There Are No Weiner Puns Left To Use In This Title, So Why Are We Still So Obsessed With Political Scandals?
It seems you can’t go a day in this country without some new political scandal breaking out. In today’s “politicians are gross” news, we have the revelation (via his own press conference) that Anthony Weiner continued to pursue relationships outside of his marriage even after resigning from congress following his Twitter scandal back in 2011. This would be a ‘who cares?’ sort of story if only Weiner weren’t in the midst of attempting a political comeback by running for mayor of New York City. The whole situation raises a lot of questions: How will this new information affect Weiner’s chances in the election? Should he still be running for mayor at all? Should personal scandal affect people’s political careers as much as they currently do? Why would anyone choose Carlos Danger as his internet dating alias? Is any of this even surprising coming from a man who had former President Bill Clinton officiate his wedding ceremony?
Let’s start there – President Clinton. His was the first major political scandal that I remember, and given that I was 11 at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the details of what had happened, but I got the gist that President Clinton had cheated on his wife, and I knew that was wrong. As I wasn’t a particularly politically savvy middle schooler, I had only what I knew of the President’s personal conduct to judge him based on, and I definitely thought less of him after the Lewinsky scandal.
But should I have? Scandals aside, our country ran relatively smoothly under the Clinton administration. If a politician is doing their job well, why is their personal life a factor? Plenty of ordinary people engage in plenty of questionable behavior, but their jobs are never on the line because they aren’t public figures. Celebrities often benefit from the publicity that results from their questionable personal decisions. Why should politicians suffer more for indiscretions the rest of us can get away with?
On the other hand, at this point, I’d think anyone in politics would know that their personal life was going to be subject to a pretty high level of scrutiny. You’d think anyone with some basic common sense and discretion would know not to go around sending X-rated pictures on Twitter (doubly so if your last name happens to be Weiner). I don’t think a politician’s personal life necessarily affects their ability to do their job, but I think their basic intelligence level certainly does. At this point, you would think they’ve seen enough to know that whatever they do is eventually going to be found out and they wouldn’t do these things in the first place.
Back to the first hand, we’re only human, and so are our elected representatives. If we’re expecting our politicians to have been perfectly behaved from birth, we’re going to be looking at a very short list of potential candidates. Plenty of presidents have been suspected of or admitted to past drug use. Presidents have been having affairs since the days of Thomas Jefferson. None of these behaviors necessarily affects these people’s ability to govern the nation.
In fact, I think the problem isn’t that politicians all have skeletons in their closets; it’s that the media is so obsessed with finding them, which makes politicians obsessed with covering them up. To me, the issue with people like President Clinton or Anthony Weiner isn’t how they conducted their personal affairs; that’s their business and I don’t know their lives. (I didn’t stop rooting for Olivia and Fitz on Scandal because I thought their affair was wrong; I stopped rooting for them because Olivia can do way better.) The issue isn’t the politician’s actions; it’s that they lied about them when questioned. What someone does in their off hours shouldn’t matter, but if they’re lying to the American people about that, who knows what else they’re lying about?
Then again, if lying is your only alternative to being metaphorically tarred and feathered by our strangely puritanical society, I can see why it appeals. We’re all flawed people, is it really so shocking that we’ve elected flawed leaders? If anyone has a truly perfect history of good decision making, then I invite them to continue judging our leaders based on their personal lives. As for me, I’m going to stop worrying about politicians’ personal lives and start focusing on their politics.