Several years ago, during the 2004 campaign, a friend and I were talking about the presidential candidates. He wasn’t happy with either of them — he’d been alienated by Bush but didn’t trust Kerry.
Well, who would you vote for? I asked.
“I’d vote for you,” he shot back.
God help us all, I thought.
It wasn’t that my past was terribly bad, though I’ve certainly had my share of mistakes and regrets. It was just that I didn’t want to share it with the world and then watch it twisted by my political opponents. Running for office is a brutal and very public hazing.
(I’m reminded of the classic satire, “The ’80s: A Look Back,” which came out in 1979 and had a storyline in which Congress passes a strict ethics code in 1982, prompting only fringe wackos to run. The result is the 98th Congress, the “Congress of Nuts.” Incidentally, don’t sneer at satire: the book predicted the 1986 oil glut as well as nutty Congresses.)
Since then, we’ve been overtaken by social media, which has proven a wonderful venue for drunken rants, nude photos and drunken rants accompanied by nude photos. It’s made me wonder, more than once, if the (probably) sober professionals who want to engage in public service 20 years from now will find themselves answering questions about the well-documented and hilarious time they collapsed in the street in their own vomit. After all, the Internet never forgets.
Will voters be forgiving?
Maybe they already are.
This year, two very public people, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, are the presumed major-party nominees for president. Trump has lived half his life in the public eye, and yet neither his bankruptcies nor his caustic Twitter feed have hurt him. Clinton has been suspect by a portion of the public since her days at the Rose Law Firm, but she’s been a twice-elected U.S. senator, a secretary of state and now the almost-certain Democratic nominee. Yes, neither of them have been photographed taking a bong hit while upside-down, but perhaps that wouldn’t matter in the larger scheme of things.
It’s interesting: We live in a world in which a viral tweet or video can seemingly ruin you for life, and yet the very public failings of some political candidates have no more impact than passing a bill to rename a post office. Twenty years from now, we’ll have to see if those drunken pictures and naked rants make a difference in the public servants we see.
But no, I’m still not running.