Dignity and self-respect are in short supply in American politics. Self-preservation rules the day, a disturbing trend that I hope will not become increasingly accepted by society.
We know from history that denial and cover-up among those we trust to serve on our behalf are nothing new. For decades, public officials have engaged in unseemly and disturbing behavior (Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky affair, to name two examples) and have kept secrets for their own political gain.
But even in these instances, those in power — albeit after they were caught — either resigned (Nixon) or were impeached (Clinton). It should be noted that the impeachment of Clinton, who gave a weak admission of wrongdoing, ended in a Senate acquittal.
Lately, it seems that those in office have lost all shame. They’ve become more brazen and willing to take their chances with fellow legislators and the electorate, who all too often appear to look the other way.
If at first evasion doesn’t succeed, go before the cameras and issue a mea culpa. Or, if that doesn’t work, play the role of victim before a forgiving public. After all, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
During a news conference in June, Mark Sanford, Republican governor of South Carolina, admitted to having an affair with a woman from Argentina. The admission came after a reporter confronted him, asking why he had been AWOL from the state.
The state’s House Judiciary Committee censured him when there were not enough votes to impeach him, and it will essentially have little effect on his standing as governor, according to a report in the New York Times.
Then, there is former Democratic presidential contender John Edwards, who went to great lengths to conceal an affair with a staffer, potentially putting the Democratic Party’s bid for the presidency at risk. Edwards even went a step further, denying that he had a child with the woman.
He’s since acknowledged that the little girl is his own, and he and his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, will most likely divorce.
Here at home, I’ve closely watched the case of Ed Arnold, wondering how the Arroyo Grande councilman would handle the allegations against him. Arnold has been accused of attacking a woman — a city employee — whom he allegedly blamed for the breakup of his marriage.
He has pleaded not guilty on five felony charges and, according to his attorney, plans to fight vigorously to prove his innocence.
He will have his day in court, where his innocence or guilt will be decided. Arnold, of course, has every right to defend himself.
I wonder, though, whether in his quest to do so, he has failed to recognize that his first duty is to the residents of Arroyo Grande, who deserve better from their elected officials.
After leaving the City Council in limbo, Arnold showed up at the city’s most recent council meeting, where he remained silent on the matter.
One person asked whether what has happened in his private life would detract from his public service.
Arnold proclaimed that it would not.
I believe it already has.
Whether the allegations against him are true or false, they are enough to raise doubts about his leadership ability and have cast unwanted and unfavorable attention on the city.
Arnold could have taken the opportunity to resign for the good of the community, and for the sake of his family, who have no doubt been harmed by the ordeal.
He could have quietly exited stage left and chosen to let this private matter resolve discreetly.
But that would mean admitting to mistakes and putting others first, something that many public officials have forgotten how to do. It’s time we do a better job of reminding them.