Does it matter that politicians can’t keep it in their pants?

Reading Scoble today I see he was on the spot so that he could get a pic of just-the-latest-political-scandal with his just-the-latest-other-woman. Robert believes it matters, specifically that he lied about it. While he’s got a reasonable opinion, I disagree with Robert. It doesn’t matter that Edwards, or Clinton, or MLK, for that matter, had affairs. It matters even less that they lied about them. Of course they lied. It would be ridiculous to think a public figure wouldn’t like about an affair. (One can even generously say a gentleman never tells.)

If you’ll allow me that for the sake of argument then the question is whether the affairs matter. Here’s why I think it doesn’t.

  1. Everyone does it. Absolute power corrupts. Even a little power corrupts at least a little bit.
  2. Political job descriptions don’t, or shouldn’t, include “set moral example.”
  3. Politicians are people. People lie, cheat, and steal.
  4. Bad people can do good things. Good people do bad things.

The reason “because everyone else does it” isn’t an excuse. Nevertheless, it is true that powerful people have *always* fucked around. Men and women, alike. Good grief. It’s almost a wonder if anyone from the President on down to the town dog catcher hasn’t had an affair. So, let’s be practical, shall we? The question is whether they can do the job they’ve been elected to do.

The U.S. presidential oath of office says

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

No where in there is “stay faithful to my spouse.” Affairs don’t matter to a politician’s constituents, because we don’t elect them to lead us morally. That’s what preachers, imams, rabbis, and sports figures are for. Kidding about the sports figures.

I might vote for Edwards because his foreign and economic policies align with my own. I might vote for him because I think he’ll be able to get Congress to pass legislation I want, or nominate a Supreme Court Justice to my liking. I don’t need John Edwards or anyone else, thank you very much, to tell me how live a moral life.

One might argue that an affair shows a politician isn’t trustworthy. Maybe that’s the crux of the problem. Why do we feel we have to trust our politicians? Frankly, I think that makes citizens out to be a bunch of children looking for a father figure.

We shouldn’t trust politicians. We, the people, should keep a skeptical eye on them, on anyone with power over us, and always think the worst. Not that I think politicians are any worse or better than the rest of us, but we know power corrupts and can corrupt even good people.

Politicians are people (as are lawyers and IRS employees). If the politician is more inclined to lie, cheat, and steal than another professional, such as, say, a Silicon Valley software company executive (and I don’t know that they are) I daresay it’s a difference in power. Frankly, I suspect Fortune 500 folks have more of that going on than politicians because they’re not in the public eye as much.

An affair doesn’t indicate one way or another how well they’ll execute their office. It has nothing to do with their job. Grow up people. You and I know that each of us can in one instance do something morally wrong or maybe just questionable, and in another do something brave or generous, or otherwise fine.

People are three dimensional…no, four dimensional. We’re not all one thing or another–liars or truth tellers. I’m not. You’re not. Why do you expect others to be more than what we are? If we can’t be perfect when the pressure isn’t as great, the opportunities fewer, and the consequences more mundane, then how the hell can you expect someone else to be?

I mention MLK above deliberately. He’s in my top 5 list of great human beings. That he had an affair has absolutely nothing to do with his accomplishments. That his human frailty was made public was a cruelty perpetrated on his family.

The question of marital infidelity is only becoming relevant since politicians have become noisy on the subject of moral rectitude, a result, I presume, of the Moral Majorities influence. Ironically, the ones most loudly touting it, are the ones who fall under public scrutiny. So, politicians have largely brought this on themselves.

All the more reason to agree me that we, as citizens, are messing up badly when we trust powerful people.

BTW, I also think the person we should most distrust with power is ourselves.


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