Moral Limbo, Political Style

Capitol HillA couple of years ago, when former California Governor and movie icon Ahnohld Schwarzenegger’s revealed his dalliance with one of his domestic employees, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek response to the “shocking” news.  I framed it as a letter to those opposed to letting gay people marry, and suggested that the crowd to whom we should deny marriage is the group of people who, historically, had proven themselves really, really bad at it.

I am talking about superstars in the businesses of entertainment, politics and sports.  THESE are the ones for whom marriage is not natural. Of course, not all superstars in these fields practice infidelity, and not all of us regular folk stay true to our spouses.  Regardless, can we please just assume that once a politician, athlete, actor, musician, etc., reaches a certain level of success and fame that their ability to remain faithful to their spouse is seriously compromised?

Let’s go down the list of suspects, here:

  1. People whose careers involve staying gorgeous and taking their clothes off with other gorgeous people and pretending to be in love with a different person for each movie,

  2. People whose chosen paths involve lengthy absences from their families while they are worshipped and fawned over by people seeking all kinds of favors and favor,

  3. People whose prowess on the athletic field guarantees they will be showered with offers to demonstrate their prowess off the field, and

  4. People who actively pursue careers wherein success equals ungodly fame, extreme wealth, wielding great power, and obscene stroking of egos as a matter of course.

I’d like to strike a more serious tone, though, when talking about our elected officials.  Of course, they fall into categories 2 and 4 of the above list.  In “The Hypocrisy of the Powerful,” Dr. Robert Smither discusses how politicians caught up in sex scandals “do things that are completely opposite of the image they present to voters.”  That’s true of Eliott Spitzer and Larry Craig – both advanced their political careers by expressing loud moral outrage in public about behaviors in which they personally engaged in private.  Simply put, they were hypocrites.  They also broke the law.  Somehow, though, I don’t feel it’s as striking as Dr. Smither does.

This is because we have yet to come to terms with the obvious truth about which I joke in my list above.  Of course people in power consider themselves infallible.  Of course people in power have no trouble forgiving their own bad behavior while condemning others who engage in the very same behavior.  People don’t ascend to positions of great power – especially political power – because of their forgiving and humble natures.  In fact, I really think if you’re forgiving and humble, and somehow manage to ascend to great power, it is not because of those qualities, but rather, despite them.  I’m speaking in ridiculously broad generalizations, here, but you catch my drift.

Sincere apologies for sounding crass, but it doesn’t upset me when I hear a politician has been unfaithful to his or her (come on, though, you know we’re mostly talking about “him”) spouse.  It upsets me that  I hear a politician has been unfaithful.  Here’s why:

1.  I don’t think it’s any of my business.  It’s between the politician and his or her spouse and family.  And the third party, whomever it is.  And their clergy, their lawyers, and their therapists, should they have the inclination to consult such people.  I think primarily of the innocents in these scenarios, and how painful it must be to have their humiliation played out in front of hundreds of millions.

2.  I don’t equate fidelity to one’s spouse with the ability to govern.  Plenty of talented surgeons, artists, etc., might be unfaithful, but how often does that cost them their jobs?  Yet I know news of infidelity often ends a political career.  If it doesn’t end a career, it creates a huge distraction from it, and an opportunity for the opposing side to claim moral superiority.  THAT makes me gag.

3.  The fact we hear about it is reflective of the fact we have such an appetite for it.  I fear that speaks very poorly of our priorities and our national maturity.  I mean, I was embarrassed and ashamed during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal – not because our President had an affair, but that his lying about it led to his impeachment.  What a farce and waste of resources and energy that was.

Which brings me to Anthony Weiner.  Full disclosure – we’re from the same part of Brooklyn, his younger brother went to my high school and owns a restaurant where I once enjoyed a superb meal.  None of that, though, brings anything to bear on the fact that I find it tragic that such a smart guy with such great potential, fighting the good fight (in my eyes, at least) has lost his voice in Congress just because he tweeted d*ck pics to some college hotties.  I mean, here’s a guy who managed to SHUT Joe Scarborough UP about health insurance companies.  Here’s a guy who went on an epic rant in Congress making Republicans look like idiots for defunding NPR.  (Ironically, now that he’s running for Mayor of New York City, the endorsement that would help Weiner the most is the one he’s not going to get – the Clintons’.  They’re not going near him with a 10-foot cigar, for obvious reasons.)

