Political Affairs

July 20, 2009 at 8:06 am | Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Senator John Ensign of Nevada, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, former Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York, former President Bill Clinton, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich…the list is nearly endless. All of these men were excoriated by the press, their opponents (and sometimes their colleagues) and the general public for their immoral acts. Yet until the news of their bad behavior hit the news, none had been accused of doing a poor job (except by their opponents, of course).

The fact is that these unfaithful spouses are doing what many of us do: researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 was 28 percent in 2006. That being the case, one has to wonder whether infidelity to a spouse ought to be grounds for a politician to resign or be removed from office.

The answer is…it depends. Most politicians parade their families before the public to show what good, substantial citizens they are. Others thunder imprecations at opponents whose immorality is discovered. Republicans, in particular, don the mantle of family values, implying, if not actually saying, that Democrats don’t believe in family values.

Such politicians, when they stray, are therefore subject to a double whammy: not only are they guilty of immoral behavior, but they are also guilty of hypocrisy. I don’t think that cheating on your spouse is, per se, grounds for leaving office; but hypocrisy is. Politicians ought to tell their constituents what they believe in, and stand by those beliefs.

There are politicians who don’t make a great big deal about “family values;” who don’t claim moral superiority, but who campaign on the issues. If such a politician is discovered to be having an affair, it’s a major problem for his or her family but, except for the distraction, it doesn’t necessarily reflect on his or her ability to do the job. In such cases it’s none of the public’s business, as it’s none of the public’s business if somebody who works in the private sector has an affair.

There are two problems here. One is that such politicians are few and far between. The other is that in many cases there are other problems associated with a politician having an affair, like using public funds for private purposes. It is never acceptable for politicians to steal public money. Never.

South Carolina Governor Sanford allegedly used public money to fund trips to Argentina to be with his girlfriend, and apparently failed to live up to the expense standards he ran on and held state employees to. And he abandoned his job for nearly a week while running away to Argentina to spend time with his girlfriend. He ought to resign, and if he refuses, the South Carolina Legislature ought to throw him out. Unfortunately, his Lieutenant Governor is fighting rumors that he’s gay, which is no reason to resign public office. But it doesn’t help your political career, either. Not in South Carolina, anyway.

Former New York Governor Spitzer was accused of using public money to finance evenings with a call girl. I was saddened by the whole affair, because Spitzer was a really fine prosecutor, and while I know little of New York politics, I suspect he was a good governor too. But he shot himself in the foot (the groin?) and did the right thing: he resigned.

Senator Ensign, however, takes the cake. When his affair with a staff member (whose husband is also on his staff) came to light, his buddies at the 5th Street House made him write a letter to the woman to break off the affair, then hauled him down to the FedEx office to mail it overnight. But the very next day he called her, told her to ignore the letter, and went off to Nevada to be with her. To make a sorry story even sorrier, he fired the woman and her husband and let mommy and daddy pay the couple a cool $100,000. And he has yet to resign!

It seems to me that if you’re a politician you ought to run on your record, your political philosophy, and on the issues that concern your constituency. If you get elected, keep your hand out of the till, and do your job to the best of your ability. That’s what most successful politicians—and all the moral ones—do.

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