Seven years ago, Aaron Schock was positively chipper. At 27 years old, he was the youngest representative elected to Congress — and the first congressman born in the 1980s. He wore pastel ties and overused the word “like.” He facebooked. The wunderkind looked and sounded Millennial.
In a 2012 interview with GQ, which loved him not for his politics but for his suavity and his abs — pictures of a shirtless Kid Schock circulated widely — he was asked what the GOP had to do to get ahead.
“The party needs to modernize, not moderate,” said Schock. “While we can’t take Democratic-lite principles, we must broaden our coalition to include young voters, women, Hispanics, and African-Americans. This election has proved the GOP can’t just be the party of old white people.”
Even in his early years in office, Schock was counted among the first Republican voices talking seriously about immigration reform. His hometown newspaper — a town with a liberal majority — noted after his first term in Congress that he voted with Obama Democrats more than a third of the time.
It was clear to anyone watching Illinois politics that, on top of the corruption and the hard-biting “diplomacy” of Rahm Emanuel, Schock was going to be among the headliners.
It’s not surprising, really.
The kid opened his own IRA at 14 and bought 110 acres of property — to be used for “gravel mining” — by the end of high school. Then, disgruntled with the happenings of the educational boardroom, he ran for school-board at 19, and though he was muscled out of the main draw, he ended up unseating the incumbent thanks to a write-campaign. Of the seven members of the board, five of the others were at least fifty years old.
And he kept elevating.
Illinois state representative at 23. U.S. Congressman at 27. He won his first two statewide campaigns, in 2008 and 2010, with 59 percent of the vote. In 2012 and 2014, he fought off all comers even more handily, winning with more than 70 percent of the vote.
All charm, all poise, if lacking a little of the typical political polish. He was a mannequin come to life, sophisticated in approach, a winner. And, despite his boyishness, he practiced old-school conservatism — the pro-life, defense-of-marriage kind — while hustling for more bipartisan compromise on issues like immigration and taxes for the rich.
With a name like Schock, a title that leaves the bloggers giddy and the puns flying like balloons from the rafters, the whiz kid just rose and rose. He set trends.
He also, to his eternal discredit, followed a few too many trends than proved healthy, including the deadly monomania of social media. It is only natural. Facebookers and Snapchatters are his ilk. And his undoing.
Amid the enormity and glamor of his ascension, he turned too much of it into spectacle. The Bears game and Katy Perry concert on the taxpayer dime; the meals and the rides; the expensive fundraising — it cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to organize security for a private donor shindig; and the travel. Too much was posted too publicly. The world, the adoring fans and the ferocious muckrakers were bound to notice. And clearly, he wasn’t hiding it well.
It was due to the concerningly frequent appearance of photos from far-flung — and flashy — places on Schock’s own Instagram that the initial alarm about his irresponsible spending and general audacity was raised.
During his crazy rise on Capitol Hill, Schock reminisced about his teenage years making more money than any boy of that age should be accustomed to: “I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve always enjoyed the private sector and the free market. So what really drives me to public service is trying to improve people’s lives… and to create an opportunity where people’s energies and their risks are rewarded.”
And as Harvard Business School and any good entrepreneur will tell you, one of the first keys of good business is exactly this: Use other people’s money.
The problem was — and is — the Sensational Mr. Schock used too much money that wasn’t his for too many things the taxpayers didn’t think he needed. It doesn’t take a polymath to know sold-out tickets to a gaudy pop concert are going to be too expensive for the public coffer to stomach. And, gifted child that he is, our phenom simply didn’t do the math — or ignored it.
The nail in the coffin, apparently, came from the odometer of his precious Chevy, for which he billed the federal government for about 170,000 miles over the last four years. How many miles did the Tahoe actually log? A mere 80,000. That’s a lot of non-miles to get paid for, and it’s another of those pesky, lesser-known rules of business that Schock seems to have misremembered: Know the numbers.
And now, in the aftermath, the stud of the Hill and the star of Illinois has resigned, due to leave office at the end of the month. To what end? More politics? More entrepreneurship? Punditry? Who knows?
But he will almost certainly be fine.
Because this is American politics, where it takes a lot of scandal or a lot of public will to ruin you. Because he still has the mastermind magnetism, the chemistry of young, attractive wonks. And because he didn’t get far enough along in his spending spree — probably — to end up in prison like so many other corrupt Illinois politicians. If that stays true, he can consider himself fortunate.
Soon after Schock was first elected to the national stage in 2008, he was interviewed by Chicago Magazine. Like any good, young, inexperienced idealist, he was looking toward the future. It was one of the sources of his allurement, and his naivete.
“Coming into Congress at 27 years old, I’m not concerned about these programs for the next decade; I’m concerned about them for the next generation. I hope that they’re there when I’m ready to retire.”
He didn’t imagine retiring after barely six years.
“Things could change,” he said. “In politics, you never know who’s going to die, retire, or — in Illinois — get indicted.”
Indeed, Aaron Schock. Indeed.