Monday, June 6, 2011
In the case of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, is it an issue of sexual morality? If so, how many of us are really in a position to throw the first stone? One benefit of this story might be to remind us all to think twice about fooling around online, but really, so much of this sort of thing is going on nowadays that it seems to represent some kind of national pastime.
Well, what about the possible misuse of government facilities or property? That will no doubt be investigated thoroughly, but it seems unlikely that a serious breach will be found.
How about hypocrisy? That is the justification many Democratic partisans have relied on to attack Republicans accused of sexual misconduct. But in Weiner's case, he was never the kind of family values religious conservative against whom the charge of hypocrisy would stick. Anyway, hypocrisy seems even more widespread than sexual misconduct. As a parent, I am used to being accused of hypocrisy on an almost-daily basis, and probably with some justification.
Maybe it's all just a political game. Republicans are happy when they can knock out a Democrat with a scandal, and Democrats are just as glad to see some Republican lose their seat for whatever reason. Don't both sides realize, however, that in the long run, nobody gains by this process?
So of course it must be the lying. And in the case of this scandal, it does seem rather outrageous, and incredibly stupid, for Congressman Weiner to have concocted a story that he should have known would not hold up, to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. On the other hand, we know from the Clinton example, and numerous others, that lying about sexual misconduct is about as common as the misconduct itself. When caught, it seems that the first impulse of almost everyone accused of an embarrassing sexual act is to lie about it rather than suffer the shame and humiliation of being caught.
Many would draw the lesson from this scandal, and others: just lay out all the facts right away. Don't try to cover it up! We all know since the Nixon impeachment process, that it's the cover-up that gets you, not the crime. So come clean immediately, many pundits advise. I have another suggestion. Why don't politicians just start telling people who inquire into their private lives, that it's none of anybody's goddamn business? You want to accuse someone of some act of immorality, fine. They don't have to deny it, but they don't have to admit it either. They can just tell you that it's their private life and they don't feel like talking about it. If a crime has been committed, that's something else. Investigate and prosecute, if that is justified. But until the misconduct rises to the criminal level, people can be as interested as they want, but the accused should not be under any obligation to respond in any fashion.
Back in the day when we had a real playboy president--I'm talking about John F. Kennedy of course--the media was discreet enough not to ask. Nowadays, when every aspect of everyone's private life seems to be fair game, something has to be done to restore some boundaries. If we want to allow public officials to enjoy some semblance of a private life, we should encourage them to tell all of us to just buzz off. That way they don't have to lie, and we don't have endure the public spectacle of watching the public official confess, the media gloat, and the pundits endlessly scold, a tiresome routine that seems to happen about every other week, and doesn't seem to serve much useful purpose other than entertainment.