Do we elect the “whole” person?

Yesterday on NPR Morning Edition, I heard Cokie Roberts mention (paraphrasing) that when we’re electing a president, we want and need to know about his/her entire personality and character; what matters is that we can trust that person. It got me thinking if this is a uniquely American problem.

For the past couple weeks, my husband and I have had an on-going conversation about whether we should care about the “whole” person — look at Europe, he says; They’d never get through elections if constituents cared about mistresses, paramours and the like. But we seem to care about what the definition of “is” is.

Why is that?

Why is it that we care about someone’s personal life for a job? Granted, it is the highest job you can hold in our land, but it’s contrary to most other job interviews we have and the legislation we’ve passed to protect employees. (Note, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m speaking from my personal experience hiring and managing employees in the private sector)

I can’t ask a candidate if he or she has had extra-marital affairs. I can’t ask if the person has a family or is thinking about having one. I cant ask about siblings and whether they’ve brought shame to the family. And for all the jobs I’ve ever hired for, I can’t ask whether he or she inhaled in college. So why is it that when we’re hiring for the presidency we can ask these very personal questions and get away with it? And most notably, why do we care? Don’t we just want to know that he or she is qualified (skills-wise) to do and excel in the job?

In today’s workplace, the rule of thumb is don’t talk about sex, politics and religion. Well, that certainly goes out the window in our presidential race. I wonder what hiring in the workplace would be like if we held presidential-esque debates between candidates. Can you imagine how long that would take? What if we dug up al the dirt on wrong decisions we’ve made in the past and smeared them across the local paper, social media or a tv spot? Are you starting to get anxious?

I don’t have all the answers here, but I think it’s worth debating why we have such different processes for “hiring” elected officials vs an employee to come work for our teams. Would we be more efficient in government if we had the same rules, legislation and guidelines in place that we do in the private sector? I guess then the media wouldn’t have anything to talk about.