Hold officials and candidates accountable for public and personal acts

2012-03-04T02:00:00Z Hold officials and candidates accountable for public and personal actsTribune editorial Bismarck Tribune
March 04, 2012 2:00 am  • 

 Immoral, unethical or illegal actions by a candidate or elected official in his or her private life counts in the public arena. The public and private lives of public servants should not be separated when it comes to wrongdoing. The suggestion that people ought to ignore bad behavior by a candidate or officeholder, as long as it doesn’t occur on the taxpayer’s dime, is a feeble standard, one that should not be given credence.

In recent years, locally and nationally, public officials have been caught in significant personal failings, some of them illegal, others merely boorish, base or unethical. There have been incidents involving members of both political parties. The case always is made that those indiscretions were private and should not be considered when judging a person fit for office.

Well, they are wrong. Public officials should to be held accountable across the board — public time, private time.

Ultimately, party organizations and votes are the ones to judge.

Public officials deserve to have private lives. And, by and large, what goes on in those private lives should be kept that way — private.

We’re talking here about situations where private actions come to public attention because of some kind of wrongdoing.

Famous cases of this are Richard Nixon’s Watergate burglary and Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky affair, both anchored in the Oval Office. Recently, there have been members of Congress sending sexually suggestive messages and images to interns and others.  It all counts. It’s all on the record.

Closer to home, there have been legislators involved in questionable incidents and actions in their personal lives that have spilled over into the public view. As always, there’s a call to keep that private failing separate from the public service. They say that one does not affect the other, like a person’s conscience or moral guide turns on when they are doing public business and shuts off when they go home for the day, or the end of the session. They want us to believe that although they can’t make ethical judgments in their personal lives, they can make good judgments on behalf of citizens. How can that be?

These are people who represent us. People we choose to make judgments on our behalf, the essence of “representative democracy.” It’s not holding them to a higher standard, it’s the same standard the rest of us must meet.

It’s not that citizens holding public officials accountable are being self-righteous. Certainly, we are all human and can be susceptible to temptation of one sort or other. But the key words are “consequences” and “accountability.”

Does that mean anyone who crosses the line on bad behavior should get the boot? No, it means that bad behavior needs to be considered in determining whether or not to cast out a public officeholder.

It means it counts.

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