Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Morality In The Public Eye: Should the Standards We Expect From Politicians Apply to all Of Us?

What the heck is going on in the "political" world today. Everytime I turn on the news, or read the paper their is some scandal that the media has jumped on like wolves going after their prey. If it isn't in the actual job a person is doing, it's in what they do in their personal life. Scandal has become an issue of major political and economic significance in recent years and the necessity to take measures against it has become evident. A person of character is guided by conscience. I agree that we should draw a line between private and public life but that doesn’t solve all our problems. Private behavior can often affect the public sphere. If we truly believe in privacy, we must also allow people to say, “This is nobody’s business but mine, and I refuse to answer such a question.” Unfortunately, this is not possible today under today's laws or the media scrutiny. Welcome to our world and the scandals keep coming...especially here in Los Angeles!

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, only weeks after announcing the separation from his wife of nearly 20 years, said he is involved in a romantic relationship with a local television newswoman. The mayor acknowledged in a statement that he has a relationship with NBC-Telemundo Channel 52 anchorwoman and reporter Mirthala Salinas. "It is true that I have a relationship with Ms. Mirthala Salinas. As I've said I take full responsibility for my actions, and I once again ask that people respect my family's privacy. For my part, I intend to stay focused on my job, and to work as hard as I can every day to be the best mayor I can be," the statement said. The newspaper reported the mayor's acknowledgment came as it prepared to publish a story about the relationship. Gee Mr. Mayor, did you have to be put on the spot to come forward and admit this lapse in moral judgement?

From the "private life" scandal to the "political" scandal comes the story of LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's use of city resources for personal reasons. The city's top prosecutor has acknowledged letting his wife drive his city-owned vehicle without a license and enlisting staff members to run personal errands and baby-sit his children. It was only when his wife was sentenced on a very old warrant that the crap began to fall out of the sky. For days it seemed like the transgressions that this guy had done would never end. How many misuses of people and funds have to happen before you open up and admit your wrongdoing?

The principal reason for caring about the moral conduct of public figures is that their behavior helps set a tone for the rest of the society. What level of morality we tolerate from those in government service is a cue to the level of morality we expect in our culture. Public officials are drawn from the same cultural cauldron that produces the rest of us. If we tell them that they must be sinless, we will most likely discourage from service only those who really are morally better than the rest of us...people of true integrity whom, like most of us, done some wrong in life. People who are not willing to have the scandal-hunting press destroy their reputations and perhaps their families. We will find ourselves stuck with people of less integrity, who are quite willing to lie if the private wrongs they have done become publicly disclosed.

Moral questions about our leaders is important. If we choose to ignore extramarital affairs by government officials, the reason is not that adultery doesn’t matter, but rather that privacy does. If on the other hand we think adultery matters enough that it justifies the invasion of privacy, we should take that view about everybody, not just those who are in the public eye.

What matters is that we draw a line in the sand...we must decide what part of life should be kept private and what part should be open to public scrutiny and judgment. We should not draw the line in haste or for the sake of ratings or political advantage. We should not continue to construct a world in which public officials come in two varieties: those who have been disgraced and those who have not yet been caught. Nor should we continue the mischievous double standard of morality: one for those who are covered by the press - and who must be perfect, and another for the rest of us.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong!