- (Courtesy, Derrick G. Jeter)
Private character determines public conduct.
At one time in our country that simple truth was never questioned-that a man who would not honor his personal vows to his wife could not honor his public vows to his office.
This is not that time.
In fact, we haven't lived during that time for at least fifteen years, not since the sex scandal of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. At the time we were told that private character isn't a measure of public character; that what matters is Clinton's job performance, especially on the economy; that Americans need to become more "sophisticated" in their attitudes toward sex-less puritanical and more European; that lies about sex are not nearly as egregious as lies about money; that we shouldn't judge since we're all sinners.
Many feared if these justifications took root in the American soil (and soul) they would produce a poisonous plant, decomposing moral standard for future generations. Our fears were proved right. In the last few weeks echoes of these arguments have been employed by the candidates, handlers, and followers of New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner during his ongoing sexting scandal, of dishonored "John" and ex-New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who seems to be leading in the New York City comptroller's race, and of San Diego Mayor Robert Filner's refusal to resign under withering accusations of sexual harassment.
Sex scandals have been around since the beginning of the republic. The Alexander Hamilton/Maria Reynolds Affair and the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings Affair are two of note. But never in our history has sexual infidelity among our political leaders been a constant source of consumption among the people. And never in our history have the sexual dalliances among politicians been so dismissed out of hand by the people.
Solomon advised in Proverbs 14:34 that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people"-not just to the sinner, but to the whole nation.
That is why the acceptance of excuses for a politician's misdeeds in the bedroom is so troublesome-because it allows politicians to define morality downward and we settle for a lower common denominator of behavior and leadership than we ought. Civilized societies must give affirmation to a set of standards-to principles of norms and aberrations, of rights and wrongs, of nobility and debasement. Failure to do so is to champion confusion and to disarm the moral and intellectual tradition that has guided the United States for more than two centuries. Such confusion and disarmament surrenders the high ground, leaving us morally bankrupt. And when we need to call upon the moral high ground-as surely we will-we'll find the ground's compelling moral power leveled.
But more than that, accepting justifications for a politician's bad boy behavior is an attack on American ideas and ideals. Our Founders set forth a grand experiment in republican government, testing whether a free people could govern themselves freely. The success of their experiment requires three interrelated ideas to prevail-what we might call the liberty triangle. Our republic requires liberty-the enjoyment of maximum freedom. Liberty requires virtue-the ability of the people to govern themselves. And virtue requires faith-the belief that God is the author and judge of moral standards. If any one of these pillars gives way then the experiment fails, leaving us with something less than what the Foundered envisioned.
Our political leaders aren't to the manor born, but come from amongst us. As such, their decisions and conduct is a reflection of what we, as a nation, honor. And since, as William Bennett wrote in The Death of Outrage, "moral good and moral harm are very real things, and moral good and moral harm can come to a society by what it esteems and by what it disdains" honoring men of worthless private character, believing their public character will produce righteousness, is both foolish and disgraceful.