Herman Cain recently suspended his campaign after unrelenting news of old sexual harassment suits climaxed when a woman came forward stating that she had a 13-year-affair with him. Of course, his campaign was already arguably sinking from his difficulty answering questions about domestic and foreign policy, but this past behavior towards women (and his wife) seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
As Cain’s campaign sinks, Newt Gingrich’s popularity rises. But it only takes a few moments of searching on the internet to discover that Gingrich himself has had three marriages, with both the first and second ending because of affairs (he reportedly served his first wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery). He was, in fact, having an affair with a woman who was more than 20 years younger than him when he led the Congress against President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinski scandal. He has also been known for shady financial dealings, and his entire campaign staff resigned earlier this year.
Mitt Romney has had difficulty rising to the top, partly because people have termed him a “flip-flopper” – someone who has said some things in the past and now purports to have different ideas, such as a woman’s right to choose and taxation.
As future voters assess these future candidates, how do they decide how to evaluate an individual’s behavior? In each of these cases, these men have not appeared to be who they have portrayed themselves to be. So potential voters are faced with two questions: 1. Can people change? To which the answer is: absolutely. And on the flip side, we ask 2. Can people lie and hide who they really are? To which the answer is also: no question.
So how does one go about evaluating which one of these a candidate might be: someone who has changed versus someone who has a lot to hide? On the one hand, most people have made mistakes in their lives, and many people do grow and change over time. On the other hand, behavior in the past can be an accurate predictor of behavior in the future. It is possible, for example, that Gingrich’s personal life and financial dealings do not reflect on how he might run the government. On the other hand, it’s also possible that they are a reflection of him as a person, regardless of the circumstance. It’s possible that Romney lacks principles and convictions, but it is also possible that he has been in politics for enough years that we can track the changes he has made as time has gone on.
Evaluating our future leaders is a difficult process, as most of us don’t know the candidates personally and haven’t worked with them professionally. All we have to go on is their current behavior, the thoughts that they share in public, and their past behaviors and thoughts. The question is: how thoroughly do candidates attempt to reinvent themselves? And then the next question is: how much do we allow them to?