In light of recent remarks by Alabama’s newly elected Gov. Robert Bentley, I can’t help but wonder: do politicians realize they have such a strong impact on their states’ reputations? Any governor of a state or president of a country has a big job: not only to serve their political function, but also to serve as the PR person of the area they represent.
When electing politicians, citizens often consider far more than the political stance of the hopefuls. The politician’s ability to present himself and his reputation — both morally and politically — likely influences most citizens’ votes. We would never (I hope) elect someone who was known for infidelity, heavy drinking or violent tendencies. These traits do not necessarily lessen the individual’s ability to govern but do make unappealing qualities in a representative.
This is not to say that Gov. Bentley has a bad reputation or questionable morals — in fact it is quite the opposite. He is known for his strong religious convictions, which perhaps led to this PR blunder. During a church service before his inauguration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day he said, “So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
Speaking as a Baptist preacher or even as an individual citizen, Bentley would not have raised any eyebrows. However, speaking as the governor, Bentley did not choose his words wisely, which implied that he would only represent Christians. Some even felt that he was trying to use his position to push Christianity upon others. These remarks quickly caught the attention of the national news, primarily because fewer people were upset by his comments than would be expected. While what he said was not bad in and of itself, it made Alabama citizens look like they do not accept those of other religions.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are many politicians whose loose morals have been the cause of bad PR for their states. Take, for example, former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. As if having an extramarital affair would not bring enough negative attention to his state, using state funds to travel to Argentina and lying about his whereabouts added insult to injury. He has managed to fly somewhat under the radar since the publicity explosion of 2009, but most people now think of his scandal when considering South Carolina politics.
Needless to say, politicians are in a very public position. Their personal opinions and choices affect their politics. As a citizen, I hope that those elected think about PR in everything they do. Public relations is all about relating to the public, which is something a politician must do on a daily basis. While remaining under constant public scrutiny cannot be easy, it is a part of a politician’s job description and so it is his responsibility to keep that in mind.
What do you think about a politician’s responsibilities when it comes to representing her citizens? Should her personal life and opinions weigh on her ability to govern?