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[[Lao Tze]] recognized that a politician who had a healthy self-interest (and therefore self-responsibility) could be trusted with governing.  But I will never understand the secret formula for knowing when — if ever — to step down from an office because of controversy over one’s personal life.  The latest victim of their own impropriety?  [[Chris Lee (politician)|Chris Lee]] , United States Representative from New York.  His crime?  Going shirtless on Craigslist and being married at the same time.

I’m sure there are more embarrassing details.  I don’t know them, and I don’t care.  All I know is that he resigned for reasons not directly related to his ability to do his job.  Then again, if people resigned based on job performance, the halls of government would be emptied in a constant flow of accountability.  But then it doesn’t seem that such (pertinent) things are the primary concern of the media — and the voter.

I remember hearing about a pejorative speech given before Congress just before recess one year, talking about the differences between Republicans and Democrats.  He said that Republicans close their blinds for no reason; Democrats don’t close their blinds, but should.

There does seem to be a difference, and I’m not sure who I respect more.  It seems that a Republican caught red-faced with a racy email has a resignation letter ready to sign, while a Democrat doing far worse would just pretend nothing happened.  Heck, we gave the Kennedys a free pass spanning half a century and the masses just looked the other way.  Even the media circus around Monica Lewinsky served the Clintons well — a blinding diversion from a litany of specific, documented, criminal and treasonous acts.  The average person actually believes that was all about a stained dress and cigars rather than perjury and abuse of power.

The resigned become footnotes and those who brave the embarrassment go on tour and receive applause on top of their pensions.

But the question remains: are personal flaws and family conflicts a fair gauge by which to judge public servants?  It’s no secret that Winston Churchill was a heavy drinker and smoker, while Hitler eschewed alcohol, smoking and was mostly vegetarian.  Jefferson has “illegitimate” descendants through a slave bloodline.  The endlessness of the list proves a point in itself — is there anyone who can cast the first stone?

It is my personal conspiracy theory that George W. Bush and Barack Obama were vetted and scrutinized with a new level of harshness after the Clinton affair.  At least the parties’ front men should have no exploitable blemishes, no skeletons in the closet worthy of the front page.  Of course, controversies from the “[[birthers]]” of Obama to the “Skull and Bones” of Bush are so fabricated and exaggerated as to be a gullibility test, but my bet is that nothing significant will come out against the human side of either administration when all is said and done.

The fact that so much effort goes into character ought to be a blessing, but perhaps it has the oppoiste effect.  In a representative government, shouldn’t the politician be incidental and transparent, not a leader because of their own (moral) birthright, but their ability to hear and convey the will of the people? 

Isn’t the question if a cheating husband can protect our borders or pass good laws just silly?  There are plenty of arguments regarding questionable judgment, but I find them all flaccid.  Does a gambler who builds houses naturally do a poor job?  Does a lawyer who cheats on his taxes fight any less for his clients?

It is not that such things are not wrong.  It is that such things are irrelevant when kept in perspective.  Maybe such things should even be considered, within reason.  But how much weight we place on the smiles of a politician’s family Christmas photo and any tabloid-worthy Achilles heel tells more about ourselves and our own judgment.  And if our judgment is so shallow, maybe we should not only stay out of office ourselves, but stay away from the ballot box.