Americans are disgusted with dishonesty in politics and public life.

Whether focused on the embellishments of former NBC news anchor Brian Williams, the overstatements of President Obama in urging passage of ObamaCare, former Rep. Aaron SchockAaron Jon SchockFormer GOP Rep. Aaron Schock comes out as gay Now that Aaron Schock is 'out,' he can be a powerful LGBTQ ally Feds formally drop charges against former Rep. Aaron Schock MORE's (R-Ill.) misdeeds or the recent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years The Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? MORE email fiasco, the propensity for high-ranking public figures to fabricate, deceive or downright lie is too frequent. Some celebrities believe they are above the laws that govern the rest of us. Politically connected Al Sharpton, an Obama crony, reportedly owes millions in back taxes, something for which others not as politically connected as Sharpton have been prosecuted and gone to jail.


According to Gallup polling, Americans' trust in government is down. Reports of high-office dishonesty, working the angles, secretive actions, phony excuses and stonewalling the truth only heighten suspicions that our great country is being run without integrity and that spinning reality is the rule, not the exception. While many public officials conduct themselves honorably, reports of dishonesty bombard the news and give citizens the wrong impression of leadership, resulting in public distrust of all officials, whether justified or not. Obama has only added to public suspicions with his chronic lack of transparency in government, reflected by polling statistics that have registered his approval rating below 50 percent for months. The once revered and feared IRS is now saddled with a reputation for political manipulation. Too often, public officials, to avoid political embarrassment rather than to protect state secrets, stretch the truth to protect their own political hides, not fully appreciating the damage they're doing to the institutions they represent.

Reestablishing trust will take courage by public figures. Though she won't likely do so, Clinton has a perfect opportunity to admit she overreached by setting up a private email account; standing by while the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) questionably benefited while she was secretary of State; and controlling the release of possibly damning emails. Like her husband's conduct before her, the ends seem to justify the means.

Some politicians can never admit defeat — or a mistake. Most Americans are forgiving of political misdeeds, if only politicians have the courage to admit fallibility. But the propensity to "power through" difficulties only feeds public suspicion that the truth is being hidden. If President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDow breaks 30,000 for first time as Biden transition ramps up Trump's remaking of the judicial system Voters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen MORE had simply admitted his dishonesty in 1998 when the evidence was clear that he lied under oath (as was later established), public disruption would have ensued, but his legacy as an honest president would have been cemented if he had punctuated his presidency with the message, "Dishonesty never pays, even for presidents." Instead, he powered through, avoiding impeachment conviction by the U.S. Senate in the face of significant House impeachment charges. Though his popularity rating is now high, Clinton is best remembered for his dalliances with a White House intern.

Now, with Hillary Clinton's email scheme, the Clinton aura of moral suspicion lingers. And that solidifies the notion that corruption could reside in the White House in 2017 if Clinton were elected. The public would again replay past Clinton dramas, an exhausting exercise at best. Once again, the Clintons are at the center of controversy.

At a time when relatively few even seek public office, those who do must conduct themselves above reproach if the public is ever to be satisfied that public officials are generally honest.

So how can honesty in government be invigorated?

Those who serve have a higher obligation than supporting sound public policy: They're obliged to personify exemplary conduct. Granted, human imperfections touch both public officials and private citizens, but public officials' misdeeds always receive outsized attention. That's why public officials must always conduct themselves honorably, if for no other reason than to bolster public confidence in public policy decisions.

The 2016 presidential elections will reflect just how much weight voters will place on the personal integrity of the candidates running for the highest office in the land. Does anyone truly believe that Hillary Clinton didn't plan to keep private all her emails while secretary of State, preventing any misdeeds from being discovered? Voters who support her as part of another "event" election — the first female president — and ignore misdeeds that constitute devious public conduct will be responsible for institutionalizing the further cultural decline of American politics.

And if voters elect a morally suspicious candidate next year, they'll have only themselves to blame for the sad state of politics.

Nethercutt is a former U.S. representative from Washington state, serving from 1995 to 2005.