Home > Uncategorized > I Prefer a Pleasant Public Vice to an Annoying Hypocritical Virtue…

I Prefer a Pleasant Public Vice to an Annoying Hypocritical Virtue…

In all the hullaballoo of primary day yesterday, very little attention was paid to the resignation announcement of Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN).

A very pro-family conservative, Souder resigned after a hard-fought primary campaign because of an affair he had been having with a district staffer. Blaming Washington politics for playing a role in his decision to step down, Souder said during an emotional speech in his Indiana district on Tuesday that “I sinned against God, my wife and family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than … put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.”

While many cynics would roll their eyes and scoff at his blaming Washington for quitting rather than his hypocritical cheating, Souder does raise a very interesting point:

Are public servants supposed to be moral and ethical role models?

More and more, Americans are looking to their elected leaders to be moral voices and role models in every aspect of their lives. We have established unrealistic, almost saintly, expectations of people elected to public office. And when any man or woman who holds the public’s trust has a human failure – divorce, cheating, sexual orientation, you pick it – the media and the American people turn on them on a dime. As if Bill Clinton’s dalliances in the mail room somehow threatened national security.

Now I’m not talking about things like Mark Sanford’s disappearing for a week and leaving the entire South Carolina government scrambling to find him or Mark Foley’s illegal and inappropriate texts to underage students or Eric Massa’s sexually-harassing gropings of staff members. Those acts violated public safety and order and countless laws. Incidents which threaten public safety and security, violate ethics rules, or are direct illegal acts must be punished. They not only threaten public trust, but they also threaten public integrity and safety.

But as the electoral process gets more and more destructive, nasty, personal, and intrusive, fewer and fewer people will want to subject their families to the torture that is public service. This is especially true if someone has even a slight blight on them that could used to gain political advantage by an opponent.

Which brings us to the public service morality vicious circle: good people are brought down by human failings when in public office, but only people with no sin can run or will be struck by stones.

Public officials must not fear that every statement they utter, every act they perform, every thought they have will become political fodder.

Our elected officials are frail human beings. Just like everyone else. They have weaknesses, failures, and troubles. A marriage in crisis, a death in the family, a child in trouble: these are the same issues every family faces in America. But unlike every family, people in public office have theirs broadcast all over the news.

Sometimes, we forget that common decency and common courtesy should be shown to elected officials as much as to everyone else. If we stopped looking at public officials like celebrities but instead remembered that they are our neighbors and our peers, we might be better at being sympathetic and understanding.

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  1. May 20, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I just want to make a quick clarification here:

    Hypocrisy is not free from public criticism. Some of our elected friends like to hold themselves out as moral bastions and hide behind particular “values” and notions while at the same time acting in ways that violate those same values and notions.

    If you say you’re the “family values candidate” and carry on with extra-marital affairs, you deserve the ridicule that you receive…

  2. May 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I’ve wondered for some time about the increasing vitriol in politics. Now, as a student of history, I’m aware that this is hardly unique to our time (look at the Adams/Jefferson campaign). However, there seems to be developing a harder edge. I’ve noticed both sides catering to their more idealogical extreme elements (“I’m a better conservative/liberal”). Being in the middle, to some degree, I find it tough to decide an appropriate response. If I choose not to vote, then the exteremes actually gain voice. What I believe works, and will work over time, is to chastise those who traffic in vitriol. I like to believe that my critique of my own party members will carry some additional weight. Of course, as a liberal, I believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

  3. June 1, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I love this post. I have lived in DC for 35 of 37 years. My dinner table growing up was filled with political “celebrities” and my neighborhood peppered with them. I have always thought it strange to turn civil servants into celebrities. Power and fame are strange lovers I have never understood. My perspective is probably different because I saw these people at the grocery store, jogging in sweatpants, picking up after their dogs and parenting their children, not just on TV.

  4. Martin Flax
    June 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I agree with Joe (what a surprise). If the distinguished representative had adhered to the principal that everyone’s private life is just that, private, then I would have yawned at this revelation and said it’s between him and the mrs. But if he had set himself up as a public defender of “family values”, impugning his rivals as having led less moral lives than he himself did; then he had to go. This is known as being “hoist by ones own petard” (the petard being a very sensitive part of the body – actually not but I couldn’t resist).

  1. June 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm

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