Saturday, February 12, 2011

The downside

It's popular these days to encourage people with a business background to run for office these days. The theory, at least, is that they are used to running a business efficiently and can bring some fiscal discipline to government.

I'm starting to think there's a downside to this theory, though.

And the discussion starts, naturally, with ex-Congressman Chris Lee of Western New York.

Here's a fine way for a sophomore representative to gain attention -- take part in the fastest scandal in Congressional history.

At 3 o'clock or so, published an e-mail exchange between Lee and, um, a potential new lady friend. He made several mistakes along the way -- sending a shirtless photo to the woman (at least he was in good shape), using his own e-mail address, and lying about his marital status, age and occupation. The e-mails were traced to Washington, D.C. Busted.

A friend posted the story on Facebook, and I noticed it a little after 4 p.m. I printed it out and left it for my wife, who was suitably stocked when she saw it at 5 p.m. Then at 6 p.m., we tuned into the local television news to see what had happened. Within the first few minutes of the program, Lee had resigned and was headed back to Buffalo from Washington. Within a day, there was a story out that he had been warned in the past about risky behavior by Republican leadership.

I particularly liked an interview with a psychologist who tried to explain Lee's risky behavior. She spouted a series of "mumbo-jumbo" (a word I don't use often enough)phrases that merely came off as excuses somewhat justifying his actions. That's instead of calling him a bum, which he seems to be by the evidence at hand.

Reviewing here, Lee was a Congressman when he finished lunch, and his reputation was in tatters before dinner. Pretty impressive.

Yes, Lee didn't do anything illegal by trolling on the Internet for dates; that's a subject for his family to handle. But he showed an amazing lack of judgment in this episode, and we do expect our public officials to have that quality as they make important decisions involving our lives. Lee's warnings to his constituents about the dangers of the Internet became hypocritical in an afternoon. Republicans always have trouble when this sort of matter comes out because some have spoken about the sanctity of marriage in the whole gay rights issue.

It all might raise a bigger issue, though. In the last several months, other politicians have suffered from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. The most obvious name is candidate for governor Carl Paladino -- do a search for him and "gaffes" and you'll find a long list of results on Google.

I don't want to imply that all businessmen-turned-politicians can't hold their tongue or their urges here, because that wouldn't be fair. But businessmen are often used to having things completely their own way in the private sector. I used to work for a few. Anyone who thinks the public sector can't live without them, and is willing to spend lots of their own money toward that goal (see Donald Trump's current Presidential aspirations), is clearly not ego-deprived. You have to raise your standards a bit and give up some privacy when you leave One Corporate Drive, a lesson that a few may not have learned.

It would be interesting to know if this is a trend, or just a few isolated cases. We'll be watching.

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