The distinction between the public life and private life of politicians has always been at the core of democratic decision making. In the famous “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” of Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War,” Pericles identified what fuels Athenian democracy.
“There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes,” Pericles said. “While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts.”
Pericles believed that politically active citizens must not be judged based on their private affairs but only by their public acts in order to preserve Athens’ democracy.
Generally speaking, it would seem that the results of the last presidential election point towards a similar principle. In choosing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, voters were more comfortable with the private failings of Trump, even if they are criminally suspect, over what they saw as public diplomatic failures, which were also criminally suspect.
While Pericles does not extend criminal license to “unconstrained business,” because it is impossible to commit a crime with no victim, he and the last election’s result posit a position that ought to make Americans, and especially Christians, uncomfortable.
On Dec. 12, Alabama voters will fill the U.S. Senate seat previously occupied by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Early polls reported Republican candidate and expected winner Roy Moore holding a steady lead over his Democratic challenger Doug Jones.
However, recent polls suggest his campaign may be in jeopardy over sexual misconduct accusations from eight women. The most potentially damaging of these accusations is the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. Moore lost support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Ted Cruz, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Ivanka Trump Senators John McCain and Mike Lee and Governor John Kasich. However, President Trump refuses to withdraw his support from Moore because his opponent is “liberal.”
Whether or not we are going to judge politicians based on their private lives is the fundamental decision Americans collectively need to make in order to recover from the 2016 election. Crime is an extension of the public life because all crime has a victim by definition. That disqualifies Roy Moore from ever being able to hold public office.
However, for Christians, the original question has already been answered.
The fundamentalist Christian electorate that decided the 2016 election cannot vote for Roy Moore, because there can be no separation of the public from the private life. For Christians, Jesus famous line, “You shall know them by their fruits” makes it impossible to separate the public and private. Or as Paul’s letter to Timothy says, “If a man cannot rule his household, how will he care for the people of God?”
Christians cannot separate public action from private action because God does not separate public from private. If an evangelical Christian ignores these principles, they are not allowed to rationalize their vote for Roy Moore using Christian teaching.
The failings of Roy Moore, Al Franken, John Conyers, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush expose the moral decay and loss of a common public moral structure in America that Alexis De Tocqueville imbued. The actions of each disqualify them from office.
This poses a sad question: Are there really no upstanding people in office? Of course not. But the media preys on moral failure so they’re the people we hear about. Obviously, that is not “fake news,” but it teaches us that there are not many heroes in Washington.
This teaching is not always dangerous, because if one can’t find a hero, then one ought to be their own hero. Those who consider running for office in the future have the responsibility to live out the code of morality that they preach right now.
The next generation of politicians must understand this principle given the current circumstances surrounding their moral formation. A well-formed conscience and moral resolve are more than enough to conquer the enemy of sinful, or even criminal, rationalization later in life. When our generation comes into political office, we must hold ourselves and our politicians to a massively higher standard than the alleged criminal and pedophile Roy Moore.
We can do better because America deserves better.