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Does Character Matter?

pbi

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How much separation is there between the public role of a leader such as a politician, a general, or a CEO, and the way he conducts his personal life? Does the character of a public figure affect his suitability to do his duties, elected or appointed?

If we take the French (France not PQ),  point of view it probably doesn't matter at all. What is a French politician if he hasn't had at least one affair, or been involved in at least one scandal?

If, on the other hand, we take the point of view that is often prevalent in the US, then the character and behaviour of a public figure can be big news, and often the source of argument over  an individual's suitability for office. These arguments can range from the significant to the ridiculous (ie: President Obama putting Dijon mustard on his red hot instead of good old American mustard).

I'm raising this as a result of the Mayor Ford saga, although my question is only about him in passing. What I have noticed (most recently in a Globe and Mail article on Friday 02 November) is that many of the mayor's defenders (the "Ford Nation" folks) have stated very clearly that his personal behaviours don't concern them, even if  they become quite public. Some folks on this site have posted similar opinions. This leads to my question.

The bar seems to be set at " is he a convicted criminal, or not?", with the implication being that as long as person hasn't been found guilty of anything, they are suitable to hold positions of responsibility. Is this right?

I don't know exactly where the line is. I'm not sure, for example, that somebody should be removed from office because they had an extramarital affair that doesn't involve anybody at the office.  On the other hand, I tend to believe that if a person consistently demonstrates poor judgement in their private behaviour, and clear weaknesses in their character, then they should probably be removed from their position whether or not they have committed any crime.

I use the military as an example. It isn't necessary to commit a criminal offence to be removed from a position of trust, responsibility and power: all that is required is reasonable grounds to doubt the person's suitability to hold the position. The military draws a very clear  line between the consequences of violating the Code of Service Discipline, and the consequences of unacceptable behaviour.

Is that yardstick applicable to public figures outside the military? Should public leaders be held to a higher standard than Joe Citizen? Or is there a "fence" between character/behaviour and suitability for office?
 

Brad Sallows

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An untrustworthy person is unsuited to govern, or hold authority over, others.

Examples of untrustworthiness: breaking vows or oaths, betraying trust, lying.

I do not follow the French model.  A person who betrays his most intimate partner in the pursuit of pleasure might betray any interests for any reason to serve himself.  Adultery should be grounds for immediate removal from military or public service.
 

mariomike

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Brad Sallows said:
I do not follow the French model.  A person who betrays his most intimate partner in the pursuit of pleasure might betray any interests for any reason to serve himself.  Adultery should be grounds for immediate removal from military or public service.

Reminds me of a famous quote of President Truman, "If a man lies to his wife, he will lie to me.  And if he’ll break his oath of marriage, he’ll break his oath of office.”

pbi said:
The bar seems to be set at " is he a convicted criminal, or not?", with the implication being that as long as person hasn't been found guilty of anything, they are suitable to hold positions of responsibility. Is this right?

"How far should high standards of professional conduct apply when employees are off duty?"
http://www.hrreporter.com/blog/employment-law/archive/2013/04/22/professional-conduct-outside-of-profession

This was a City of Toronto employee, not a politician. No charges were ever laid.





 

Lightguns

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"I'm raising this as a result of the Mayor Ford saga, although my question is only about him in passing. What I have noticed (most recently in a Globe and Mail article on Friday 02 November) is that many of the mayor's defenders (the "Ford Nation" folks) have stated very clearly that his personal behaviours don't concern them, even if  they become quite public. Some folks on this site have posted similar opinions. This leads to my question."

Yet you do not raise the moral issue a police chief who uses evidence to pay politics?  I am not a Torontoian or even a Ford Nation type but I am concerned when a uniformed civil servant uses his office to effect an outcome in political sphere.  Fantino's man is definitely Fantino's man.  Has Canada become Chile or Argentina?  Character does matter and neither character in this latest melodrama has any. 
 

Edward Campbell

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Brad Sallows said:
An untrustworthy person is unsuited to govern, or hold authority over, others.

Examples of untrustworthiness: breaking vows or oaths, betraying trust, lying.

I do not follow the French model.  A person who betrays his most intimate partner in the pursuit of pleasure might betray any interests for any reason to serve himself.  Adultery should be grounds for immediate removal from military or public service.


I am, very much, of two minds ...

Did Lord Nelson's not so private, personal, peccadilloes‎ with Lady Hamilton make him any less a brilliant and trusted military commander? No, I suggest, it was quite irrelevant to his commanders, especially John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, and to his sovereign. Nelson was the best admiral they had, no one, except a lickspittle media, cared about his affairs ~ but the media cared a lot. (Ditto for Wellington, by the way.)

