The standard we need to keep for the presidency is "beyond question" not "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt". Some readers of my previous column on the need for DNA verification of maternity and paternity of Trig Palin considered it an accusation against Todd Palin that he is an alcoholic child abuser. Some have been quite upset, which I can completely understand. I want to make clear that nothing that I asked for was intended as an accusation or insinuation; it was a delineation of the spectrum of possibilities.
When background checks are done for security clearance, there are a few disqualifying admissions, but the most important thing is disclosure. When filling out such a questionaire, a person had better admit everything from homosexuality and S&M to drug use and financial problems. The reason is that if a person thinks they need to hide something, that is a lever that can be used against them. The fact is that in our system, if the voters elect someone, the system accepts them as president. This is a hole in the security vetting system of the executive branch that we cannot close without destroying our democracy.
In the context of presidential elections the public and the press does the background check on the candidates. The public needs to understand that a most important red flag is any suspicion of lying, embarrassment and non-disclosure that might be compromising. Non-disclosure is what is of concern, not the act(s) themselves, now or in the past. Thus, Obama's admission of youthful drug experimentation is fine, as are McCain's admissions of extramarital affairs. Since both are open admissions, there is no problem form a national security standpoint, and political attacks on the basis of these disclosures are truly smears. Similarly, the real problem with the Clinton-Monica affair was the lie more than the act itself. Personally, I would greatly appreciate it if Bill Clinton stepped up to the plate and apologized to the American people for lying about it.
I am aware that since the time of Ed Rollins' heyday as political consultant for Ronald Reagan, the standard advice to sitting politicians confronted with questions regarding sexual matters has been to deny them because politicians who deny are mostly re-elected, and politicians who admit them tend to lose their next election. (Although I don't believe John McCain joined that group, which is to his credit.) From a national security standpoint, this tendency is extremely problematic and the public needs to be educated that a politician who might have lied is a much more serious matter than a politician who commits an all too human indiscretion. Although I am not a serious Christian, I recognize that forgiveness and confession is basic to Christian thought. As the old saw goes, "A man without any failings can't be trusted."
And so we all need to take a deep breath and show compassion for the humanity of our candidates who dedicate their lives to public service, whether we are for them or against them so that we can concentrate on the real issues. We should understand clearly what a real problem is. Lying, particularly lying about something that can be proven by hard evidence, (as opposed to the lies that a head of state must tell to serve his country) needs to be treated as the very serious matter that it is. Admitting an error or indiscretion should be understood as strength, not weakness. As I have already said, both Barack Obama and John McCain have passed this test, pretty much with flying colors, and Joe Biden has as well.
In the final analysis, what I am asking from the Palins is that they accept this higher standard of "beyond question" for the office Sarah seeks to occupy. Sarah Palin needs to hold herself to the same standard that John McCain has held himself to. I can accept a short period of adjustment for Sarah Palin, although I must raise an eyebrow. If Sarah can come clean on everything, with appropriate DNA verification and apologize for her mistake, I will say fine and let us move on – leave her family alone. But if the Palins will not, or cannot do so, then she must be asked to resign in favor of an acceptable vice presidential candidate. As a private citizen her affairs are held to a different standard, and if that is what Sarah desires, no one should pursue any of this further.