We are living in pretty amazing political times.
Many of the long-standing and accepted rules regarding “ethical” behavior for both candidates and incumbents have been tossed out the proverbial window. These days, it seems like almost anything goes.
Not that the general behavior of people has changed that much. There have always been folks who served or tried to serve in government who have done or said things that should probably disqualify them from participating. But today, with social media chronicling our every thought and move, it becomes much easier for mistakes or unwise past actions to turn up.
We are much more accepting today of behavior that would not have been tolerated in the not-so-distant past. A couple of decades ago, hiring a nanny who was not a legal citizen was enough to keep you from being appointed to a cabinet position.
Today, you can be on video bragging about how you grab women by their genital area and still be elected President of the United States. And if you are comparing Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, remember — he was already in his second term when that broke and never had to run for office again.
Which brings us to the local scene, where yet another disgraceful display of intolerance and ignorance has affected North Attleboro politics. The town is hardly alone in having suffered outrageous behavior by people holding or running for office. But now such a situation has popped up there twice in the last year.
In 2016 an incumbent RTM member was found to have posted discriminatory, bigoted, racist posts on Facebook involving the Muslim religion and now-former First Lady Michelle Obama. He initially claimed he did nothing wrong before eventually resigning his position and being defeated in a re-election bid (it was too late for him to withdraw his name from the ballot).
Now James Lang, a former Finance Committee member and candidate for selectman, has also been found to have bigoted and prejudiced comments about Muslims on his Facebook page. We won’t recount the vile, ignorant things said and/or endorsed here because there is no reason to further publicize them. It is enough that he made them.
Last week Lang apparently dropped out of the race specifically because of the posts, but now says he is staying in. He indicated he may not have made all the posts, that some could be the result of “hackers.”
While dropping out would have been the right thing to do, it seems clear Lang’s only real regret is his actions were discovered.
The former candidate initially said his remarks resulted from “thoughtlessness.” At the same time, he readily admitted he tried to remove the postings before running for selectman.
“Obviously, I didn’t do a good job,” he said, adding “ it is without a doubt a strike against me for alluding to something that could and has been inappropriately conveyed as being who I am.”
He’s absolutely wrong about that last part. Our words and actions are perhaps the very best indication of who we truly are. We all make mistakes and do things we ultimately regret, but in the end our actions are generally indicative of our true selves.
You can make serious mistakes and recover. Almost all of us do. But trying to hide your bad behavior to improve your chances of running for public office speaks volumes about your character and suitability to represent people.
If Lang had truly wanted to be a leader, he would have admitted his mistakes right away and stuck to that. He would have apologized, presented himself as an example of how things must change, and made a stand for transparency and ethical behavior.
But he didn’t. And he deserves what he is now getting.
On the more positive side, the reaction of other North Attleboro officials and candidates to this situation is markedly better than a year ago. Rather than trying to ignore it and hope it will go away, some have actually stood up and called it what it is.
Now we will see what the voters of North Attleboro think about Mr. Lang and his comments. I hope they reject both Lang and his hateful posts.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.