Most of the time I respect and admire House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and feel contempt for would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy. On issue after issue, I’m with Nancy and I’m against Kevin. Even as I write this on Thursday morning, Kevin McCarthy is issuing arrogant and defiant declarations about the Jan. 6th Select Committee, with which he refuses to cooperate. He flip-flops and gaslights and enables the Big Lie.
Pelosi is not perfect and her politics is to the left of mine, but she is an able and honorable leader, pragmatic and strategic, who has been – even to her caucus critics – a formidable figure. I respect her enormously. Further, I think she cares about ethics and the reputation of Congress; I’m not sure that McCarthy really does.
But on one ethics issue that has come to the fore this week, Nancy is wrong and Kevin is at least leaning in the right direction, if his rhetoric is to be believed. What’s the issue? It’s the matter of members of Congress retaining the ability to buy and sell individual stocks. I have long been a proponent of a ban on such trading for a host of obvious reasons, going back to when I was myself a mere staffer in the U.S. Senate and found owning even a few shares of individual stocks to be morally compromising and reputationally dubious. Members of Congress are privy to all manner of non-public information, relating to individual companies to entire industries; are briefed on intelligence matters and defense strategies and even pandemic outcomes. Each of these presents opportunities for unfair gain or the avoidance of loss. The papers have been full of such clouds of controversy over the heads of a number of members. Even if no formal law, like the STOCK Act, can be proven to have been broken, the public perception of stench is real and rotten.