A second issue with democracy: sex scandals.
My sexual morals are becoming looser – or at least more sympathetic – as political sex scandals continue to thrive.
That Anthony Weiner continued his technology-based adultery after resigning from congress with the first scandal (which in my opinion he shouldn’t have done – finish the term and let voters decide then if that was the deal-breaker) is only relevant in political terms because of the story in People magazine that he was a changed man. But he was under political pressure to put on that kind of PR because people cared about his sex life to begin with – and they shouldn’t have. He also shouldn’t have stupidly tweeted a picture of his landscape in underwear to someone, but that’s to be weighed against how well he’s served his constituents and how functional he is as a politician. That he was vocal and stood his ground with the people on so many things should be a bigger factor in evaluating his credentials as an elected public servant. That he first lied about the original Weiner Weiner scandal is something to take issue with, but again less important than the non-personal, impactful things he’s told the truth on when others didn’t.
And talking about his wife standing by him through this is really none of anyone’s business. If you think it reflects poorly on her character as weak and foolish then you should listen to a wider range of opinions to see if they sway or enlighten you in any way. His wife is an ambitious person with the career she’s embarked on, serving as an aide to Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. There are a lot of comparisons you can make between her and Hilary Clinton. They’ve both stood by their cheating husbands under public scrutiny. You can speculate about whether this is just for show or make judgments on their strength of character (but I’m pretty sure the evidence would be against you if you think Clinton isn’t a strong woman because she stuck with her husband) but that is just your speculation. And you’re not looking at an alternative answer for why there is still marital solidarity on the surface, and maybe even still at the core of their relationship: it’s an open relationship most strongly tied by factors other than sex.
There was a recent documentary series on Bill Clinton that I only got to watch a few minutes of, but it was on his earlier life and the beginning of his political career, including how he met, married, and worked with Hilary Rodham. There was clearly a passion for politics and principles and change that lured these two to each other and solidified their relationship. Bill of course has a reputation of another passion that lures him to others but that might not be a problem with Hilary. They may have come to an understanding at some point early on, long before the entire country knew about them, that keeps their shared principles and political drives as the primary bond in their marriage. Open marriages are real. They can function. And it seems that people who enter public office or who have the ambition to work their way up to be a high-end public servant just might have more important things to base their marriage on than sex. Hilary may have been a mentor to Huma Abedin in more than just a political role, and Huma should be evaluated from her own career instead of her choice to stay with her husband.
Moving on: Elliot Spitzer. Another shamed New York politician who resigned from a sex scandal looking to take office (a much more boring office) in the NYC elections. He resigned as governor of New York for two reasons: 1) Albany sucks and 2) he was caught with prostitutes. He was forgiven enough to get a gig as a news commentator on CNN and whatever else he’s done with his career since. Lying and covering things up again is a bigger problem than being with prostitutes in and of itself, but what matters most to me is that he is complacent with prostitution being outlawed and stigmas remaining harsher on women who are prostitutes than men who are clients of them. Prostitution should be legalized, unionized, regulated, and taxed to turn it into a profession that contributes to the economy and can maintain healthy and safe environments for sex workers. The adulterous aspects of people like Spitzer using services should, well, see above.
I will admit that on Real Time with Bill Maher last week, Rula Jebreal made a fair comment that adultery and other acts that would cause public scandal affect political suitability for candidates because of their susceptibility for extortion. This is a very plausible consequence, although I would argue the solution is to stop ruining politicians’ careers because of it. Extortion leads to fraud, embezzlement, and cronyism to meet the demands of those manipulating high political leaders, but even without sex scandals that may have happened anyway. Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi did all sorts of corrupt things as the megalomaniac millionaire and has been tried and convicted of fraud AND paying for sex with a minor. If a politician is charged with a criminal act, tried and found guilty, THAT is the kind of scandal that should void his career. (Sadly, in Berlusconi’s case, it really hasn’t.) He’s said and done things that expose how he’s unfit for public service – Il Duce apologist, tax evasion, cronyism including getting his mistress in office – and that’s separate from the reasons his wife sought divorce and made a spectacle of it. But still, with this exposure of character, the public voted for him because he refused to resign. Perhaps the same thing would’ve happened with Weiner as a congressman and Spitzer as a governor.
Mark Sanford, former Governor of South Carolina who went missing on a walk down the Appalachian Trail that later turned out to be a woman in Argentina, got elected into public office again this year. His wife didn’t stand by him. He never apologized for falling in love with another woman and cheating on his wife while in office. He’s also a Republican, as opposed to Weiner and Spitzer, and got re-elected. Berlusconi is also a right-of-centre politician (as a Mussolini apologist would be) and has been re-elected despite scandal. Why is it that the supposedly more accepting and liberal side of the political spectrum gets in bigger shit for this behaviour than others?
On a final short local note of this long run-on sentence, I’d like to bring up a local example. Pro-business Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz got divorced from the mother of his two children while in office then remarried someone decades younger than him. It was a bit of a local scandal, but he hasn’t resigned and I don’t think he lost any supporters for that. He has also been under scrutiny for conflict-of-interest practices with his own businesses and does things for his wealthy buddies instead of the public he’s supposed to serve, so his private life should have nothing to do with people’s opinion of him as a mayor. It certainly isn’t an issue with me and why I don’t want him in office.
Alright, wrapping it up – expecting elected officials to be morally pure instead of caring about their corruption and other political practices in conflict with things that actually affect the public isn’t using democracy very well. It’s holding them to the standards of being without sin, holy and pious, and therefore someone whom a Western Christian-based nation can worship like in absolute monarchies where the rulership is not determined by public interest but appointment from God. It’s not much of a democracy when the empowered people don’t affect the political goings-on but just shame people like Puritans calling for witches to be burnt. Don’t let their sex lives distract you from what elected officials are trying to do to your sex lives – and freedoms and dignity and body in general.