I’m generally not drawn to arguments about the discrepancy between a politician’s personal behavior and their public political positions, unless those political positions are already directed at personal or private behavior. If you’re a conservative politician who wants to legislate sexual morality and you make a public point of your own virtue, then you’re fair game if you’re caught with prostitutes. If you argue that individuals need to change their environmental practices and believe that government should compel them to change, then your own environmental practices are a legitimate issue. If a politician doesn’t have a history of advocacy about private sexual behavior, then I could care less what he or she does, and the same goes for most political positions. A policy position can be valid even if the individual arguing for it is a dodgy character in some fashion.
I am more bothered, however, by civic and political organizations that don’t practice what they preach. I just encountered another example of this pattern recently–a group that promotes a laid-back, open and unconventional sensibility in their public mission but who are deeply hierarchical, snobbish, and arrogant in their internal institutional culture. I’ve seen it before: a lot of non-profits and community groups, for example, argue strongly for values and virtues in public life that they themselves don’t practice. That’s often not a case of trying and failing, either, but of total bloody-minded refusal to even recognize or discuss the discrepancy. One vivid example I remember one person I know encountering was a group whose leader was strongly feminist and pro-labor in the way she interpreted the group’s mission but who pressured people working for the organization to do unpaid work and give up various entitlements. I don’t think this is just a pattern in liberal or left-wing groups, either. There have been more than a few public revelations about organizations of religious conservatives whose institutional culture is miles away from the virtues they advocate publically, for example.
Occasionally this cuts in the opposite direction, too. I can think of a few organizations that appear to defend some form of hierarchy and elitism in their public mission that are collegial, inclusive and unpretentious in their internal operations.
Part of the problem is that there’s no way to really know about this kind of thing unless you interact with a particular group in great detail or you know and trust someone who has worked with that group. But when I think about transparency with regard to civic organizations and non-profit groups, this kind of information is really what I want to know most about. It’s nice to know how a group spends its money, but I’d like to know more, “does this group try to apply its own political or social advocacy to itself”? Do they talk internally about how to align their institutional culture with their mission?