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Scandals are career ending for politicians and elected officials

posted Jun 20, 2011, 4:19 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Mar 3, 2012, 3:41 PM ]

Rep. Anthony Weiner’s moral indignity is the latest in a series of high-profile scandals involving elected officials. This incident comes at a time when public trust in government is nearing historic lows. A recent survey conducted by Pew Research shows only 29% of Americans trust their government. Fearing further erosions of trust, leaders from both parties joined in unison to push for the disgraced congressman’s resignation. The whole Weiner’s episode raises an interesting question. Is poor personal conduct a justifiable cause for one’s expulsion from public office?

Over the years, American voters have been able to detach a politician’s private life from his public work. Case in point, numerous politicians including former President Bill Clinton won public office despite their well-known character shortcomings. Americans do not expect their elected officials to be personally infallible, as long as their transgressions do not affect their work performance. 

Unfortunately, it has become difficult for an elected official’s private flaws not to affect his or her work in today’s 24-hour news cycle and social networking environment. Within minutes of Anthony Weiner’s shocking admission, the congressman from New York became one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook. The subsequent media’s fixation on the scandal was a big distraction that made it impossible for the congressman to effectively conduct his legislative duties. Resigning was the only choice for Weiner at that point.

Additionally, reputation plays a critical role in the effectiveness of an elected official. Even if Anthony Weiner was not rigorously pursued by the media, his reputation would still have been so severely damaged that he won’t be able to carry out his duties successfully. His resignation was probably the best thing that could have happened to his party and constituents. 

Finally, an elected official’s conduct is a reflection of the area he serves and government in general. Even though Weiner still enjoys the support of a majority of constituents, according to a poll by Marist Institute, this support is only temporary as people are still learning about the scandal. Had Anthony Weiner not resign from his office, his New York  district will forever be linked with this unflattering indignation. Also, public trust in government would have deteriorated even further as a result. While it is the elected official’s personal choice to resign or stay, resigning is seemingly the most logical decision.

Simon Nguyen, M.A. Economics