Politicians should not be judged on their private conduct

By By Roger Aboud and By Roger Aboud

By Roger Aboud

What is the role of a politician? In a democracy, a politician’s primary role is to influence public policy by making decisions which either reflect the actual wishes of his or her electorate or which he or she believes will best serve his or her constituency. In this capacity, a politician serves not merely a functional role but influences policy, and to a degree, public opinion. Politicians thus hold a great deal of power that should be used responsibly.

Aside from wanting our politicians to make decisions that benefit us and our communities, we typically want our politicians to use their position and power wisely. We want them to be sensitive to others’ needs, careful in their speech and not be manipulative or unscrupulous in their decision-making. In sum, we don’t want our politicians to abuse the power that we, as the electorate, entrust to them.

However, while politicians shouldn’t take bribes, betray the needs and wishes of their constituency or be dishonest, they do not have to be ethically pure. The ethical requirements of a politician should extend to their function as a politician and not necessarily to their private actions, unless those actions have direct implications for how well they serve in public office. First and foremost, we need to be able to trust our politicians to make good decisions on our behalf and not abuse their office.

Consequently, we should judge politicians by these criteria, not by whether we want to invite them over for Sunday dinner. A good leader need not be the perfect house guest, friend, neighbor or acquaintance, but rather a prudent policy maker and sensitive public servant.

Unfortunately, our politicians don’t always make prudent decisions in their own lives. Marital infidelity probably comes first to one’s mind when imagining the many indiscretions of past, and current, politicians. But should this very private matter factor into the overall fitness of a politician? Clearly, cheating on one’s spouse is bad decision-making, but does it affect how well that person performs his or her job? Can this person still make sound judgments about matters of local and national importance? Insofar as politicians serve as representatives of the public’s interest, their personal lives remain largely irrelevant to their capacity to serve to common good. Only when politicians engage in scandalous behavior in which the power we entrust to them is improperly used should we attack their ability to lead.

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Editor’s Note8212;John Corlock is the community outreach chair for the U Philosophy Club.

Roger Aboud