Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Weighing in on Weiner

Usually I refrain from commenting on politics or the antics of politicians. I don’t wear my ideology on my shirtsleeve, nor would I ever attempt to dissuade one from their political persuasion. To our detriment, our politics are often imbedded in our identity, making us vehement in our point of view and a prisoner thereof. We lose the capacity to think critically.

However, I feel compelled to weigh in on the recent behavior of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned this month after scandalous behavior. We all fall from grace, it’s inevitable; but his transgressions are incidental to a much larger issue.

My problem with the congressman is centered on his rationale: “Since I didn’t break any laws, there’s no need to resign,” he said, before finally giving into pressure.

But I have more of problem with his constituents who assert that a man’s personal morality is his own business. According to a Marist College Public Opinion Poll, 56% of registered voters in Weiner’s district said he should not resign. The Huffington Post condoned such sexually explicit behavior of men in high office as acceptable and had called Weiner’s behavior normal.

The contention, “As long as he represents us efficiently, he should stay in office,” is an aberration of the covenant between an elected official and the people.

Since humanity’s earliest differentiation between right and wrong, trust, integrity and dignity have been foundational between leader and follower. Pope Benedict XVI tells us, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”

Character counts because it is the framework that supports everything we do. We are not compartmentalized beings whose private selves are somehow divorced from our public selves. Those who lack honor in private will lack honor in public. We don’t change when we go to Congress.

How does one discount morality from the exercise of high office? Where’s the trust? How could you be confident with the judgment of one who is morally suspect?

The distinction between public and private moral spheres has been an issue for philosophers since public life emerged as a distinct element of collective living. This “So What” attitude is alarming. I resent the subtle attempt by political advisors to convince us that a politician's private life has no bearing on his governance.

We should poll another list of men, among them Confucius, Buddha, Plato and Socrates, all of whom warned us that we separate public and private at our peril. To these men, it was immoral to distinguish the two. They tried to convince skeptical populations that the source of much of the world's evil came from the immorality of politicians.

Plato’s “Republic” asserts that morality is choosing to be just instead of being just for fear of getting caught. “The just man is just in public and in private.” In the “Analects,” Confucius contends that to build a moral society, politicians must lead through virtue and not law. The Buddha agues that immorality begets bad karma and detrimentally influences society.

The great thinkers have warned us that the condition of our society is dependent upon what citizens do in private. Thus, Weiner’s assertion that his private life does not affect his public performance was ludicrous.

Renaissance writers Bacon, Hobbs and Machiavelli stressed results and utility over character and believed that society benefits from a more realistic approach to progress, even if the various means to that progress were a little unseemly. They didn’t realize character is the only gift you give to yourself.

Those who claim that an elected official’s performance should offset his personal immorality could condemn us to a perilous plight. In the end, we get what we deserve.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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