03blog-daschle.jpg(Hyper-Scrutiny (Hypocritical?) Serves No One. Drives Good, Capable People From Public Service.)

WASHINGTON — 2/3/09 (New York Times) “The abrupt collapse of Tom Daschle’s cabinet nomination on Tuesday undercut President Obama’s mission to expand health care by depriving him of an unusually well positioned architect for a big legislative campaign and leaving him without a backup plan… Since Mr. Daschle was the only person the president seriously considered for the health job, his advisers were left scrambling to find an alternative.”

Hypocrisy is the refusal to apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others. Several candidates have withdrawn over the years due to nanny tax issues, a tax that 80% to 95% of Americans choose not to pay when they employ babysitters, home health aides, or housekeepers (New York Times 1/24/09, p. B1). Now that’s hypocrisy!

I doubt few Americans could stand up to the so-called “vetting process” that the press puts candidates through for high public service. Even those who believe they have lived a good life, a life beyond reproach, would be surprised by what might surface from the distant past, what might be twisted for titillation, distorted to make a headline, or what might lie hidden in the lives of those closest to them.

Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from consideration for New York’s Senate seat is widely believed to have been linked to the firestorm of petty criticism that enveloped her, most of it unrelated or only peripherally so to her qualifications.

I suspect that many of our great leaders of the past would not survive today’s hyper-scrutiny. Thomas Jefferson’s illegitimate offspring? Lincoln’s depression? FDR’s health issues? Eisenhower’s and JFK’s mistresses?

Witch hunt might be a better description then vetting. Normal people no longer run for public office or agree to serve. One must have had ambitions for high office virtually since childhood and lived the life of a paranoid monk to survive these days. And I’m not sure such burning ambition, almost obsessive ambition, is the best qualification for public service.

Our current process of hypocritical hyper-scrutiny does not serve the republic and keeps good, capable, everyday, ordinary people (case in point, all the junk that quickly surfaced on Joe the Plumber) from public service.

This endless parading, this public shaming for petty sins, reminds me of the Puritans and their humiliation of alleged sinners by placing them in stockades in the central square.

Perhaps the greatest downside is that we allow these minor side issues to distract us and drain our energy and attention from the serious problems we do face.

It is time we as a nation take a deep breath, settle down, refuse to listen to the gossip, accept that we all are human, that none of us is without sin, and turn our collective energies to the very real challenges that confront our nation.

*Note: Knowing that Jesus pitied wrong-doers, some of his enemies tried to catch him condoning violations of Jewish Law: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” Jesus replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:3-7)

The scene is depicted in a famous 1644 painting by Rembrandt, “The Woman Taken in Adultery.”