Turn It Into an Opportunity
The President is, above all, sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It must be tempting as an individual and expedient as a politician to make statements that will put distance between the leader and an alleged offender, but there are some overriding principles inherent to the responsibilities of public office that should take priority.
In the case of Governor Blagojevich there is a right to a thorough investigation, a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Public statements by elected officials too early in the process can interfere with principles of fair and equal treatment under the law that they should be safeguarding.
Most people understand public officials have many subordinates and a large circle of associates. Human nature being what it is, some transgressions are to be expected. My sense is that leaders are not held to account for every human frailty of their extended circle, but they will be held accountable for how they respond to incidents of misconduct once they are made aware of them.
The worst possible approach by any public official would be to attempt a cover up. It is far more advisable to fully and publicly acknowledge a transgression and to then focus on the actions that will be taken to safeguard against recurrence.
Incidents of misconduct can be disappointing for a leader and more importantly they threaten public confidence. They are also an opportunity to reiterate important principles and a means to demonstrate character. President-elect Obama can carefully respond to this incident in a way that telegraphs he will be fair, just, and faithfully execute the office to which he was elected.
A leader's response to critical events early in their tenure can send powerful messages to those in the organization and to the public. President-elect Obama should ensure the law enforcement mechanisms of government are free of partisan politics and set a tone for his administration by emphasizing that honesty in government will be central to his administration.
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