Who's Cheated in Government Affairs? Public Re-Examining Acceptable Private Behavior for Office

By Rackl, Lorilyn | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Who's Cheated in Government Affairs? Public Re-Examining Acceptable Private Behavior for Office


Rackl, Lorilyn, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

For Arlington Heights resident Robert Zimmanck, the answer is easy.

If people are elected to public office, their personal behavior "should be above reproach."

It doesn't matter if the official is leading the country or the local school board, which Zimmanck has been on for 11 years.

"People elect us because they trust us; they trust we'll keep our word," said the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board member.

"If a person would cheat on their spouse, what would keep them from cheating on other things in their role as a public official?" he asked.

That kind of thinking may be what recently prompted a Missouri attorney to pledge $1,000 to the campaigns of both the state's Senate candidates - if they'll sign a legal document promising they've never committed adultery.

President Clinton's crisis, along with the ripple effect of congressional leaders' confessing to extramarital affairs, has caused Americans to re-examine what private behavior they expect from the people they send to public office.

Zimmanck has set some high standards.

A University of Chicago professor says it is time the rest of the country does the same.

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor of social and political ethics at U of C, uses the opinion polls to make her point.

Ask people how they think Clinton is doing running the country, and they give him high marks.

Ask them what they think of Clinton as a person, and those marks take a nose dive.

"That suggests we've come to have very low expectations of the character of people in public office," Elshtain said.

That is not to say having an affair should automatically preclude someone from holding an elected post or that public officials aren't entitled to private lives.

"But it's not private life if it's taking place in the office and involving staff," Elshtain said. "When you see our leading public figure act in a reckless way, it sets a bad tone."

Some see the bad tone being set by an overzealous pursuit to dig up the dirt in politicians' personal lives.

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