So many of those calling for Burris’ resignation claim to respect him and consider him a friend. They cite his distinguished career. He is often described simply, but meaningfully, as “a good man.” Are we to conclude from this that the U.S. Senate is no place for “a good man?”
More specifically, all the jawboning and editorializing in the world cannot force the resignation. Only the U.S. Senate can expel a member, and it is more than likely that the collegial Upper Chamber lacks the authority or resolve to take such action in this case.
There are two major reasons that Burris should not resign. First, he has done nothing that warrants his stepping down. Yes, there have been inconsistencies in his testimonies and affidavits – nothing, according to prosecutors, that rises to the level of perjury. Despite media smears that have label Burris an egregious liar, his inconsistencies are not too far outside the range of anyone being asked questions in different ways on different occasions -- and certainly nothing near the level of prevarication by those who now smugly demand his ouster. Unfortunately, such hypocrisy is pandemic in politics.
The second reason is that Burris needs to complete his current term to have any chance to reclaim his hitherto pristine reputation as public official. For some 30 years, Burris was praised by the political, civic and business communities as an outstanding public servant and honorable man – never even a hint of scandal (quite and accomplishment in Illinois). But even that history has been twisted, distorted and re-written by press and politicians to further demonize him. Once known for his friendly manner, accessibility and humility, Burrs is now labeled an arrogant hack.
If he were to resign today, he would slip into the shadow of public attention as the press created caricature. He would leave the public stage with the unfounded accusations of his detractors as his legacy.
Some say that the controversy leaves him powerless to perform his duties. How so? He still has all the powers of his office, his intellect and his skills. He can and will wheel and deal with the best of them. His colleagues are not likely to shun him for the benefit of the home town lynch mob – especially since they need his vote to stay close to that veto proof number and he still has the distinction and advantage of being the Senate’s token African American.
Once it is obvious that he will not resign, I suspect the media will cool down and shift lens and pens to some new political reality show – new indictments, new scandals, new investigations, the trial of Rod Blagojevich (or maybe just the antics of Rod Blagojevich). This will give Burris an opportunity to settle in as a hard working Senator for another 18 months – and longer if the public suddenly finds their incited anger turning to a sense of guilt.
People in the public eye are often advised to step down at the peak of the career to lock in their future reputation. Conversely, it is not advisable to step down at the nadir.