Quit in public
Barack Obama still sneaks cigarettes. Gordon Brown has a mean temper. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin struggles with her weight. At what point do a leader's personal vices begin to undermine effectiveness? Is it better to hide them or acknowledge them?
At the end of the day, leaders are only human. They're going to have vices just like everyone else, despite the expectations of some people that our leaders must be completely virtuous. It's not the worst thing to see them display a minor vice on occasion. Otherwise they might be perceived as aloof and disconnected from the people they're meant to serve.
There are vices, and then there are vices. We shouldn't condone, for example, the kind of behavior that tarnished the reputations of Mark Sanford and Elliot Spitzer. That goes beyond the pale. But in the case of President Obama's smoking a cigarette now and then, I don't think that's something he necessarily needs to hide.
At the same time, he has to realize that, as president, he's a role model for many people around the world. And because smoking is recognized to be a deadly habit, the president would do well to say, "Look, I smoke now and then, but I know it's unhealthy, and I'm working hard to quit." Then he should explain how he's going to quit and pledge to keep the public apprised of his progress.
In general, however, I don't see these minor vices as something we should dwell on, so long as our leaders are functioning well in their jobs. We run the risk of driving them to distraction if we incessantly point out their weight problems or their occasional temper flare-ups. Our primary concern should be how they perform in their roles as leaders.
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