Every employer makes determinations about people. Should I hire this person or that one – or hold off hiring anyone and try to redistribute the job’s responsibilities to those already on staff – or should I just do it myself? These are real questions that real business people face regularly.
The process is, by its nature, essentially discriminatory. We might require a Master’s degree which discriminates against those who are high school dropouts. We might believe the job requires at least five years of related work experience – which discriminates against those who are freshly graduated. This sort of discrimination is allowed by Federal law because it focuses on what are called BFOQ’s (Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications).
On the other hand, discriminating against applicants on the basis of gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or Vietnam War status is a prohibited practice and a violation of that same law. That is because we believe these attributes have no bearing on whether a person will be able to perform his or her job duties.
These are the rules which regulate privately-owned businesses, from IBM to the little mom and pop diner. They are also the rules that clog our system with law suits brought on behalf of those who think they have been victims of illegal discrimination – much to the benefit of trial lawyers who specialize in these sort of suits. Having said that, there is a need to oversee the activities of short-sighted employers who harbor prejudices, whatever the form that it takes.
But when it comes to those who serve in Congress, there are only two requirements, which are that they conform to the eligibility requirements set forth in the Constitution and that they receive a plurality of votes from those who live in their district or state. Sadly, that may not be enough.
A person of conscience should, as in the case of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, realize that her physical health, as a result of being shot, was insufficient to allow her to discharge her duties to her constituents. She resigned her office. I applaud her for her courage in putting those she represents first and herself second. That is an attribute of a stateswoman and I hope she experiences a complete recovery.
The House of Representatives has procedures for censuring those who are charged and convicted of ethical violations. I am not sure if the procedure allows for a convicted congressman’s expulsion – or if that is left to the voters in his district at the next election.
But what happens in the case of a congressman who is physically impaired – as was Congresswoman Giffords, or mentally so. To the best of my knowledge, there is no procedure other than the way in which that congressman wishes to handle the issue.
The reason I bring up this matter is the physical and mental condition of Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. who has been on a “leave of absence” since May and is currently being treated for depression and bi-polar disorder at the Mayo Clinic. I am particularly interested in this situation because I lived in the Congressional District from which Rep. Jackson was first elected in 1994.
By way of context, remember Presidential-candidate Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 effort to attain the White House. Sen. Thomas Eagleton was his original choice for Vice-President but was dropped from the ticket when it was revealed that he suffered from depression.
Let me say that I wish Rep. Jackson every good wish for a complete and full recovery. I don’t know enough about these conditions to know if that is a possibility. I certainly hope it is.
But until that occurs, I would call on him to be a statesman and resign his office in the interest of allowing someone who is, at this time, better physically and mentally able to represent his constituents.
America faces serious challenges – the most serious I remember during my lifetime. We need everyone in every elected office to be a person who is healthy both physically and especially mentally in order to address these challenges.
No one but those who are running for election truly knows if he meets that standard – or if they are unfit to serve.