Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Private Lives of Politicians: Should We Care?


Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias has said that there is no reason to pay any attention to Weiner's private behavior: his record tells you everything you really need to know about his character -- at least the part of it that matters. Above, libertarian columnist Jack Hunter takes, curiously enough, exactly the same position. Of course, there is a big difference: Matt seems to think that Weiner's liberal policies are enough to make him virtuous (in the way that matters) and Jack says that policies that rob the productive in order to reward the unproductive are necessarily morally wrong.

Should a liberal prefer that a privately virtuous conservative be elected over a liberal sleazebag like Weiner, Jack asks? No! Policy trumps character, easily!

I agree that policy trumps character, of course. I also agree that it is a shame that so much time and energy is being wasted on this pathetic jerk while the country continues to drift toward the rim of Niagara. But this does not mean that character does not matter, nor that we should simply ignore information about a politician's private life.

As to the last point, what is in the public record may have more weight, but private stuff, after all, is evidence. Why would you simply ignore evidence? Matt thinks he has enough evidence from the public record. That is nonsense. When it comes to something difficult to penetrate as the human heart, more evidence is always better than less, other things being equal. Always.

Further, the new evidence modifies the old, which should be reinterpreted in light of the new. Before Weiner's weird virtual sex life became known, I had some respect for him for his willingness to frequently appear on Fox to talk to notoriously tough interviewer Bill O'Reilly. Now it looks more like the narcissistic behavior of an unprincipled attention hog.

Finally, though policy trumps character, that is consistent with the idea that better character is always preferable, other things being equal. Given that, as Jack says, if Weiner's district were to vote him out in the primaries, they would simply replace him with another liberal, doesn't that mean that it would be rational for them to want to do precisely that -- on the probability that the next liberal would not be such a lame, laughable disgrace to their cause?
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