Sunday, June 06, 2010

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Candidates and trust

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Candidates and trust
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
June 6, 2010,0,1688954.story

The current junior U.S. senator from Illinois, Roland Burris, lied his way into the job. He has given five different versions — three of them sworn — about his lobbying for the appointment during the fading days of Rod Blagojevich's governorship. Burris won't be on the Nov. 2 ballot, but his conduct is enough to make Illinoisans think thrice about the truthfulness of his successor.

And truthfulness is, for the moment, the overarching issue in the tussle over whose fanny next occupies this seat. Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias are asking for the trust of voters by the millions.

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Kirk on Thursday took responsibility for a series of misstatements that had made his certifiably stellar military career appear more stellar than the facts support. He spoke for an hour to the Tribune editorial board — and called back later to volunteer that during the interview he had displayed too much defensiveness, and too little candor. Before our eyes, he had tried to writhe away from questions about whether he repeatedly had embellished his service record. Not until his subsequent phone call did he say in plain English that the simple answer to those questions is Yes.

Why had he stretched the already admirable truth? We don't know the motive. Taken together, though, Kirk's misstatements demonstrate how deeply he had succumbed to the I-must-sell-myself temptations of politics, elevating the importance of what "I" accomplished in the military. Most veterans instead speak of what "we" won or lost. There is no Army — or in Kirk's case, Navy — of One.

Kirk's reluctant acknowledgement of his errors has been maddening but also saddening. For a decade this page has respected naval intelligence officer Kirk and Congressman Kirk. Thus the dilemma: What are we — what are all the voters of Illinois — now to make of candidate Kirk? He has weakened one of the most compelling arguments for electing him to the Senate.


There is uncomfortable context here: Kirk did his acknowledging and apologizing Thursday from the same chair Giannoulias occupied March 3 when he was trying to quell the public relations storm over the pending failure of his family's bank and its loans to unsavory characters.

We'll stick with the verdict we rendered in a March 4 editorial:

The broad extent of all that Giannoulias says he didn't know about the bank's dealings remains the most unsatisfying theme of that interview and of his campaign for the Senate. When the family bank was flying high and Giannoulias had his eye on the state treasurer's office, he was the senior loan officer. But when the tough decisions were being made or the questionable characters came to call, it was almost always Alexi's day to empty the wastebaskets.

Voters have almost five months to decide where they will invest their trust. Every Senate seat matters, so campaign money is sure to gullywash into Illinois. The television ads will be brutal. We don't predict much in politics, but: It's our guess that you have not heard the last of Mark Kirk's exaggerated military record or the Giannoulias family's failed Broadway Bank.

For us, the disclosures of Mark Kirk's career inflation are not excusable. For military families in particular, this is serious. Neither, though, are his offenses a reason to discount his service or to declare him unfit for the Senate. Kirk made arrogant errors and now he has apologized. He may not go one day between now and Nov. 2 without having to offer his personal regrets to the people of Illinois.

Because of that testing exercise, we voters will come to know more about Mark Kirk — and, owing to similar public scrutiny, about Alexi Giannoulias — than we do today. Their images and their voices will be everywhere we look and listen, proclaiming themselves worthy of our trust. They will talk to us about how they've described themselves to us in the past, and perhaps about what they should have said differently.

And maybe they'll even convince us.

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