"Irrelevant Character Flaws?"

There is an interesting article in the October issue of “The Atlantic” titled, “Sex and the Married Politician.” http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/sex-and-the-married-politician/8629/

Early on, the author raises the issue of being able to distinguish between “relevant and irrelevant character flaws” when it comes to politicians’ personal lives. It’s a good article on the whole, but I must beg to disagree with one of the author’s conclusions. He writes, “If a governor disappears for days on end to visit his lover, the press should get on the case–as it did with Mark Sanford. But if the candidate running to succeed him is merely alleged to have had an extramarital affair–or two–as was South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, it’s hard to see how that matters.”

Well, I think it does matter, actually. I don’t necessarily mean that said politician must resign, or be impeached–I’m not suggesting some mandatory punishment or universal rule of consequences. All I want to argue is that it is wrong to say that these kind of personal transgressions don’t “matter” for how we evaluate the professional character of a person–I think they do: cheating does say something important about a person’s character. For example, it says something about her/his view of promise-keeping, about trust, about faithfulness. It says something about the way he/she values relationships, communication, and honesty. It matters for how he/she uses power, control, and privilege. Is it possible to so thoroughly compartmentalize one’s personal and professional lives that dishonesty and disrespect in the former don’t spill over into the latter? I think it’s doubtful.

No one is perfect, and no one should have to be–it is hard enough to get talented, qualified people to run for office without the added (impossible) burden of unblemished moral rectitude. But at the same time, I guess I am resistant to the idea that we can dismiss any substantial character flaw as “irrelevant”: as long as we live in relationship with one another, bumping into each other in all kinds of ways, all of our flaws are “relevant.” We all have them, we all have to deal with them–and their messy after-effects, and no one gets a free pass. It’s just part of being human together.

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