Some years ago, I got a call from a friend who was serving in elective office. He’d decided to run for re-election and wanted to talk about his future plans.
I approached our coffee session with thoughts of what sort of fund raising would be needed, how to reactivate former volunteers, how to get him appearances in front of local groups and how many days were left for neighborhood walks and door-knocking. Typical election topics that must be discussed before announcing. Decisions that need making. I was prepared for what I thought the conversation was to be about. I was not prepared for what he had to say.
“My wife and I have decided to get a divorce,” he said. “Do you think we should do it before the election or after? What effect do you think it will have on voters? Will it make a difference?”
Needless to say, that morning’s pre-campaign discussion was about a subject that had not crossed my mind. But – at that time -it was central to his decision to run again. It could’ve been a killer.
Move the calendar up about 40 years. We have Senator david Vitter (R-LA) – re-elected though he’s a multiple adulterer with a string of prostitutes. We have Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) – a long-term adulterer elected to Congress after his multiple intercontinental romps at taxpayer expense as South Carolina Governor while lying to his staff and constituents about it all. Ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner – forced out of office for sexual misbehavior on his smartphone – now running for mayor of New York City. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City Comptroller against a former madam he jailed when he was New York Attorney General before he was forced out of office for his own $80,000 prostitution activities. After which he had two national TV shows. And a best-selling book.
There are other multiple adulterers like Newt Gingrich, the ex-speaker of the House – but you get the point. It used to be politicians were deathly afraid of even a hint of scandal or family problems. Many stayed in unhappy marriages because of fear of a tarnished public image. Now, they seemingly thrive despite outright escapades with hookers, South American girlfriends, sexting, adultery and other sins of the flesh.
Now I’ll be among the first to admit cultural standards have changed. We are – for the most part – a more accepting nation than we used to be. In most respects, we’re a more forgiving people. But have we lowered the bar for morality to the point we would shun a friend for some of this behavior but elect strangers to determine national governmental policies while committing the same sins?
We’ve become a culture of “celebrity.” Unfortunately, we’ve not established a “good celebrity” or a “bad celebrity” classification. Just “celebrity.” It often seems those who achieve notoriety through immoral or dishonest means reap even more fame and fortune than those who labor on our behalf in more laudable endeavors. A Nobel winner most often returns to anonymity following the honor while some bed-hopping politician or entertainer makes another couple of million. It’s a safe bet you can’t name the 1972 Nobel winner in science but you’ll likely be able to regurgitate the latest outrageous behavior of Lindsey Lohan. Celebrity. Nobel winners could use more of it, the Lohans of the world a lot less.
None of this is to say we don’t all err in some way. Many of us more than once. But why do we elect people to high office who are unapologetic – at least unapologetic with any real sincerity – for their outrageous affronts to good behavior and accepted moral standards? Why do we reject it from those we know on the one hand while enriching strangers with fame and fortune for behaving badly on the other?
We have a national Congress containing some really hard workers who are trying to do their jobs. They stand for the right things. They do the right things. But their dignified work is overshadowed – and in too many cases stymied – by the likes of Bachmann, Ghomert, Paul, Cruz, Walsh, Israel, Jones, et all achieving “celebrity” as willfully ignorant, lying, road blocking miscreants.
To their ilk, you can add the Vitter’s, Sanford’s, John Edwards’s and the rest of the “celebrities” who achieved their status despite immoral behavior and a sense that the rules didn’t apply to them as recipients of public trust.
Still, their rise in public life while betraying that trust, likely says more about we who elected them than it does about them. We’re the ones who – thus far – have accepted them. We’re the setters and keepers of the standards. Aren’t we?Share on Facebook