Why are some Congress members so clueless? 

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s airplane embarrassment falls into the category of “what was he or she thinking?” If you’ve missed her latest faux pas, allow me to fill you in. The first-term Democrat from Missouri (a state that seems to flip-flop effortlessly from Democratic to Republican) has likely cost herself re-election.

McCaskill charged federal taxpayers $88,000 for campaign travel on a private jet owned, as it turns out, by her husband, businessman Joseph Shepard, and other investors. While not illegal, that’s an unseemly amount for a politician to spend on a private jet. It’s all the more so if one’s spouse and his business partners benefit from those taxpayer dollars — and it’s especially ill-timed, considering McCaskill’s constituents, largely blue collar, are suffering through a lagging economic recovery.

But misuse of taxpayer funds was just one of two self-created problems for McCaskill. The jet’s owners, it turns out, were four years in arrears on paying local property taxes, to the tune of $287,000. McCaskill hastily reimbursed both accounts and told reporters, according to The Hill congressional newspaper, “I’m disappointed in myself that this mistake was made, but I have done an awful lot on accountability and transparency.”

McCaskill was referring to the fact that she campaigned on “accountability and transparency” as a former state auditor and narrowly won election on a promise to voters that she would act reliably and responsibly in her financial dealings.

She is hardly the only member of Congress to commit stupidity. As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

McCaskill is just the most recent in a long line of members whose actions make normal people wonder, “What was she or he thinking?” Just last month, Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., abruptly resigned after posting a photo on Craigslist of himself admiring his own shirtless upper body. Lee, who is married, did so while trying to capture the attention of a woman who had posted a personal ad. What was he thinking?

Then there’s Sen. John Ensign. The Nevada Republican announced this month that he wouldn’t seek a third term. He’s the subject of an ongoing Senate Ethics Committee investigation into an alleged lobbying violation, linked to his affair with a campaign staffer whose husband conveniently worked as one of his top aides.

Ensign admitted to the affair in 2009, after confiding in other lawmakers in a Christian prayer group. A married Christian senator having an affair with a staffer? What was he thinking?

The list of Congressional personal and financial scandals goes on and on.

Dierks Bentley’s country song — “What Was I Thinking?” — was playing on the radio the other day. Its lyrics describe a torrid affair between a beautiful young woman and her boyfriend, who does lots of inexplicable things for a “long kiss” and similar rewards. He outruns her tough-guy father, the police and all manner of obstacles. Its refrain: “I know what I was feelin’, but what was I thinking?”

Perhaps that should be recited as part of the congressional swearing-in ceremony.

Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes a column for Scripps Howard News Service.

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Bonnie Erbe

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