The internets have been besieged recently with news that serial groper and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child out of wedlock ten years ago with a member of household staff. Specifically, this new information is presumed to have served as the impetus behind the surprise news that Arnold and his wife of 25 years are splitting up. In the meantime, California is still suffering from the former movie star’s complete mismanagement of the worlds sixth largest economy.
This news about Arnold is perhaps more sensational, yet much less substantive than the much more interesting saga involving former Senator John Ensign of Nevada. Ensign quietly resigned during the Bin Laden news cycle and before an ongoing ethics investigation kicked him out of the Senate for sleeping with the wife of his top aide, Doug Hampton. Hampton (who also Ensign’s long time best friend) was then allegedly rewarded with illegal lobbying jobs and a large cash payment from Ensign’s parents to keep quite about the affair. This payment is being investigated as an illegal severance payment from Ensign to his mistress who he also employed until their affair ended (her son was also an intern on Ensign’s campaign at one point).
The reason that the Ensign affair is a more important topic for discussion relates to the several different political topics that it touches. Due to the moral failings of one powerful person, we now have another concreted example of the revolving door between elected representatives of government and the lobbyists that serve them. Ensign’s affair also highlights the continuing problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, as his mistress was apparently very unwilling to participate in the liaison but gave in due to her family’s complete financial dependence on the Senator. But it is the role of the family values coalition of the right wing that once again takes the center stage due to Ensign’s exposure of the well established truism concerning the rights seemingly never ending hypocrisy concerning the modern conservative obsession with sexual purity.
There are plenty of liberals who have engaged in fantastically shitty behavior within their personal lives. John Edwards famously fathered a child out of wedlock with a videographer (who also allegedly filmed their encounters) while his wife suffered through terminal cancer. Elliot Spitzer forced his wife to stand by his side while he publicly admitted to spending thousands on hookers. Bill Clinton, well he deserves his own parapgraph.
As my parents can attest, I have a long history of hero-worship and beatification for people I decided represented the same values that I hold dear. Bill Clinton, who took office when I was six, was the first politician whom I basically worshiped (my dad failed at getting me to care exclusively about sports to me until I was in high school). By the time I was 12, in 1998, I was crushed to find out that the individual whom I thought represented the universal liberal ideals that grew up with (again, thank you parents) also had a massive personal failing named Monica Lewinsky. To make matters worse, the revelations about Clinton came after my hero worship of John F Kennedy also forced me to confront the fact that the first Democratic president of the modern Civil Rights Movement was also a massive horndog.
He in lies the conflict that comes with following politics. On one hand, these people are human, and as such are subject to the same failings that all supposedly have. One reason that politicians may be prone to cheating can perhaps be linked to their elevated position in life, and the resulting increase in opportunities to engage in this behavior. However, the frequency in which these individuals violate their marriage vows has actually created a feedback loop that perpetuates an expectation that politicians will cheat. David Vitter for example, is still married and in the Senate despite having turned up on the D.C. Madame’s guest list, and he ran explicitly on a family values campaign. It is a hard question for a member from either end of the political spectrum to ask; should we expect sexual integrity from our political leaders?
My answer/solution is grounded in one of the lessons that I took from my recently completed first year in law school. I believe as members of a voting constituency, that we need to keep in mind a “balancing” test (versus a “bright-line” exclusionary test) of sorts when weighing whether a person’s sexual failings should prevent them from receiving our much coveted vote. It is impossible to claim that sexual integrity cannot be excluded from deciding whether someone deserves our vote. After all, integrity, judgement, and trustworthiness are inherent personal values that touch every aspect of someone’s decision making. But at the same time someone’s sexual misdeeds can be exclusive of their competence as a law maker, as Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, and the later career of Teddy Kennedy can demonstrate. Spitzer in particular, was targeted specifically because of his successful record in attacking the “titans” of Wall Street that destroyed our economy the same year he left office. Hypocrisy must also be taken into account, as Larry Craig’s career grounded in stripping homosexuals of their rights karmically ended with his attempt to solicit anonymous glory hole sex in a Men’s bathroom in the Minneapolis Airport.
However, I also feel that these allegations point towards a much bigger issue that we must face. We have too many men in charge right now, and gender plays a significant role in examining the issue of philandering law makers. The politicians who have famously had extra-marital affairs are almost exclusively men (unless you believe that creepy blogger who claimed to have slept with Nikki Haley), whose used the power inherent in their office as a way not to make their constituents lives better, but to satisfy their libidos (the people of South Carolina probably do not want to know how much they paid for Mark Samford’s hiking habit for example). Frankly, you do not see Amy Klobuchar, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Ruth Bader Gibson, or even (gulp) Michelle Bachmann doing anything EXCEPT working in the context of their positions in the government. Addressing the gender gap in politics might not be the magic solution to fixing this problem, but the leadership and legislative prowess that women have exhibited on both sides of the aisle demonstrate that the old boys network within government needs to come to a swift end.