Politician’s private lives: A call to focus on policy, not moral purity

Jan 31st, 2018 | By | Category: 2017-2018, Opinions

By Phillip Amur
Contributor

The president of the United States is an individual from whom we expect everything, as William G. Howell discusses in his book Thinking About The Presidency, The Primacy of Power. Our president, along with all elected officials, is charged with maintaining economic prosperity, well-maintained budgets and international stability, as well as various pet causes pertaining to social reform.

In the modern U.S alone however, there is another more informal, though no less true, expectation that both those within the White House’s justice department and the general public want from all politicians who wish to maintain high favorability: moral purity.  

While loss in political/legal stature hasn’t always been the result of sexual misconduct allegations in the modern age, it is interesting to note how today it is mainstream to report on such private affairs of politicians with the goal of shocking the public, thus in many cases turning voters against them— not because of policy but because of the formerly mentioned acts.

In 1987, then-Colorado Senator and democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart was “unmasked,” as reported in a 2014 Washington Post article as an adulterer and therefore had to withdraw from his campaign as a result of both media bombardment and disapproval from a fair percentage of his voters (44%). Bill Clinton, before the Paula Jones trial and the included deposition, asked Monica Lewinsky to perjure herself and cover up what had happened knowing very well that the White house would be seeking action, according to an article entitled Public Opinion and the Impeachment of Bill Clinton in the academic journal and book-publishing company Taylor and Francis. The actual reasons for impeachment don’t contradict the primary purpose of Clinton’s elusiveness.

More recently, in 2007, then-mayor of the San Francisco Gavin Newsom fell to a scandal in which he confessed to having slept with his campaign manager’s wife, a move which apart from ruining his public relations, would lead some voters to question the mayor’s judgment in a future election as stated by Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco in a New York Times article. Americans, though now concerned with the private lives of their elected leaders, have not always been like this. The affairs of highly respected individuals between 1930 and 1987, for example Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, were essentially unreported due to the fact that neither media outlets nor ordinary citizens cared enough to express concern.

You might be asking why all of this matters. The answer lies in priorities. We’ve gone from focusing attention that should be put on areas of national concern onto what is a private matter for the president, an individual who is constitutionally protected with regards to privacy like every other citizen. During the early years of the cold war people didn’t care too much about this stuff because there was the great Red Scare of Soviet Communism  – in other words people judged the president solely based on his handling of such crisis. Today, believe me, there are plenty of those great menaces to which the concentration of our attention is necessary, the plethora itself not needing further explanation.

Former French president Francois Hollande had a variety of mistresses in his time, though many French citizens categorically didn’t care, nor have they ever preoccupied themselves with such matters. It is time for Americans, including those within the powers of any judicial body to take the same approach; if it isn’t policy-related, don’t worry about it given that somebody’s actions didn’t violate any actual laws. Expressing outrage for political scandals of this nature, on top of what is unfortunately becoming a socially-engineered approach to both  personal judgement and rationality would only waste more time and energy in the grand scheme of advancing in more important goals. Exceptionalism doesn’t come from arbitrarily-defined discipline or morality, but from knowing the difference between what hurts your conscience and what actually decides the fate of a country.

 

pamur@willamette.edu

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