By Alex Behzade
Politics is often a zero sum game. We as political operatives and partisans often put our blinders on, defending our friends for conduct we would excoriate our enemies for. This is fair. This is perfectly explained by the tribal nature of human beings. In most cases, this is harmless.
However, a disturbing trend has emerged in the decades after Republican leaders approached Richard Nixon in the White House to request that he resign or be impeached (regardless of the merits of the scandals that toppled Nixon, this showed their honor). It has infected not one but both political parties, parties that never hesitated to call the other out for such actions – take Nancy Pelosi denouncing adulterous Republican Congressmen in 2006 or giddy conservatives mocking and shaming Democrat Anthony Weiner for his indiscretions. Instead of either taking stands on principle to condemn the action of your supposed comrade in arms or at the very least defend them in spite of the attack, we see many on both sides seek to excuse the very dishonest and vile conduct they would pillory the opposition for.
Two prominent examples stand out in the past two decades. Democrats stood behind President Bill Clinton in the wake of the Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinski scandals. Prominent Democrat after prominent Democrat announced it was “Just about sex” and that it was a nothingburger, while others turned their fire on Republicans. Feminist commentator Nina Burliegh famously said: “I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”
Meanwhile in the lead up to the 2016 Presidential election, dozens of Republican officials defended and excused boorish behavior by Donald Trump that rose in some cases to apparent sexual assault. Some dismissed it as “locker room talk,” some questioned the veracity of the allegations, while Jerry Falwell Jr. went as far to say he’d still vote Trump if Trump was proven to commit a sexual assault because “We’re voting for a President, not a pastor.”
All of this deserves condemnation from both sides, but how can we truly condemn both the vile behavior and the excusing of such vile behavior if we do not understand what makes integrity such a vital aspect of our vetting of prospective candidates. And that is the question. Do Burleigh and Falwell Jr. have a point? Why is the integrity of those we vote for so important?
Those that defend or excuse such behavior do have an important point – two important points actually. First, that all human beings are fallible, both in a spiritual light (“he who is without sin can cast the first stone”) and in a secular one. The fact that their private lives are not the best does not affect their infallibility of their leadership, they argue. Is it hypocritical to judge our officials as we would saints when all of us do engage in immoral and unethical conduct of some sort? This is the main argument among the defenders of Donald Trump.
Others condemn the actions but bring down fire and brimstone upon the tabloid culture. The right to privacy, they argue, affords the same right to keep one’s private life private. That a person’s private dalliances is not the press or public’s business, only matters that pertain exclusively to the professional conduct of the officials themselves. Do we abuse the spirit of the first amendment by airing the “Dirty Linin” of our public officials? This was a common argument for team Clinton during the impeachment.
I can only agree that these are convincing arguments. Humans are not infallible, and there is an intrinsic right to privacy in one’s personal life. This is not in doubt, and gives the other side a valuable case in their pocket to use.
An elected official or one that seeks to become one is a very different animal from the average private citizen. Unlike a banker, a construction worker, a teacher (though each of the examples have their own standards to meet), the elected official is responsible for not just his or her personal issues or those of people close to them. They are responsible for society as a whole, for the public policy that governs our society. Representing America and/or its political subdivisions, this is not thrust on them from blood or circumstance like the Kings and Emperors of old, but by their own personal choice to seek elected office. By choosing to leave private life and seek public office in which they will vie for the control over many facets of our society and power over the people, they must be held to a higher moral and ethical standard than would those that seek to never leave private life.
Standards on certain legal issues (such as bribery or official corruption) are self-explanatory as to why they serve to act as a sort of vetting process to weed out those that are unfit for office, but what about the matters that the Trump and Clinton defenders – as well as those for other candidates caught in those sort of messes – seek to excuse. The moral and ethical concerns that have no direct connection to how a person would conduct themselves in office. Why are they important to consider when judging the integrity and worth of a prospective politician?
The lack of integrity such… shall we say, eccentric politicians – in their personal and sexual lives – is most glaring to determine their honesty. Imagine the following hypothetical. A politician that self identifies as Roman Catholic, he or she is married within the church and has a modest family from that marriage. It is then discovered that the politician has been engaging in multiple extramarital affairs before and during his or her stint in public office. Let me restate it thusly: he or she lied to their spouse and cheated on them, reportedly more than once. That is adultery and considered a mortal sin in the Roman Catholic faith. As a Roman Catholic, the politician understands the distinction of this sin as not only violating the sixth commandment of God, but that it is also an act of lust and pride.
Due to the separation of church and state our offices are secular and not religious, but this religious distinction does not undermine the argument but rather enhances it. Look carefully at this. Under his or her faith (the same would apply toward a civil marriage as well), and it is apparent that the politician both lied to his or her spouse and broke a sacred vow. Doing this repeatedly, in so intimate and close a relationship, who is to say he or she would not do it again? This can extend to other types of breaches, not just sexual ones. Committing plagiarism He, frankly, does not deserve it. He has shown us this by his own poor judgement and hurtful actions as a husband and a father. If a man cannot conduct his personal life in an upstanding manner, according to the vows of fidelity he swore before God, then how can he conduct the affairs of a nation with any degree of integrity and honor? We already know that an oath before God and his fellows means nothing to him. or cheating in professional sports or at university, such is breaching a hallowed vow. So is business corruption or scrupulous business practices. If a vow before your school, employer, or God (whatever the religion, one of the most important vows any person would give) means nothing to this politician, what will stop him or her from violating their oath as a public official. What will stop him or her from lying to and betraying the people that they both serve and hold immense power over? How can we know?
The fact is that we can’t be sure.
Only a person with strong moral and ethical convictions can truly keep from abusing the office that the voters entrust him or her to act as their representative to the nation and the world. A person’s actions in their private life (not just their public one) provides an in depth look at their character. There are certain defects in character, ones that involve an innate dishonesty and deviousness that never truly go away. Such is why persons like Trump or the Clintons never truly shake the stench of scandal. Of corruption and lack of integrity. These flaws, especially for the crafty politicians, can only be seen before it is too late in their personal lives.
These politicians that betray their innate dishonesty and lack of moral and ethical standards, frankly, do not deserve to be trusted with public office. Showing the public their own poor judgement and hurtful actions as human beings, whether they be directed at their families or in more professional settings. If a person cannot conduct his or her personal life in an upstanding manner, according to the vows of fidelity they swear before God (whatever their religion), then how can they conduct the affairs of a nation or represent the people that trusted them with that power with any degree of integrity and honor? With any degree of honesty and faithful service. Integrity serves to separate the petty, scheming men and women who seek office only to advance their own personal interests, and our country is better served when we as the voters hold our politicians and leaders accountable.