When someone chooses to run for public office, their only consideration cannot be whether they are qualified to do the job or whether than can get elected. Their decision also needs to factor into the equation whether they are ready for the public scrutiny that can come with declaring themselves a public figure.
To be sure, public offices are not simply positions attained by people because they are elected to them. Public officials can also include individuals who are appointed or hired for their positions.
The minute you accept a position that is funded through public money, you also have to accept the fact that your actions could come under a microscope, particularly if they involve an allegation of wrongdoing.
Even when it comes to elective office, the ongoing attention is not always reserved for the winners. Take Sarah Palin, for example, Despite the fact she was on a losing presidential ticket, Palin will forever be part of our political conversation, as a brave and outspoken conservative if you like her, as a poster child for incompetence if you don’t.
There is no sympathy intended here, to be sure. Palin chose to advance herself into the public eye (and she still chooses a public persona), and she’ll live with the consequences. But it’s important to remember that the attention doesn’t necessarily end on election night, even if you lose.
Running and winning a public office can bring with it a high level of scrutiny. But even losing the race for public office does not automatically remove someone from the public eye. The events of a campaign are part of history, and might be referenced again and again over the years for various reasons. Anyone considering a run for office needs to be aware of and remember that fact.
Being president of the United States, a member of Congress, governor or any other statewide officeholder, as well as a state legislator or some other high-ranking position can put you in the media crosshairs, as can holding a more local office such as county commissioner, mayor, school board, or just about any other elected job.
I’ve often thought that anyone considering running for office or even accepting a job in the public arena should be required to undergo a seminar about the attention that can come through holding or even running for such a job. I think few people are truly equipped for the scrutiny that can come their way, and are often surprised and even angered by it when it happens.
The complete surrender of privacy and the scrutiny by the media and the public that can accompany going from private citizen to public person can be jarring for the uninitiated or the unprepared. In years past, such examination came primarily from the traditional media – newspapers, TV and radio. In the Internet age it can come from anyone, thanks to social media. Gossip and attacks can become a way of life.
The likelihood of becoming a target undoubtedly dissuades many qualified people from choosing to seek office. It’s difficult enough when allegations or accusations are deserved. It’s even tougher when someone simply decides they don’t like you and uses their media or social media platform to subject you to constant browbeating.
That’s why I often express thanks to anyone willing to put their name on a ballot. It’s one of the biggest decisions anyone can make. Candidates are, in essence, announcing to the world that they are voluntarily surrendering their privacy and opening themselves up to a level of scrutiny that most people would not wish upon their worst enemy.
It is because of the fear of stirring controversy that many public officials have mastered the art of playing it safe. They avoid rocking the boat, lest any hot water splashes back on them. It’s understandable, considering what the consequences can be.
Personally, I like boat rockers the best. Being willing to take on controversial subjects, do new things, challenge the status quo, and risk the wrath of those who will attack you is rare. But I respect anyone willing to put themselves into the public arena, whether they steer toward stormy waters or simply play it safe in the wading pond.
We’re getting ready to enter a presidential election year, which will include races for the U.S. Senate, Congress, the state legislature, many county offices and others. People are currently deciding whether to seek office, whether to put themselves out there for public scrutiny and debate.
Many races will be hotly contested and candidates will be subjected to criticism and even ridicule, deserved or not. It takes courage to run for office. So to all those who will take the plunge, thank you in advance. Most people won’t do it, and it’s hard to blame them. But our government depends on those who will.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.