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For Obama and other public servants, three tests of integrity

To halt the erosion of public trust, we must restore covenantal ideals.

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Rarely before in American history has there been such a need for the restoration of public trust in our government and businesses.

As Barack Obama takes the oath of office, he does so amid widespread disappointment in the alleged mercenary conduct of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), the insatiable greed of some in the business community that precipitated the economic meltdown, and the unprecedented Ponzi scheme apparently perpetrated by Bernard Madoff.

These scandals have eroded public confidence and have led to further cynicism about our institutions of government and business. In response, calls are mounting to enact various reforms designed to prevent – or at least uncover faster – such ethical breaches. But something much more fundamental is needed: a restoration of covenantal ideals.

Those who accept the mantle of public service enter into a de facto covenant – a binding agreement – with those who are led, and the first tenet of that covenant is integrity. Public trust can be restored with a clearer understanding of that covenant. Government and business leaders must understand that their part of the covenant requires them to adhere to the highest standards of integrity and civility. Those who are led are also required to perform at their highest standards of integrity and civility. This reciprocal covenant may well involve a degree of selflessness and mutual sacrifice seldom demanded of our citizens today.

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