| | |

Politicians, Adultery, and Integrity

Despite the broad and pretentious title, this is going to be short and simple. James Poulos wrote today about politicians who commit adultery (HT: evangelical outpost), and said:

…What I’m angling for here is simple: a basic public consensus that if you sleep around on your spouse you are a bad person, and to hell with your future in politics, because we still have enough talent in America to replace you with someone who isn’t a bad person and is nonetheless capable of being a ‘gifted’ and ‘dedicated’ public servant.

That’s good within certain limits, and I’ve argued the same myself for folks like David Vitter, Larry Craig, and Eliot Spitzer. But that’s not because of my view of marriage, which some might say borders on the puritanical, but rather because I believe your actions should reflect what you say. For example, I vowed to be faithful to my wife “till death do us part” and others are welcome to hold me to that.

Why is this not a personal matter, to be dealt with by the family alone? In the case of someone in public office, I would suggest that it gives a strong indication of whether that person will do what he says. He took marriage vows, he took an oath of office. If he violates the one, why should I regard him as a person of integrity who will uphold the other? It is unfortunate, of course, that there are those who are faithful to their marriage vows, but quite unfaithful to their oath of office, but that is another topic.

In my view this is not primarily about sex. We get excessively excited about such scandals because they involve sex. We are too ready to excuse because they involve sex. The question is whether we, the voters, have enough integrity to demand similar integrity of our public officials. Can we do so when the politician is on our side of the aisle in the same way that we do when he or she is on the other side?

I would add that by integrity I mean one’s intention and reasonable success at remaining inside one’s own moral boundaries, and also that one’s own moral boundaries are what one proclaims. If one’s actions do not violate one’s own standards, then I would not question that person’s integrity. I might, however, question his or her standards.

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. But of course, there’s the actions of David, committing both adultery and murder, and while he was punished by not being allowed to build the temple, he retained his position of leadership. Was he unfit to lead the people of Israel after the incidents with Bathsheba and Uriah?

Comments are closed.