From a Comfortable Man
Jim Traficant was elected to Congress in 1984 for the first time. He was the proverbial “man of the people.” He had been sheriff of Mahoning County in Ohio and, at one point, many of his constituents, a lot of them steelworkers, were facing eviction because they were out of work and couldn’t pay their rents and mortgages and Traficant, as sheriff, refused to evict them. And Traficant ended up in court and was sent to jail briefly for refusing to enforce the court-ordered evictions.
This is the kind of populist, a man of the people, Traficant really was, from the beginning. He had been a former drug counselor, very community-oriented. Earlier, he had been a popular football player at the University of Pittsburgh. Then when elected to Congress, he proved to continue to be very popular among his constituents.
Early on it became apparent that he was very different from most members of Congress. He began speaking out on a lot of issues that nobody — absolutely nobody — else would touch. He was very critical of the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI and the Justice Department. That was almost a guarantee of getting him in trouble.
There have been a lot of documented cases of the IRS and the FBI and the Justice Department targeting their critics and other people for political reasons. Democrats and Repub1icans — liberals and conservatives — have been targeted. Whole books have been written about this phenomenon. So here came no-nonsense Jim Traficant to Congress, standing up on the floor of the House of Representatives talking about these things.
Traficant was also raising questions about the fact — one that most people were ignoring — that the United States border with Mexico was virtually open, unguarded for all intents and purposes, the best efforts of the good people in * the U.S. Border Patrol notwithstanding. [*Pg 14] He pointed out that we had troops all over the globe — in Korea, the Middle East, in Europe — policing the world, but illegal aliens were pouring across the Mexican border.
In those days — long before the 9-11 terrorist tragedy — Traficant was standing (virtually alone) talking about the possible dangers of terrorists crossing those unguarded borders. And what about those millions of illegal aliens who were coming into the country, consuming taxpayer resources? People criticized Traficant for daring to talk openly about all of this and more.
Traficant also dared to raise questions about all-out U.S. support for Israel at the expense of friendly relations with the oil-rich Arab states that were eager to have good relationships, politically and economically, with the United States. Traficant pointed out, and rightly so, that the United States was giving billions of dollars on an annual basis to Israel in the company of foreign policy measures that were inimical to the Arab world in general and most notably devastating to the Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
So this too created political problems for Traficant with the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington and with its various adjunct organizations in Traficant’s home district and around the state of Ohio (where the Jewish community is particularly influential), not to mention across the United States as a whole.
On top of all this, the trade issue was a major concern for Traficant. He was concerned about the fact that a lot of the steelworkers in his district were losing their jobs as the steel mills in this country began relocating overseas.
Traficant was very critical of trade policies being carried out by both Democratic and Republican administrations. He was very critical of President Ronald Reagan for, as he put it, turning the United States over to Japan, and, of course, as soon as Reagan left office in 1989, he (Reagan) made a visit * to Japan where he received millions of dollars in speaking fees from the Japanese, who said that he was the best American friend the Japanese ever had. [*Pg 15] So these trade policies that were harmful to American workers became a frequent target of Traficant’s rhetoric.
Traficant’s criticisms of the IRS led to his introduction of legislation to curtail IRS enforcement powers in order to give Americans more rights in their dealings with the IRS. He likewise worked to rein in the Justice Department and the FBI. He was very much concerned about the development of a federal police state apparatus in this country, a concern that is all the more notable because he was a career law enforcement man himself.
Traficant was raising a lot of uncomfortable questions about a lot of uncomfortable issues. And he was comfortable in doing would no other member of Congress would. In some respects, then, it was almost inevitable that the powers-that-be — particularly “certain” powers-that-be — would launch a drive to destroy Jim Traficant and put him in prison, putting an end to the career of an honest congressman whose only real “crime” was to speak the truth and to speak it loudly and proudly.