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Is It Grown Up To Ignore Politicians’ Sex Lives?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to talk about a Congressional Member’s…um…member. (And no, I don’t think...

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to talk about a Congressional Member’s…um…member. (And no, I don’t think that’s an original.)

I refer here, of course, to one (unfortunately named) Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who is currently embroiled  in a sex scandal over naked pictures he sent via his twitter and email accounts to various young ladies to whom he was not married.

(If, for some reason, you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 days – or simply in a foreign country where no one cares about the sex lives of American politicians – click here for a quick primer on “Weinergate.”)

Needless to say, the media are having a field day with this story. It has spawned all sorts of clever titles, including The Incredible Shrinking Weiner and Anthony Weiner is Actually A Huge Dick, etc. etc., as well as some trenchant commentary on why politicians stray in such spectacularly self-destructive fashions.

But the article that most caught my eye was by Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, who argued that it was time for America to “grow up” and stop holding politicians to a single standard of monogamy.

Marcotte notes that as recently as a year ago, the grounds with which a politician’s sex life became a matter of public interest depended on said politician’s own stance on sexual privacy. So if they weren’t trying to regulate [contraception/gay marriage/abortion] and/or breaking any laws (ahem, John Edwards), then we should treat their private lives as private.

If, on the other hand, said politicians campaigned and legislated as “family values” candidates, then their sex lives were fair game on the grounds of hypocrisy (Ahem, Newt Gingrich).

In the case of Weiner, his wife apparently knew before they married that he had engaged in on-line flirtation which included sexually explicit photos. So why- as Marcotte puts it – is the media treating this as though “Weiner somehow owes sexual fidelity not to his wife so much as to the rest of us?”

Time will tell whether Weinergate is really about the sexting or the lying or the misuse of government resources to pursue this private activity. (Nancy Pelosi has launched a congressional inquiry to look into the latter.)

But the question of fidelity in public figures  – and to whom they need to be faithful – is a good one. It’s a question that’s also arisen in the context of former IMF President Dominique Strauss Kahn, who’s been accused of trying to rape a chamber maid in a New York hotel.

Apparently, Strauss Kahn’s wife, the French journalist Anne Sinclair, has known for years that her husband is a Lothario and has even condoned his role of “seducer” as part and parcel of his political career. (Whether she will condone his role as rapist should the charges in New York prove true remains to be seen.)

So what do you think? Is it grown up to look the other way when judging a politician’s private life (so long as they aren’t trying to judge ours)?

Or do we, the public, have a legitimate interest in this stuff?

Use the comments section to weigh in.


Image: hot dog innards by roboppy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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  1. sassy June 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    The comment about whether the politician in question has tried to micromanage my personal life being the factor we should consider in evaluating and/or expressing interest in his or her personal life is what has always been my point of view. If they are being asses, but not hypocrites, about such things, I may choose not to vote for them but really, I don’t even want to hear about it. Not that I particularly want to hear about the hypocrites’ sex lives either but there I can point to a legitimate interest: do they want me to follow rules and a life style that they are not even attempting to follow.

    Breaking the law is something different (eg: DSK, David Vitter, etc.).

    All the big issues we face in the US (and that whole jobs thing is personal for our family) and I have to hear about pictures of someone’s private parts…sigh. It’s depressing.

  2. daryl boylan June 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    I’m with the previous commentator — So long as no one else’s rights are violated (ala Monsieur Strauss-Kahn) and public welfare is not threatened, who but professional comedians and campaign managers give a damn about politicians’ private proclivities? Of course, posting on twitter puts paid to the privacy bit, but even the most dedicated of support staff cannot halt dedicated self-destruction.

  3. Cam June 8, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    Not to sound like too much of a parrot, I agree with the previous commentors. If it’s hypocritical, it’s relevent. If they’re just idiots and jerks I don’t want to hear about it. If they’re brought up on charges then it becomes a legal issue and becomes relevent again.

    There are more important things to worry about than showing over and over and over again that people can make a public asses of themselves on the Internet.

  4. Paula June 8, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    I am heartened that the Strauss-Kahn case has brought sexual harassment and related criminal issues back into discussion with regard to power differences, not simply in terms of ridiculous sexual behavior. I live in Germany, and I find that, with the exception of the recent rape trial of a former weather reporter, such harassment and crimes are not exploited here to sell media in the way that they are in the States; however, not seeing these crimes can lead to silencing the victims.

    There’s a fine line between talking about harassment/assault in order to stop it and showcasing it in order to capitalize on its “sexiness”. I find that increasingly, media of all sorts tends to use these issues to increase click rates. I’m not sure how to address this shallowness, but I think the best approach is “not to feed the animals”.

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