I am not sure anymore what the minimum standards for obtaining and maintaining political office are, other than the legal standards of age and residency. Perhaps there are no other standards to which we hold elected officials, although I remember as a kid admiring politicians as folks of integrity and leaders. My first memory of being disappointed in a leader was the Bill Clinton scandal, and mostly my disappointment was unrelated to his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. It was the lie he told when confronted. The lie he told under oath. And his apparent insistence that he continue to be worthy of the office he held. I believed then, as I do now, that to err is human, and meaningful apologies should be met with forgiveness. However, to continue to hold office after an act that would not be condoned for our children is the ultimate act of arrogance and further degrades faith in our political system.
Unless elections amount to no more than voting for the person we least hate, as constituents, should we not agree to minimum standards of entry and holding an elected position? By minimum standards, can we agree that if the behavior is something we would discipline our children for, then the behavior is unbecoming in the office of a leader? In other words, if an elected official abjectly lies, commits a crime, or otherwise behaves in a manner that undermines the leadership position which he or she holds, is it too much to ask that the elected official act from humility rather than hubris and resign with the statement, “The people I was elected to serve deserve better”?
For the public to regain its trust in the political system, we must first regain our faith that elected officials will hold themselves (at a minimum) to the same standards we expect of our children. Otherwise, we are condemned to raise children to believe that obtaining a leadership position requires no virtue, no integrity, and no adherence to minimal behavioral standards. More forebodingly, we will raise our children to favor arrogance over insight as a leadership quality.
To expect from our elected officials the same behavioral standards we expect of our children may result in a return of folks to leadership positions who respect not only the office, but who are truly public servants — in the job to serve the public, not themselves. Folks who believe that holding office is a rare privilege, and who hold the office in such high regard that failures in personal integrity, while forgivable, render them undeserving of the office. For it is the virtue of the office, not the person, that must be maintained.
As with so many things, cowboy lyrics from a great country song apply: “We’ve got to stand for something or we will fall for anything.” To prevent further degradation of our political system, the collective “we” — irrespective of party and political ties — should stand together and inform all of our elected officials: If your personal behavior undermines the integrity of the office, put the needs of the office and the people it serves above your own and resign.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.