A011771.jpg

Nelson meets Lady Hamilton by C L Doughty

What about William Pitt, the Younger. In his biography British Foreign Secretary William Hague suggests that Pitt was a homosexual when such conduct was anathema in the country he led. I would argue that Pitt the Younger was one of the greatest men of the millennium, not just his century, and that his private, personal life ~ and even failings, if you want ~ are quite irrelevant. The media of the day fanned the flames of rumours about Pitt's private live ~ hoping, I think, to "bag" a great man.

41YAY3KCWJL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_.jpg


But Mayor Ford has crossed a line: he has paraded his personal failimngs on public, while "on duty," at official functions.

And, further, I note that some politicians, including Prime Minister Harper, eschew alcohol. Are they, were they "problem drinkers," as Mayor Ford appears to be? No, they avoid alcohol because they, and their advisors/handlers know that any alcohol induced "slip" can have grave political consequences and they are morally strong enough to pay the small price that political success demands.

I am a bit baffled, however, by the fact ~ and it is a fact, it's a plain as the nose on your face ~ that Mayor Ford's failings are national and international news while the much, much more serious, criminal failings of various and sundry mayors and officials in Quebec were, largely reported on with a shrug.

And, by the way, given my extreme dislike of Pierre Trudeau, I can report that I was not bothered about his reported affairs with e.g. Liona Boyd et al.

pic_trudeau_lionaboyd.jpg


 

The_Falcon

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Thomas Jefferson allegedly had affairs with his slaves.  Benjamin Franklin was a reputed alcoholic and philanderer.  Sir John A. McDonald and Ralph Klein were well known alchoholics.  Obviously shortcoming in character aren't always relevant to the ability to be a successful politician.  Crossing the line into criminal behaviour is another matter, and as ER Campbell has noted several Quebec mayors have been charged convicted criminally and another one in London is currently on trial, yet we aren't really hearing about all that. 

The media is having a field day with Ford's character and "alleged" offences, but where were they when his adversary in the election basically invited them to tear his life apart.  Smitherman ADMITTED to being an ADICT for several YEARS, to an undisclosed narcotic.  And yet NO ONE looked into this any further, was it during his time in office, before then, how much did he use, WHAT did he use, whom did he use it with, how did he get it etc.  Basing compentency on someones character is not particularly useful, if you aren't going to be consistent in your application, which is something the media and by extension the public are routinely guilty of.
 

George Wallace

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Perhaps many of the folks mentioned are flying under the radar because they do not have a weekly radio Talk Show with their brother, another member of city council.
 

Remius

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Hatchet Man said:
The media is having a field day with Ford's character and "alleged" offences, but where were they when his adversary in the election basically invited them to tear his life apart.  Smitherman ADMITTED to being an ADICT for several YEARS, to an undisclosed narcotic.  And yet NO ONE looked into this any further, was it during his time in office, before then, how much did he use, WHAT did he use, whom did he use it with, how did he get it etc.  Basing compentency on someones character is not particularly useful, if you aren't going to be consistent in your application, which is something the media and by extension the public are routinely guilty of.

The media is having a field day, even media that supported him.  Maybe in Smitherman's case, he managed the issue much better exactly by admitting he had a problem.  In the cases of the Quebec mayors, charges have been laid, story gets told but there is just no more story to tell.  Ford, likely because of his personality (both a strength and a weakness) he's getting more press, but also the story hasn't totally unfolded since there are many unanswered questions the story keeps going and the media keeps digging.

I think for Ford supporters (Ford nation), they want to see proof, real proof.  Until then they won't care and will forgive what they see as his bombastic personality coming to the fore, for which he is well known for.  Another word we see bandied about is "Due process" in which we are also see be used in the case of three disgraced senators.  I've noticed in a lot of right wing media, people are in fact calling for due process in both Mayor Ford and in the case of the three senators.  Fairly consistant.  But on the left side of things, we see accusations of unfairness and not following due process for the senators and calls for removing the mayor without due cause, sometimes even on the same news page... 

For others, his character goes to the core of the problem.  Public displays, shady characters and envelope's in the night in parking lots.  No proof, but a lot of circumstantial evidence.

Either way, the man is pretty resiliant.
 

The_Falcon

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Crantor said:
Maybe in Smitherman's case, he managed the issue much better exactly by admitting he had a problem.
  But in his case it wasn't a full admission, he quite deliberately left out a lot of details, some of the very same details the media/public are now demanding of Ford.  As I said if you aren't going to be consistent in how you use a person's character to judge their effectiveness, then you are a hypocrite plain and simple.  I don't support drug use or people who use them plain and simple, and my support for the mayor is about as wide as a hair at this point, the breaking point will be if/when this video become public.  One of the bigger reasons I didn't support Smitherman (among the many) was his less than total honesty about his own use.
 

Brad Sallows

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I suppose an important factor to be weighed is whether the character failing is well-known and openly acknowledged and accepted, or is potential leverage.
 

