The Private Lives of Public Figures

     Joe Biden presents a stunning opportunity to speak to the question of
whether a politician’s private life matters in relation to his or her
public service. In recent history, the likes of John Kennedy, Lyndon
Johnson, Gary Hart, Barney Frank, Bill Clinton, Jim McGreevy and most
recently, John Edwards have all been the object of scrutiny and
analysis for behavior in their private lives.  In fact, if time and
space permitted it, we could compile a list back to and including
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
    So the question is:
When electing a person to public office, how much does it matter who
they are privately vs. how well they perform their public service?
Personally I am conflicted on this issue and my conflict was renewed
yesterday by an e-mail I received which was then followed by Joe
Biden’s introduction at the Democratic National Convention by his son,
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.
    As a parent, it was
incredibly moving and heart-warming to see the obvious love and respect
that this young man has for, as he put it, “my hero, my father.”
Biden’s exemplary parenting and dedication to his two sons who survived
the auto accident that killed Biden’s wife and daughter is remarkable.
His priorities seem to be on very straight.  Commencing at age 29, he
made his boys his mission, all the while diligently tending to the
duties of his job as a United States Senator. And because I had the
privilege of working with him briefly in the 1980’s, I have some
personal knowledge of his character and commitment. And he’s got that
down-to-earth charisma going for him as well.  So it was exhilarating
to see him chosen as Obama’s running mate.
    Then came the e-mail.
    It was from a friend who is a strong advocate of U.S. support for
Israel and a hawk in relation to Iran and other Islamic fundamentalist
nations.  The content of the e-mail were actual cites to legislation
that Biden did not sign onto that were either pro-Israel or
anti-terrorism or anti-Iranian.  There were also links to articles that
address Biden’s voting record vs. his rhetoric, that raise the question
of how realistic he has been, or how effective his approach has been,
to dealing with the threat of Iran and it’s leaders.
    So here’s the dilemma.
    I was very outspoken on the shame that Bill Clinton brought to the
White House by his adulterous and adolescent behavior. I believed then,
and still do, that he set an appalling example and lowered the moral
bar for many.  And the contrast with the Bush’s marital relationship
and their apparent values is undeniable. But here’s the thing. Both men
were elected to lead and manage the nation.  And it’s indisputable that
in almost every analysis, Clinton did it better both domestically and
internationally. So while I prefer the public image of the Bush
relationship and both the dignity and mutual respect they project, in
the end I’m voting for an effective public servant who positively
impacts, and ideally improves, national and foreign policies. With that
criteria, Clinton trumps Bush hands down.
    Now, back to Joe Biden.
    He’s a decent man. An admirable father. A dedicated public servant.
And his choice and nomination as presented on television was stirring.
But governing isn’t about image or made-for-TV-character videos or
theatrical productions. Governing is about moving the county on a
continued trajectory toward it’s highest good while protecting it from
external harm. It’s about policies, not patinas, that get those two
missions accomplished.
    Next week, the Republicans will have
their turn (along with their media experts) to dazzle us with glitz and
glamor and similarly tug at our heartstrings. My suggestion is that
when all the hype is over, and all the candidates in place, we actually
investigate and read their public service records…their congressional
voting records…determine their real stance…on the issues that
matter to us before we vote.
    As a former divorce lawyer
who marketed a video for people going through divorce, I used to tell
women that generally, unless they are educated in advance,
they tend to pick a divorce lawyer on personality. Without knowledge of
the process and their needs, on what other basis could they possibly
choose one? And I would always follow-up that observation and say to
them “that’s how you pick a date. Not a lawyer.” 
    The same hold true for a President or Vice President.
    It’s not how they play on TV, it’s not how their personal story
moves us, it’s what issues have they championed? When have they stood
up and been counted? And for what have they stood? Its not who they
tell us they are but what, in fact, they have done about what they
believe in…and how long have they done it with consistency.
    I really like Joe Biden.
    Now I’m really going to read the record.

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