat in some form through redistricting from 1981 until his retirement in 2008 when his son ran, with his endorsement. From the time Duncan Hunter was four years old until today, Duncan Duane Hunter or his father Duncan Lee Hunter has represented his district in the United States House of Representatives.
At 31, Hunter’s lone qualification to serve as a Congressman was his three deployments as a Marine Corps officer during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. And while those three deployments are not to be taken lightly, I made three myself at nearly the same time to some of the same places, alone they don’t represent a unique qualification.
At 31, with a similar background, I shouldn’t have been a congressmen either. This is San Diego County. Three deployment junior officers aren’t a rarity. It’s reasonable to say that Duncan Hunter was elected to Congress because he was Duncan Hunter’s son. And quite unreasonable to say otherwise.
In America, from time to time, we accept some level of nepotism. From the Kennedys and the Bushes, all the way back to the Adams, there is precedence. Alone, it doesn’t represent material decay. It matters what these beneficiaries do, while in office.
A 48-page indictment from a federal grand jury in San Diego county alleges that Hunter and his wife illegally used a quarter of a million dollars of official campaign funds on personal expenses as early as 2009, Hunter’s first year in congress. And though it is important to point out that Hunter has not yet been convicted, the detail in the accounts, which include vacations, clothing, household utilities, dental work and other day to day expenses, are either a detailed fabrication of a sitting congressmen that would be easy to disprove and counter with legal action in response, or there’s some truth to them. There’s enough there to believe that it’s not likely just a big misunderstanding.
It appears as though some of the cover up includes attempts to claim money was for veteran’s charities. Hunter’s initial response was to at least appear to blame his wife.
“She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. … She was also the campaign manager. Whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.”
There was a small part of me, based on the similarity of background and experiences and even the commonality of expenses and vendors, that almost made me feel a twinge of empathy for Congressman Hunter. That was until a Duncan Hunter political ad interrupted my playoff baseball viewing last week with one of the most bush league political chicken sh*! productions I’ve seen in a long time.
Hunter, who inherited a congressional seat, allegedly stole from campaign funds, tried to cover it up by claiming they were charity donations, blamed his wife for it, and refused to hand over his nomination to a credible conservative less likely to be convicted during his next term, completed the political decay decathlon with a common enemy, jingoistic identity politics embarrassment.
A hundred years from now, they’ll be studying it like they do Tammanny Hall cartoons in Poly Sci 101.
Hunter’s opponent, Amma Campa-Najar is an American Citizen, born in San Diego County of Hispanic and Palestinian descent. He is a Christian who says he found his faith while working as a janitor at my church, where I found my faith too. He is also the grandson of a known Palestinian terrorist who participated in planning the Munich attacks in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed.
Campa-Najar was born 16 years after his grandfather died. He lived for three years in Palestine from 9 to 12 years old. He has denounced his Grandfather and condemned any acts of terrorism. He served on the Obama campaign and in the Obama White House.
All of this is fair and even useful information to know about a congressional candidate.
Hunter’s ad took a different tact beyond shedding light on his opponent’s background though. It claimed that Campa-Najar’s candidacy is proof that Muslim terrorists are trying to infiltrate congress. He then signed off with a picture of himself in his Marine Corps combat fatigues, supporting the message.
In a 30 second spot, the ad took the American principles at the foundation of our rule of law and burned them to the ground: A man’s father matters more than his ability. His religion is a test of qualification. And the American government is tasked with benefiting it’s elected members at the expense of their constituency.
Duncan Hunter’s candidacy is the least American thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. And it’s been getting pretty un-American in Washington for a bit now.
District 50 may elect Hunter anyway. He might be going to jail anyway. But take the lesson with you. It travels. Try to judge your candidates better in the future. We need some conservatives from California. And this doesn’t help. A familiar name and some war deployments are on every corner here.
You can do better…
I’m Sean Patrick Hughes. veteran, husband father, and San Diego County resident who raised a hand and swore and oath to the principles Duncan Hunter is destroying in his own interests.
And I’m not running for congress in District 50.
Not yet at least…