I understand the argument of some that it’s hard to vote for a politician who exhibits such bad judgment.  If he or she is so careless in his or her personal life, how can I trust him or her with matters of great significance?  That’s a completely legitimate question to ask.  Again, though, I wonder why we don’t think infidelity makes a doctor less medically capable or a conductor less able to lead an orchestra.

I consider role model status for national politicians to be extremely fuzzy when it comes to their personal lives.  If we removed the specter of their personal lives being dragged through the mud, might we have a more focused Congress?  If we didn’t so delight in publicizing private lives of the rich and powerful, might we be able to then insist they concentrate at the work at hand that really DOES matter?  If running for office didn’t automatically mean subjecting themselves and their families to the media dumpster diving that is sure to follow, would more people who would make good politicians step up to the plate?  I don’t know what the answer is.  I’m not sure what is the right thing to do.   What we’re doing isn’t working, though, that’s for damn sure.  How else can we explain that Congress has a 10% approval rating, yet 90% of incumbents are re-elected?  To what degree are we, the governed, responsible for the incredible dysfunction of the government about which we complain so loudly?

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore, MD. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Catonsville Patch, Kveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of Defense

  • I really don’t care about the sex lives of politicians, unless they happen to be trying to legislate what other people can do with their sex lives and relationships. If they run on a “[conservative Christian] family values” platform, then clearly they’re not delivering as advertised when they’re caught in a gay affair. I’d hope that they would instead start voting on legislation in a true-to-life fashion for equality, but of course, that never happens.

    Bill Clinton was a dog, but he led our country to prosperity. GWB seems to still have that marriage and family thing locked up tight, but he tanked our country’s resources on so many levels. Marital health clearly isn’t a good indicator of the ability to govern.

    Bread and circuses, though. And since the Republicans seem gung-ho to take away even the bread from those who need it most, we have more and more circuses.

  • Oh, and Eliot Spitzer was my governor. I don’t care that he hired a prostitute. Honestly, I think that profession should be legal so the industry could get some much-needed safety regulations. But what I did care about was that my ex-governor used taxpayer dollars for interstate trips with his paid companion(s). Not cool.

  • Firstly, I agree with number five completely. We like hearing about it. No, even more than that, we are often happy when we hear about this sort of behaviour. We like suspecting and having confirmed, various deceptions from our leaders.

    But then you said this:

    “Again, though, I wonder why we don’t think infidelity makes a doctor less medically capable or a conductor less able to lead an orchestra.”

    and I stopped seeing completely eye-to-eye with you. While it is true that we do put some measure of trust in our surgeon, for instance, and let’s face it they have a reputation that is much like that of politicians, we aren’t backing them to lead our town or state or country into a path we think to be morally and ethically superior to other surgeons.

    At the end of the day I can tell my surgeon that I want a second opinion and choose not to use his services, but deciding that the politician I stood behind at election is now unworthy of his position only leaves me holding my breath and waiting it out til the next election.

  • *my comment was supposed to say number three.

  • I don’t care about it, either. But is it our business? Sometimes—such as when those not-so-clandestine-anymore rendezvous occur on government time or with government funds. Bad judgment can ruin your life more these days than they ever could before. So here’s my question: If you are that stupid that you tweet your dick, how can I ever find you smart again?

    What some of us feel most is betrayal. I liked Weiner. I liked him a lot. His stupidity made me think that I must have been stupid, too. Because what a dick.

    (And I don’t mean What a dick!)

  • Suzanne

    I think it needs to be said again that Anthony Weiner tweeted his pictures to unwilling recipients. THAT lack of respect for consent is a lot more troubling to me than a consensual sexual affair.

  • I think it’s a question of ethics. No more, no less. Misuse of benefits given to political candidates is cause for concern.

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