Time was when individuals seeking leadership positions carefully considered how events in their past might impact their quest for public office.
To witness the circumstances in Virginia where individuals are coping with differing but troubling past behaviors, caused me to wonder who is to judge anymore? In the era of Trump, just what is unacceptable? And, what standards now exist to determine what we will accept or reject when it comes to a person’s past?
My first instinct was to ponder what in the world those who ran for public office were thinking. Did they just assume some elements of their past would not surface? Or, did they think that it no long matters what surfaces?
It used to be that if there was something untoward in one’s past, the election process would surface the issues. Candidates even retained investigators to determine if there might be anything in their own past that would cause concern. Always thought this was smart since while something might not be disqualifying, being surprised and reacting poorly could damage a campaign….or, as it turns out, a sitting governor.
I wondered where the challengers were with their opposition research and where the media was with their laser like focus on the misdeeds of those seeking election to public office. How could three statewide candidates be elected only to be subject to virtually simultaneous calls for resignation?
No matter where one stands on any one elected leader, no one should want to be surprised by questionable deeds from the past. Candidates should be more transparent…as in providing tax returns. The media should probe carefully but aggressively; because, here’s the thing, the decision now about what is acceptable and unacceptable is now up to the individual voter. That voter must make a determination with the facts and that determination is far better made before the election than after with nothing other than public humiliation or the next election to correct a wrong call.
While I, for one, no longer can tell just what normative behavior is, ignominy – public shame, humiliation and embarrassment – after someone is elected serves no one well. We need to demand openness and transparency. While it is unlikely we will find the individual without an embarrassment in their past, knowing about it and judging how an individual learned from it must be part of the calculation going into selecting our leaders.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.