There's so much to dislike about Rep. Lee Zeldin, the conservative Republican congressman from New York's CD1, who "represents" me in the House of Representatives. He's my congressman, but he certainly doesn't represent my views.
One distasteful trait is his fawning Trumpishness, most recently displayed in a photo on his Facebook page: himself, the "president," and a folded flag. Then there are the two former denizens of the current White House, headlining a Zeldin fund-raiser in Smithtown. Zeldin would argue that he has pushed back occasionally against the current occupant of the Oval Office. But on balance, he's totally on board with this "president."
Then there's his voting record. In his current term, to cite just two examples, he has cast a vote that allowed people to hunt hibernating bears and one that did away with a rule protecting streams from the debris of mountaintop-removal coal mining—without really understanding either issue. Now, another awful vote: a yea on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, which imposes new work requirements on food stamp recipients. In this Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne explains why that bill is so heartless. The final vote was 213-211. So Zeldin's vote really meant something. Oh, and by the way, do you think there are any poor people in Zeldin's district, including its heartland, Mastic-Shirley? The bill was so bad that even Pete King voted nay.
Then there's Sen. AWOL, Tom Croci.
Twice now, Croci has gone AWOL, leaving behind an elected office and the people who elected him, in order to be reunited with his first love, the United States Navy. In the first case, he was serving as supervisor of the Town of Islip, but took a leave from that job to return to active duty in Afghanistan. While he was away, the news broke that someone had been illegally dumping toxic materials in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, which had to be closed for three years during the cleanup.
The question is: Did Croci tap the Navy on the shoulder and ask for active duty, or did the Navy reach out to him? Will Van Sant of Newsday dug into that issue with this excellent article. You can read it and decide for yourself, but to me, it looks as if Croci just wanted to get out of town. Why? Was it political squabbles? Did he know something about the toxic dumping before the story broke? (Lower-level town officials, it turned out, had been warned.) Or was it simply that his longing to be in uniform outweighed his duty to the people of Islip? Unclear. But this much is crystal clear: Croci's time in Afghanistan did not bring that endless war to a conclusion. It went on without him, went on with him, then continued when he returned to Islip.
One thing Croci should have learned from the military is this axiom: The commander is responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do. As the "commander" of Islip, one can argue, he was responsible for the dumping that took place on his watch. But when the news of the scandal broke in May 2014, Croci was on active duty, on the other side of the pond. The scandal didn't help the candidate the Republicans chose to run for the Senate seat that Zeldin held before running for Congress. Councilman Anthony Senft served as the town council's liaison to the parks department. Oops! The whiff of the dumping ultimately led Senft to drop out. Croci, who was AWOL from the town when the scandal broke, came home from not ending the war, just in time to run in Senft's place and win a Senate seat.
As if going AWOL from one job were not sufficient, Croci helped tie the New York State Senate in knots by disappearing at the end of this session, the worst possible time, in order to return to active duty—again. What are the chances that his latest tour of duty will be any more successful at ending the war than his last one was? Slim? Infinitesimal? None?
Zeldin and Croci—and Senft, for that matter—have something in common: They can lay legitimate claim to being a military veteran. And Zeldin was not shy about spreading "Vote for a Vet" signs around his district during his last campaign. But their time in politics is evidence that being a veteran, all by itself, does not guarantee that someone will do the right thing in office.
Other veterans who spring to mind are Lee Harvey Oswald (presidential assassin), Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City bomber), Jeffrey Dahmer (serial-killing cannibal), Benedict Arnold (traitor). And the list goes on. No, I'm not saying that either Zeldin or Croci has been even remotely as heinous as that parade of horribles. I simply argue that, when a candidate seems to be claiming that his or her time in the military should be a golden ticket to public office, voters should ask: "Fine. But what else do you have to offer?" In the case of Zeldin and Croci, not much.
First in my class in Officer Candidate School. Late to the conclusion that our attitude toward the military is idolatrous.