Remius

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And that is part of the problem when using character to judge effectiveness. In some cases we are willing to forgive someone or even overlook their issues based on likability or political bias.

I've voted both liberal and conservative.  I voted conservative in 2006 exactly because I was disgusted with lies and scandal and yes heavy handness.  Something I'm having a hard time with when it comes to the CPC because I feel I have to hold them to what I held the liberals to.  Character plays a role despite effectiveness.  The morning talk show (it is a pro CPC station) here had a commentator on who stated that if you reversed the roles and put JT in the PM's shoe, the CPC base would be infuriated with the way things were handled.  There is nothing wrong with critising one's team, but still supporting what the team stands for. 

But I find the PMs character to be above board despite all of the current shenanigans.  But i don't feel too good about how he's handled it but that's just political arm chairing.

In Mayor Ford's case, people will support him no matter what and some will go after him no matter what.  Character or not, as a person's politics can be incredibly polarising.

A more fluffy example is Justin Bieber (yep, I'm bringing him into this).  His die hard fans will forgive anything this guys does.  But some will find any reason to try and bring him down even for minor indiscretions simply because he is who he is.
 

The_Falcon

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Crantor said:
And that is part of the problem when using character to judge effectiveness. In some cases we are willing to forgive someone or even overlook their issues based on likability or political bias.

Bingo.  Which is why barring the person doing something criminal, I try to keep my judgements limited to/based on their job performance.  Anyone who is shocked and appalled at Ford's behaviour/character (excluding the crack stuff), is slightly deluded.  It's not like he suddenly morphed into a real life Homer Simpson/Peter Griffin, he was always like that.  I think what has shocked and engraged certain people is he is an everyman shlub, who against odds and logic, got into a postion of power.

But to not totally dominate this with Ford talk, and keep it on track, Jack Layton was given a pass, and is pratically venerated as a saint, despite some VERY questionable behaviour , IE getting caught in a rub and tug...."I didn't know what goes on in here officer, it was my first time".....sure  ::), living in social housing with his wife while both were city councillors.  In fact I clearly recall The Sun was the only outlet that brought these up during the last election, and many people called it a low blow to impugne his character like that... ::) ::)
 

pbi

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Lightguns said:
Yet you do not raise the moral issue a police chief who uses evidence to pay politics?  I am not a Torontoian or even a Ford Nation type but I am concerned when a uniformed civil servant uses his office to effect an outcome in political sphere.  Fantino's man is definitely Fantino's man.  Has Canada become Chile or Argentina?  Character does matter and neither character in this latest melodrama has any.

No, I specifically did not, because I didn't see the Chief's actions in the light of my question.  I differ very clearly from your view of this: I see that the Chief's actions probably demonstrate strength of character in a manner of "speaking truth to power", and in this case raising reasonable doubt about the suitability of an important elected official.

I'm not clear how the Chief is making any political mileage for himself (or his service), least of all with Fantino who is a Tory cabinet minister and belongs to a party whose senior leadership has quite blatantly aligned itself with the Mayor.  I don't know what the Chief's political alignment is, but I suspect that like most senior folks in the police service he tends towards the (small-c) conservative end of things. He also defended the Mayor during Rob Ford's train smash with the 911 operators, so it can go both ways.

We could also ask what the reaction might have been if Chief Blair had failed to report on similar behaviour by a different politician (pick one....). Would he be accused of playing politics by "covering up?"

But that said, fine. Fair is fair: let's throw the Chief into the question pot too. Do his actions demonstrate a lack of character and unfitness for his job? At what point is it the duty of a public servant to come forward and advise the public of questionable behaviour by an important figure?
 

pbi

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Hatchet Man said:
Crossing the line into criminal behaviour is another matter, and as ER Campbell has noted several Quebec mayors have been charged convicted criminally and another one in London is currently on trial, yet we aren't really hearing about all that. 

Actually, I read about it and hear about it quite regularly on the CBC (suprise, surprise!!) . That's how I found out about Joe Fontana in London. There has been detailed coverage on both issues, as there was last year when the Mayor of Ottawa was under a cloud.  It seems a bit disingenuous for Ford and his supporters to claim themselves as the only ones to ever get "beaten up" by the press.

For a different way of conducting yourself, look at the Provincial Tory boss. Tim Hudak is a pretty outspoken conservative, both small "c" and big "C". How come the media doesn't have his behaviour for lunch? Could it be that Mr Hudak behaves himself and doesn't hand them raw material on a silver platter, on a weekly basis?
 

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pbi said:
But that said, fine. Fair is fair: let's throw the Chief into the question pot too. Do his actions demonstrate a lack of character and unfitness for his job? At what point is it the duty of a public servant to come forward and advise the public of questionable behaviour by an important figure?

