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?

18 comments:

Max said...

I agree!

Aeon Skoble said...

It matters in the sense that it demonstrates their lack of good character, which is something they rely on. Mainsteam Democrats and Republicans share the (illusory) view that the people they elect are good people who can be trusted with power etc. If they're deceitful and othereise morally bankrupt, it gives the lie to this theory. So it's _not_ analogous to caring about the moral fiber of pop singers or actors.

Lester Hunt said...

Good point. This reminds me of something that John Waters said in criticizing the public destruction of Tiger Woods: "I couldn't believe that everybody went crazy about Tiger Woods. Well, he didn't run for Pope!" In a sense, politicians, given the enormous power they now have, *are* running for Pope.

Ruchira Paul said...

What Aeon Skoble said.

Personal character should matter a lot for those in positions of power. But ironically, power being the ultimate aphrodisiac (quoting the loathsome Henry Kissinger), those in power are also more likely to be reckless in pursuing their more prurient interests.

Lester, you will have to admit that since the mainstream media began paying attention to the private lives of public figures, right wing "family values" hypocrites have figured more frequently in this particular rogues' gallery. I mean despite heavyweights like Gary Hart, Bill Clinton and now Anthony Weiner on the left, there are many more sleaze balls on the other side. I could leave a list here but it is a waste of precious blogger space.

We should also ask another question. Is lying about a sexual peccadillo more heinous than hypocrisy in elected officials. When men (or women) lie to cover up a personal indiscretion, they really are lying to their spouse or family and out of shame. When they publicly wag their fingers at others and formulate public policy based on "moral values" while wallowing in sleaze in private, that is the kind of hypocrisy that no "policy" can compensate for.

Lester Hunt said...

Hoo boy. I'd hate to get into a debate about whether Republicans are sexually slimier than Democrats. As you know, I don't have dog in that fight. No matter what I say, I feel like I'm taking hits for people who wouldn't do it for me.

I can't resist pointing out thought that of the two most recent congressional sex scandals -- Eric "Tickle Me Elmo" Massa and that Guy who sent a shirtless picture of himself to a woman and was out in two days -- one was a D and one was an R. Also of the most awful sex scandals in recent decades -- Clinton, Spitzer, Schwartzenegger, Edwards -- it was 3 Ds to 1 R.

You end with an interesting suggestion: that sex scandals are more loathsome in Rs than in Ds. It has an interesting corollary: that tax evasion scandals (eg., Charlie Rangel) are more loathsome in Ds than in Rs.

Lester Hunt said...

Oops! I just realized I forgot Gov. Sanford of SC. That makes 3 D, 2 R.

Ruchira Paul said...

It has an interesting corollary: that tax evasion scandals (eg., Charlie Rangel) are more loathsome in Ds than in Rs

I agree 100%. Your corollary is spot on!

As for Spitzer, his transgression was the same as David Vitter's and somewhat like John Ensign's although in the case of the latter, his dad made the payment!

Lester Hunt said...

I put Spitzer on the "most awful" list because had earlier, as a public prosecutor, busted a prostitution ring and used it to bag some politically-valuable publicity. It's hard to imagine a worse sort of hypocrite.

momwrite said...

Agree. My daughter said he was soooo stupid. I told her it was not the matter of stupidity but that of charater. I commented on this on my 6/8 posting.

Ruchira Paul said...

Actually, Lester. You should include Newt Gingrich among the recent revelations. We did not know the details of his mischief in real time when he was thundering to impeach Clinton. How come you left out John Ensign? He is horrible and his actions, like those of Edwards, may include breaking the law.

Rick said...

While the lying may have been about an (arguably) private matter, the lying itself was very public. It was disturbing to see how glib he was and how willing he was to slime the people who were reporting what he knew to be the truth. He made clear to all the extent to which he would go to protect himself from public embarrassment. How low would he sink if the stakes were higher? The man has no credibility.

Furthermore, he proved himself to be reckless. He made himself vulnerable to blackmail in exchange for a little dirty talk. Not hard to imagine someone setting him up to trade a little silence for a lot of political favors. Hey, I saw Godfather II. I know how these things work.

Lester Hunt said...

Ruchira,

Two good examples, both of which were simply oversights on my part. So now it's Democrats 3, Republicans 4. The Republicans are nosing ahead! (Everything sounds like some kind of double entendre nowadays. Thanks a lot Anthony!)

Rick said...

It was pretty much a draw through 2009.

Sex Scandals Through the Years

http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/the-gaggle/2009/06/25/sex-scandals-through-the-years-both-parties-even.html

Lester Hunt said...

Wow. Interesting article. Thanks! I think this topic may deserve another blog post!

Ruchira Paul said...

I would like to split some hairs here about the "quality" of the indiscretions in favor of one of the R offenders ( surprise, surprise!)

The Mark Sanford case was at least somewhat interesting although he seems to be just as self absorbed in private as he is pious in public. For some reason, the pathetic "walking the Appalachian Trail" story may have been ridiculous but his obsession lacked the ick factor of most of the other predictable shenanigans mentioned here. I think like Prince Charles' adultery with an older woman much less attractive than his gorgeous young wife, this one too was a matter of heart and not just the body parts. The man probably did fall in love and therefore his utterances like "found my soulmate" etc. were far more palatable (and believable) than the righteous finger wagging and angry lies of the rest.

Lester Hunt said...

The Sanford thing was painful for me for the reasons Jack gives in his podcast -- so of course I'm prejudiced, but -- I agree. He fell in love with someone other than his wife. Many married men (eg., me) successfully avoid the occasion for such misadventures, but I guess that's not always possible.

Rick said...

More fodder for your upcoming post:
http://www.yourtango.com/201178406/do-democrats-have-more-sex-scandals-than-republicans

I'm really not obsessed with this stuff. It happened to be linked to on Instapundit.

Lester Hunt said...

Uh-huh. Likely story.