I’ve decided that every person elected to a public office, from local level all the way up to the top, should be required to take a college-level course of government ethics and then take refresher course every five years in order to maintain eligibility to hold the said public office. The final test might even look something like this:
You are running for election to a high level public office and you receive word by email from an acquaintance that they know someone willing meet with you for the purpose of giving you incriminating information on your opponent that belongs to a foreign government. You:
- really, really want to know what sort of information they have. You draft several versions of a positive reply, but walk away before hitting clicking to get a stiff drink, chat with a close, trusted advisor, and ultimately decide to politely decline the offer. You really want to go, but in the long run you believe this meeting could hurt you more than your opponent. You also delete all the emails, just in case.
- decline the meeting, but wheedle, cajole, and/or bribe your acquaintance into trying to acquire the information on your behalf so that you can obtain it without the inconvenience of being present at any meeting. Plausible deniability, and all that.
- write back “Oh hell no! This is political kryptonite, I’m not touching this with a ten foot pole!” Then you write a detailed personal memo documenting how uncomfortable this offer made you feel. Just in case.
- gleefully rub your hands together while cackling like a Hollywood villain before cracking your knuckles and composing a reply to let your acquaintance know that you will get your people to talk to his people about arranging a meeting.
- confirm your agreement to meet. Everybody does opposition research, right? Who cares where the information comes from?
- call your nearest FBI field office and tell them that you’ve been approached by someone peddling information on behalf of a foreign government. You hand over all of the emails to the FBI, and use back channel communications to advise your political opponent of the events as a courtesy. Bonus points if you volunteer to attend the meeting on behalf of the FBI while wearing a wire to assist them with their investigation of potential foreign government interference.
And the score? If you picked 2 or 4, you do not belong anywhere near a public government office. I wouldn’t trust you with loose change, much less anything of national importance.
If you picked 5, you’re really not smart enough to play Risk, much less run a country. It could be difficult to say if you selected this because you’re massively obtuse or because you lack any moral compass, but either way I don’t want you anywhere near public office.
If you picked 1 – congratulations, you’ve achieved the lowest acceptable standard of morality for an elected office. You’re not a great human being, and your motives are definitely suspect, but your sense of self-preservation is excellent in tempering any megalomaniac tendencies and helping you keep your nose relatively clean, if for the wrong reasons.
If you picked 3 or 6 – I truly congratulate you. You have what it takes to serve the public well and in the right spirit. If you picked 6, I not only trust you with a country’s presidency and the most sensitive information of national security, I trust you not to eat the last piece of chocolate desert if we’re having a meal together and I have to step out of the room to take a call.
If you went for the bonus point, you may wish to consider applying to the FBI or the CIA instead of running for a public office, but I’d still trust you with my chocolate. And the country.
Why do I have a photo of a prayer book here? Well… you try finding a visual image for the concept of “ethics”. I found a really nice stock photo but then decided it would be the height of irony to write about ethics and then illustrate the post with a “borrowed” *cough cough* image to which I do not have any rights. This photo is all I could come up with on short notice. This happens to be a gifted copy of the 1936 edition of the Book of Common Prayer in use in the Church of Ireland.