Adam Kinzinger showcases a serious flaw in modern American society
The appearance of former Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger on CNN as a "senior political commentator" so soon after leaving office calls for a moment to reflect on the idea of retired members of Congress — indeed, of any high ranking government official — using the visibility from their taxpayer-funded public service for gain in the private sector.
While Adam Kinzinger is not the first to do so — nor will he be the last — it is the speed of his transition that calls into question what occurred. Several times a guest on CNN the past two years, he is now a paid CNN political contributor mere days, almost hours, after his term in Congress ended, having been a member of the House for over a decade.
The whole idea of a retired member of Congress using the recognition of his public service for gain in the private sector calls to mind an anecdote about General George C. Marshall, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. When offered a large sum of money to write his memoirs after World War II, Marshall famously replied that he had not spent his life serving the government in order to sell his life story to the Saturday Evening Post, then one of that era's favored publications of the nation's political class. Marshall would remain firm in declining to write his memoirs, telling some publishers that if he wrote his memoirs, he would have to tell all the truth, and that would hurt too many people.
Marshall well understood that he was paid by the American public, and the fruits of his labor, including his celebrity, belonged to the taxpayer. He also knew how valuable his objective, unbeholden judgment and views might be for future national decisions regarding the U.S. in the post–World War II global security environment.
The same remains true today. While former members of Congress (or high-ranking government officials) appearing on cable news shows or being quoted in the media are now ubiquitous, their opinions and views — no matter how seemingly persuasive or insightful — should always engender a healthy skepticism. What is their honest counsel and what is a commercial? Where do their loyalties lie? Who is paying them? What are their motivations?
Their messages convey like infomercials, while the objectivity and sincerity of their views and advice becomes suspect. For today's audiences, those former members of Congress sacrifice some measure of a hopefully acquired stature as an elected official charged with decision-making for wise governance and the "common and greater good" of society when they act more like Patrick Mahomes shilling for State Farm Insurance.
This regrettably may be even more a reason to be further suspect — and wary — of Adam Kinzinger's on-air political analysis and editorializing. Elected as a Republican early in his career, he (as we've watched) spent the past two years as one of two Republicans serving on the decidedly one-sided and partisan January 6th Committee. As one observer described him, "he's one of those Republican buts." He says everything that Democrats do but starts it with "Look, I'm a Republican, but," which provides him the modicum of cover needed to "present himself as this brave, principled person." Plus his chosen venue — CNN — is predisposed to its own brand of political programming that does not lend itself to objectivity, real inquiry, or earnest debate that puts forth opposing views.
But to all that, he declared, "It's great to be on the team" to CNN's Erin Burnett on day one. "I'm excited." So whose "team" does he now represent, and how is a viewer to process what he says?
The new Congress is being asked to consider a legislative agenda that will determine the direction of the nation on monumental issues ranging from immigration to inflation, crime, energy, Ukraine, education, and more. The battle over these issues will come from two very different — and opposing — visions for the role, purpose, and actions of government. An intellectual "war of ideas" is set to play out in coming months on Capitol Hill.
For the public discourse that will inevitably occur over those critical public and foreign policy decisions the Congress will make, the need is not for more former members of Congress or government to become paid media pundits like Adam Kinzinger. What the nation urgently needs is more George C. Marshalls.
Colonel Chris J. Krisinger, USAF (ret.) is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and served in policy advisory positions at the Pentagon and twice at the Department of State. He was also a National Defense Fellow at Harvard University.
NOTE: For more information on General George C. Marshall, see the website for the George C. Marshall Foundation.
Image: Adam Kinzinger. Credit: Hudson Institute via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.