FROM THE ARCHIVES: Morality and the American Mindset (Jayne Doodles)

September 14, 2005

It never ceases to amaze me when people think they can do something in private and somehow not have it affect their character simply because it is not seen. ~ Jayne

Originally posted on Jayne Doodles on February 11, 2005:

New Sisyphus excerpted a section of Sec. Rice’s remarks to a European audience which I thought was very interesting, for a variety of reasons.  In the first place, I think she’s absolutely right.

In the second place, I actually had a conversation very similar to this topic while I was in Spain with my French roommate Charlotte.  I don’t know how we segued into this, but we were discussing the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky debacle.  At that time, there was a lot of public outcry to impeach Pres. Clinton; Charlotte was amazed by this.  She commented that the outrage of Americans over Clinton’s sexual escapades and his lies to the grand jury seemed ridiculous to her – if he did his job well, why did we care about his private life?  Her take on French government officials (or any officials, as far as I could make out) was that everyone knew they had their little pecadillos, but why did that matter as long as they were a good [president/prime minister/etc]?

My response to her at the time (and I believe it even more strongly now) was that Americans become outraged by this type of behavior because we don’t separate the private and the public person when we expect integrity from our leaders.  A person who is a liar privately cannot be trusted to be honest publicly.  Why should they?  Are they different people from 8 to 5 than they are from 5 to 8?  Are you?

On a related note, this conversation helps me understand a bit why the French (and others) don’t immediately call for massive and immediate reforms in the UN; they are "too polite" to suggest that because someone is a brutal dictator (Qhaddafi) at home, or that one’s son is involved in massive corruption and fraud (Annan) one should at the very least resign from public offices requiring a moral stance on…well, anything.  Why not give them the benefit of the doubt?  Why not expect them to do in public what they cannot even manage in private?

And of course, when the private sins are proved to be public issues, the world looks on in amazement and disbelief and wonders why they couldn’t see it coming…


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