GUEST COLUMN: Just admit everything

Political candidates should spill the beans on discretions up front

By Lane Filler
Guest Columnist

These days, the smartest thing candidates for political office can do is couple the announcement that they’re going to run with a detailed confession of all sins, large and small, that they’ve committed, tried to commit, fantasized about or heard described on a commuter flight to El Paso.

The search for the pointless personal smear is out of hand, and the only way to disarm it is with the pre-emptive strike of complete transparency.

CAMPAIGN STOP: Gov. Rick Perry, speaks to medical professionals during a campaign stop on Friday at Carolinas Hospital System in Florence, S.C. A recent advertisement ran in a Texas newspaper asking anyone who has had sex with Perry to step forward. The only way to disarm a personal smear is with a preemptive strike of transparency. (MCT photo)

Last week a Texas alternative newspaper, the Austin Chronicle, ran an advertisement asking anyone, male or female, who has ever had sex with Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry to step forward. The message was paid for by Robert Morrow, a Ron Paul supporter so deep into conspiracy theories he believes former President George H.W. Bush was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

So now Perry, who should be plenty busy explaining why he thinks it would be OK for Texas to secede from the United States, why he doesn’t believe in evolution, and how he went from being the Texas chair of Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1988 to a conservative so testosterone-addled he’s like a Tasmanian devil in a suit, will instead be defending his personal life.

What candidates should do is get it all out up front, like so: “Today I, Johnny Johnson, am proud to announce that I will seek the presidency of this great land, but first I want to clear the air about my past mistakes. While I never cheated on my wife, I repeatedly attempted to, with both men and women. I am not, apparently, an attractive person. I have, in the past, frequented strip clubs, but only when attending bachelor parties for friends, or when I felt like looking at naked women.

“In the 1970s and ’80s I took, I believe, every recreational drug that gets humans high. If there is any substance that will get you buzzed that I did not use, it was due to oversight, not good sense or moral fiber.

“I am a mediocre tipper, 10 percent at best. I wear a toupee. I believe ‘Punky Brewster’ is the finest television show ever. I own parachute pants, and wear them around the house. I have a tattoo on my back of economist Milton Friedman, naked. I bounced checks. I owed back taxes.

“All that, though, is years in the past, and I hope you can see past it to hear how I would govern this nation and give me your vote.”

Here in New York, Gov. David A. Paterson proved how effective pre-emptive confession can be. Seemingly minutes after taking over for just resigned prostitute-paying Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Paterson admitted that he had used cocaine and marijuana, and that both he and his wife had indulged in extramarital affairs. His admission didn’t hurt his career a bit, unlike being a really bad governor, which did.

We are a country that knew Bill Clinton had smoked pot and were pretty sure he had cheated on his wife, and still elected him. We have accepted the fact that we are a flawed people, certain to be served by imperfect leaders, simply because there is no other kind available to us.

The search for dirt has nothing to do with electability any more. It’s simply grist to feed an endlessly hungry media machine and an easily titillated population. We want to be entertained by our leader’s personal peccadilloes, but we don’t have the luxury of voting based on them.

Just admit your sins upfront, because let’s face it: If you’re the candidate who can come up with a workable plan to lower unemployment, figure out our health care mess, solve the immigration dilemma and get the deficit under control, most voters won’t care if you marry your first cousin, three squirrels and an Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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