"No good deed goes unpunished."
Jacob Ostreicher, the businessman from New York who has been wrongfully held in the hell-hole that is Santa Cruz Bolivia’s ‘Palmasola Prison’ for a year and a half without charges, was finally released. He had been held by a cabal of corrupt officers of the Bolivian court who were extorting him, and is free on bail.
The Bolivian government launched an investigation into prosecutorial corruption as a result of the Ostreicher case, and seven of Jacob’s prosecutors have been arrested for accused corruption. Jacob will now be living in Bolivia for the near future while those who extorted him are investigated, and his case is finally resolved.
Several people have championed Jacob’s case, and nearly all at their own personal cost. It is a tragic truth that advocating for the innocent carries with it personal consequences. Sean Penn was the latest to experience this. Penn is a widely criticized ‘progressive’ actor, who put his friendship and influence with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at risk by publicly demanding Ostreicher’s release. Long ago, evidence existed that Jacob was completely innocent, but I believe that it was Penn’s insistence that Ostreicher’s case be dealt with by the heads of state that broke the logjam and ultimately was the final act that resulted in Jacob’s freedom. Regardless of whether you agree with Penn’s activism, politics, or even his friendships, it would be disingenuous to deny that he risked personal capital for Jacob’s freedom. I personally want to thank him for that.
Before Penn, however, Jacob had an unlikely ally. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican U.S. Congressman from New Jersey, aggressively took on Jacob’s case. He was also in Bolivia last week demanding Jacob's release--though the U.S. press largely ignored it. Ostreicher is not a constituent of Smith. Smith is not Jewish, Jacob is. Jacob’s case was not famous or trendy. Jacob’s case does not make the cover (inside) of “People” magazine. There was no political capital to be gained. In short, Congressman Smith took on the case because it was the right thing to do, not because it was politically helpful to him. In fact, now it has cost him.
You see, Congressman Smith might be a leader, a tremendous legislator, a protector of his constituents and of the powerless, and an honorable elected official, but as a ‘politician,’ he stinks.
A Republican politician would know that co-sponsoring an amendment to renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would infuriate his colleagues and cost him in support of the house leadership. But whether or not you agree with him or not, he was following his conscience, not counting votes. A congressional politician would realize that serving as co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force, Coalition for Autism Research and the Spina Bifida Caucus might help a few people in need, but those organizations matter to a relatively few people, would take much valuable time and not gain him political favors.
Congressman Smith’s staunch conscience-directed fight for the rights of the unborn and against abortion likely won him points with his party. But he didn’t do it for points. If he had, he wouldn’t at the same time (again, due to his belief in the sanctity of life) fight against the death penalty.
He wouldn’t have spent so much time writing his three landmark bills to fight Human Trafficking and provide help and rehabilitation for the victims of this obscene crime. Because when he started his fight, Human Trafficking wasn’t really a high-visibility cause. A good politician would learn that there is great risk, but no money or votes in personally calling the Prime Minister of Montenegro to allege that girls were being held as sex slaves in a brothel in his country. The fact that the Prime Minister had the brothel raided and the girls freed did not make news in America. It helped Representative Smith not one iota.
This is the only kind of politician who would have taken up the case of Jacob Ostreicher, a conservative Jew from Brooklyn, held captive on false charges in a country thousands of miles from home: A politician so deaf to the siren-song call of votes and election contributions that he barges ahead anyway. What was he thinking? One wonders how Congressman Smith has maintained his elected seat for 22 years now.
And now, inevitably, it has cost him. Rep. Smith is currently the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, part of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. When the chairmanship of the overall House Committee on Foreign Affairs came open, Smith was the obvious, most senior choice. But he didn’t get the job.
Why? According to the Newark Star-Ledger:
“The far more politically involved Ed Royce of California — far below Smith in seniority — outmaneuvered his colleague and will assume the chairmanship in January. Smith actively sought the role, telling reporters last month the opening provided an “awesome opportunity to discuss my experience, passion and vision for the committee.”
The journalists were not surprised. “Smith,” they said, “Never a favorite of party leaders, has focused on constituent services and human rights rather than on inside politics and raising money for fellow Republicans.” A classic story; too much time on human rights and not enough time on ‘inside politics.’ What was he thinking?
Certainly, he should have known what was coming. Representative Smith was removed in 2005 as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom Delay, Why? For insisting that more be spent on veterans’ programs.
It makes you wonder how some people get elected to congress.