My Public/Private Perspective…

There is an energetic discussion going on at a Virginia political blog regarding the personal lives of elected officials and how said facts impact their fitness for office.  There is a fair amount of name calling and assumption not only of facts but of results from the assumed facts.  Even if public officials give up some large degree of their privacy, I think it is at best dubious and at worst just wrong as can be to discuss them claiming unproven facts as proof of your point…and since there is a fair amount of that going on in said discussion, I will omit the link.

However, there is a general idea in the discussion that is worth considering.  Should the personal, non-public/political  activities of an individual be a major consideration of whether that person is fit to hold public office?

I will say that I have known public officials who served with distinction yet were catting around, and abysmal public officials who had no stain on their reputation.

I am reminded of the 1884 presidential election between Democrat Grover Cleveland and GOP James G. Blaine.  Cleveland liked his beer, and may have fathered a child out of wedlock, but was clean as can be as an elected official and had coined the phrase “public office is a public trust”.  Blaine was the loving father of five and devoted to his wife, yet his public morals were in question…not to mention there are few of us who have led so perfect a life that we should presume to judge others.

When the NY Times endorsed, it noted that

  1. Blaine’s private life was clean, while his public acts were questionable;
  2. Cleveland’s private life was dubious, but his public life was completely clean; so…
  3. The NY Times endorsed Cleveland, saying Blaine should be returned to the private life at which he excelled while allowing Cleveland to continue in the public arena in which he excelled.

Some would bristle at this line of logic, others would find it eminently reasonable.

Ultimately, it is a purely personal judgement.  You vote on the facts you have and are comfortable with (not have OR are comfortable with).  I suggest if the errors in personal life do not appear or cannot logically be thought to be a precursor of future performance, then it should not be a major factor in a voter’s consideration.

But however you frame it in your considerations, I urge everyone to stay away from the name calling and presumptions.  It doesn’t advance the public debate, it can unfairly impugn people, and it really doesn’t make you look sage or reasonable.

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2 thoughts on “My Public/Private Perspective…

  1. I completely agree with you Bwanna, but would like to add that it should apply to both sides of the aisle. The character assassination campaign against George Allen in the previous election season was beyond reason, other than as an act of desperation to get a candidate elected who had no other hope. It was, in fact, the Democrats who have effectively branded the politics of Virginia as the politics of dishonor. I don’t like it from either side (I put up with enough of that from Steve Chapman), but it is truly a hypocrisy for the Democrats to suggest that this is an innate Republican flaw…they should look to their own.

  2. True. I agree with you completely. However, the blog post that got me thinking, and the blog posting it referred to, was slamming people on both sides of the aisle on purely personal grounds.

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