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Posted: June 10, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Caught red-handed, again

Here we go again. Yet another public office holder - a New York Congressman - has been caught in and disgraced by an egregious and revolting lapse in judgment, to put it mildly. I won't go into the details, but it involved his Twitter account.

We are barely past the news of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reprehensible conduct, and now comes another episode of people in high places who think they exist beyond the moral bounds the little people are supposed to respect.

You can't help but wonder, "What were they thinking?" Clearly, they weren't, based on a common understanding of the verb as used in the previous sentence that would mean to make a reasoned decision based on facts and good judgment. However, the dictionary allows for the word to mean things like "believe, suppose, expect, hope, visualize, imagine, devise, evolve or invent." So maybe these guys were, in fact, "thinking" by visualizing, imagining, hoping, inventing, supposing, expecting, believing or devising the outcome they desired. Hmmmph.

In both these cases, the individuals have gotten far more than they initially desired: as in humiliation, shame, infamy, public disgust and a precipitous fall from grace. And that doesn't even speak to the pain, anger and outrage that have befallen their families. These two - as with all the others too numerous to name who have come before them - saw only the opportunity for immediate gratification, without considering the possibility of being caught or the consequences of their actions.

What foolish people. These are the days of Twitter, YouTube, camera phones, Facebook, ubiquitous public surveillance systems, streaming video and tabloid journalism that can land anyone, even the innocent, or his or her accuser on the cover of the National Enquirer overnight. Anything can become fodder for the apparently never-to-be-satiated appetite to catch somebody doing something wrong, embarrassing or scandalous. That appetite leads those not caught doing something similar to believe they remain somewhat virtuous. The problem is being "caught," but not the action itself.

Our moms and grandmothers would likely come after us with a switch, should we have espoused such thinking or doing. We would, of course, have been sent out to break our very own switch off the "switch bush" every family had in the yard. In our large family, make that any large family, somebody was always watching what you were doing and was ready to tattle. You couldn't get away with much for very long.

And so it is today: somebody or some "thing" is always watching and ready to tell all.

"Public" officials seem to find it easy to forget the "public" part of their lives. No one is just a "private" citizen anymore.

Most of you reading this can recall when the first priority growing up was never to embarrass your parents or grandparents. Our job was to conduct ourselves always to be a credit to our family. The adage was - and is still - never to do anything that you wouldn't want your parents to find out about. There was a day when there were consequences for doing something bad, and fear of shame was a motivation for holding to the straight and narrow. Sadly, the concept of shame seems little known today. Yesterday's unacceptable behaviors - you know what I mean - are now tolerated, even condoned in common culture and parlance, and to speak critically of individual choices is to be seen as intolerant, unforgiving and, heaven forbid, judgmental. We tsk, tsk behind closed doors but not in public for fear of being shamed by someone insisting on his or her personal rights to do as pleased, no matter the private or public consequences.

A tip of the hat is due, however, to Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harris Hines who this week spoke frankly to Covington's combined Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs about the problems besetting this state from the growing percentage of out-of-wedlock births and single parenting with no father in the household.

The troubling ramifications far outweigh even the economy or concerns about education, he believes. His candor and forthrightness are refreshing when speaking about personal choices that ultimately have an undesirable public effect.

And that's just one way Weiner and Schwarzenegger went wrong: they thought they were making private decisions without any (perceived) public consequence.
Big mistake, guys.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and po

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