Well, i think the Chief bringing the issue to light is fine.  Yes, the video exists and is part of an investigation.  End state.  Where I think he screwed up was providing his opinion on the matter.  That as a citizen he was disapointed.  NOT his place to make that kind of statement given his position.  But he's taking heat for it now.
 

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pbi said:
I don't know exactly where the line is. I'm not sure, for example, that somebody should be removed from office[...]

No one should be able to be removed from office, unless they break the law. This is a democracy. Simply because you do not like someone, or their hobbies, does not mean you can undermine my vote with your drama. This in why I do not care what Ford, or anyone else, does in their private time. If the voters care, they will vote him out. If not, the courts need to stay the hell out of it.
 

pbi

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Hatchet Man said:
But to not totally dominate this with Ford talk, and keep it on track, Jack Layton was given a pass, and is pratically venerated as a saint, despite some VERY questionable behaviour , IE getting caught in a rub and tug...."I didn't know what goes on in here officer, it was my first time".....sure  ::), living in social housing with his wife while both were city councillors.  In fact I clearly recall The Sun was the only outlet that brought these up during the last election, and many people called it a low blow to impugne his character like that... ::) ::)

I agree with you. I found his sainthood was a bit strange, given the fairly widely circulated stories that you recalled. That said, IMHO we would have a hard time denying that he was an "effective" politician: he pulled off an electoral victory that I never would have thought possible.

I think we have to be careful about basing our judgement on the importance of character, on the feelings of any particular politician's hard core supporters. These people will always see a saint where the rest of us see a devil: to do otherwise might be to call their entire belief system (not to mention their own gullibility) into question.
 

pbi

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Sythen said:
No one should be able to be removed from office, unless they break the law. This is a democracy. Simply because you do not like someone, or their hobbies, does not mean you can undermine my vote with your drama. This in why I do not care what Ford, or anyone else, does in their private time. If the voters care, they will vote him out. If not, the courts need to stay the hell out of it.

I'm not sure what the courts have to do with his personal behaviour, which is really what my question is about. They will have lots to do with any criminal behaviour that is proven, (if any ever is), but we clearly aren't there yet. Maybe we will never be. And anyway, AFAIK an actual criminal conviction would result in removal from office.

I'm thinking more of recall procedures such as exist in some states in the US, where based on certain criteria an elected official can be removed from office. I'm not 100% clear on how these work, but I believe they require some combination of a vote in state legislature/city council, and/or a referendum to the voters. Those are both in keeping with democratic principles, I think.

I took the following from the website of the US "National Council of State Legislatures" at  http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/initiative-referendum-and-recall-overview.aspx  :

...a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office. Recall differs from another method for removing officials from office – impeachment – in that it is a political device while impeachment is a legal process. Impeachment requires the House to bring specific charges and the Senate to act as a jury. In most of the recall states, specific grounds are not required, and the recall of a state official is by an election. Eighteen states permit the recall of state officials. A recent, high-profile example of the recall process was the recall of California Governor Gray Davis and his replacement with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.

From what I can see, recall allows voters to deal with issues that are short of actual criminal charges, but still sufficiently important to raise reasonable doubts about suitability.
 

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pbi said:
No, I specifically did not, because I didn't see the Chief's actions in the light of my question.  I differ very clearly from your view of this: I see that the Chief's actions probably demonstrate strength of character in a manner of "speaking truth to power", and in this case raising reasonable doubt about the suitability of an important elected official.
In Canada though it is not the place of the Chief of Police to pass judgements or make statements about the behaviour of elected officials, unless of course they are going to charge them with an actual crime.  For the Chief to put it out the video "exsists" using a stream of legal double speak, but then refuse to allow others to view the video, because it's involved in matter before the courts is improper.  ESPECIALLY if they don't have enough evidence to charge the mayor with a crime. 

I'm not clear how the Chief is making any political mileage for himself (or his service),
Really???  I guess you weren't paying attention all those times during each round of budget negotiations, when the Mayor refused to cave into the Blair's budget demands.  Considering budget season is right around the corner the timing of this statement is well suspect.

Fair is fair: let's throw the Chief into the question pot too. Do his actions demonstrate a lack of character and unfitness for his job? At what point is it the duty of a public servant to come forward and advise the public of questionable behaviour by an important figure?

When it comes to law enforcement they shouldn't be getting involved in the political world, unless they intend to bring charges forward (or the opposite, say no charges are pending).  Beyond that it isn't their place to comment or pass judgement.  In this particular instance, as a few commentators have noted, because of their past "difficulties"  Blair should have had another agency take the lead, to ensure their were no issues or conflict of interest.  At this point given Ford is refusing to step aside, and Blair isn't charging him with anything, it's going to make their meetings during the budget fairly interesting.
 
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