The Political Pants Problem

Well, all Democrats can turn to Eliot Spitzer and thank him for ruining it for the rest of us.  Just when this whole “culture of corruption” thing was really beginning to stick to the Republicans, the Governor of New York had to go and get caught with his own little pants problem.

I never claim to know everything, and one of those areas where I’m particularly fuzzy is in the arena of sexual misconduct amongst politicians.  The thing is, what someone does behind closed doors does not register with me as being detrimental to how they do their job.

Not directly anyway.  Given our political culture there is the detrimental effect I assume from attempting to keep a secret covered up, but outside of that, I just don’t see how someone’s pants problem becomes a problem with everyone else.

This is one of the problems we have with how we address our politicians.  We put them on these incredibly high pedestals, pedestals so lofty no human should be rightfully put upon them, and then we heap money and power upon them and then dare them to stay on the straight and narrow.

We are, in truth, begging to be disappointed.

What’s worse, it is this aspect of political life that prevents good people, smart people, from stepping even close to running for office.  Few people want to subject their families to this kind of scrutiny, and self-assessment guarantees that for most of us, our own internal magnifying glasses make larger to us our flaws than any investigative journalist ever could.  True or not, I think most people do think they have skeletons in their closets and are afraid to let the harsh world of politics dump them out and put them on display for the world to see.

Just once I want to see someone say, “Look, I’m a terrible husband, I cheat on my wife all the time, knock my kids around within five minutes of getting home, and I forget to put the toilet seat down.  You’re not electing a husband, you’re electing an (insert position here).  My wife elected me husband and she ain’t divorced me yet so I guess I’m doing that okay.  As for (above position), ain’t another person in the field that could touch me.”

I would respect that, and assuming I liked where he (or she) stood on the issues, they’d probably get my vote.

But that’s not the political world we live in, and frankly, I’m a little tired of it.

Let’s be clear, I’m not excusing Eliot Spitzer.  Outside of what he decided to do with what’s inside his pants, there’s plenty of other stuff to go around.  Here’s a guy who made a name for himself partly by going after prostitution rings, and now it turns out he himself may have been a client for a particularly pricey one himself.  And when I mean pricey I’m talking $5500 an hour.

But this was the same with the Larry Craig scandal.  I could care less if he cheated on his wife; that’s between them.  I didn’t necessarily care that he was soliciting homosexual sex either.  What got under my skin and did the hokey-pokey was the fact that his scandal made a mockery of the homosexual rights debate, and stank of rank hypocrisy as this was one of the louder voices against homosexual rights.

I’m left to wonder, how many of these people who join the chorus are themselves a party to their own pants problem?  How many people who carried torches and pitchforks against Bill Clinton themselves had affairs on their spouses?  We know Newt Gingrich fits in that category, and while I’m talking about Newt, how many joined the anti-Newt mob with the same problems?

The prostitution angle on this specific story takes this conversation in a different direction, one in which we’re going to have at a later date, but when it comes to Spitzer’s pants problem, or the pants problem of any politician for that matter, I couldn’t imagine something mattering less.

There are other aspects to a politician that actually have an effect on how things are run.  Look at George W. Bush.  There’s a man we know hasn’t cheated on Laura, that still doesn’t make him the picture of competence and leadership.

As for Spitzer, he’s expected to resign and David Paterson, the Lt. Governor, could be sworn in as Governor within the next few hours.

7 Responses to “The Political Pants Problem”

  1. DrGail says:

    I was frankly surprised to see you suggest that Spitzer was expected to resign. . .A quick check of GoogleNews showed that only Faux is currently predicting that.

    This just doesn’t seem to rise to the level of something demanding a resignation. Further, I see it as being much milder than David Vitter’s own bouts with prostitution or, as you cite, Larry Craig’s little problem. In Spitzer’s case, going after prostitution rings was part of his job, not some personal crusade. This is no more an incidence of hypocrisy than if a state trooper were caught speeding. Poor judgment? Of course. Playing with political fire? Without a doubt. But hypocrisy? I don’t think so.

    What made Vitter and Craig so hypocritical was that they were making political hay out of condemning the very things they were caught doing.

  2. Well, I typically don’t take Faux News at their word, so I don’t usually cover one of their stories unless it’s backed up by an outlet I tend to respect more. Here, I’ll give CBS the bennie o’ doubt and see how it comes up. To my credit, I did say expected and not “will”. I won’t make that call unless it actually pops up.

    But the situation with hypocrisy, and here’s what we have to keep in mind. To see this the way you do may indeed not be hypocritical, but you have to admit that it takes some parsing that the general public simply won’t do. Now, I’m not trying to denigrate your opinion on this, and I think as the meat of the post here suggests, I’m largely ambivalent to the whole story. I have certain opinions regarding prostitution that may not necessarily go over well with a progressive crowd, but given the high strung atmosphere of the current debate I want to wait until cooler heads are at the table before I engage in that debate, but my opinions here really don’t much matter.

    What matters is that it is easier to see Spitzer as a hypocrite than it is not to.

    I don’t care one way or another. If this is really the case, and people don’t apologize when they’ve done nothing wrong, I feel bad for his wife but the infidelity is between them. Soliciting a prostitute, on the other hand is illegal, and unfortunately the kind of story that news dogs latch onto and refuse to let go.

    I will reiterate only one other point. As far as crimes and governance goes, I think it is important to emphasize that sleeping with prostitutes doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad governor. Being a bad governor makes someone a bad governor. We have truly got to work to get ourselves as an electorate country-wide into that mindset.

    Sex scandals are, well, sexy, and easy for people to understand, so those are the scandals that can end a political career. Next to that you have theft in its many forms. But someone who really takes the reigns of their charge and drives their state or country into the ground is free to continue doing so. Sure, there’s a blowback effect felt in the next election, but outside of that, but for term limited officials, that’s hardly a punishment.

    Let’s focus on penalizing politicians for their performance inside the halls of government, not outside, says I.

  3. DrGail says:

    I see your point about sex scandals and that, in itself, may be enough to bring him down. In his job as Attorney General, though, he was much better known for going after Wall Street so, for the hypocrisy charge to be apropos he would need to be caught in some financial scandal.

    From what I’m hearing on the news, it sounds like his targeting of Wall Street made him a bunch of enemies and that may make it hard for him to stay on in the job. My general disdain for the IOKIYAR mentality makes me hope that he weathers the storm.

    My husband is always stunned that I don’t get more upset about these indiscretions (starting with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky). I tend to shrug them off as just about what you’d expect of someone who’s power-hungry enough to seek these high-profile jobs. However, just let him try stepping out on me. . .that would be some SERIOUS and unapologetic hypocrisy on my part.

  4. DrGail says:

    Oops, now I just see that ABC has reported it was Spitzer’s financial shenanigans (suspicious money transfers) that got the entire investigation started. Uncovering the prostitution ring was just a byproduct of “following the money”.

    In that case, he’s going down.

  5. Yeah. I hear ya. Like I said, my question is, “can he or she govern?” If yes, have at, if no, then let’s go after someone for not being able to govern, not what they do in their private life.

    To be honest, I really didn’t even want to cover this story, and only did so so I could spend some time expressing my opinion on sex scandals in politics in the first place. As you said, you don’t care about Monica and Bill, but if it’s your husband… that’s the right frame of mind.

    When these things hit, it feels an awful lot like a couple hundred million people all of a sudden want to be marriage counselors or divorce attorneys.

    It’s kind of pathetic.

  6. DrGail says:

    Amen. People sure love a good sex scandal. In the old days, I believe the word was “prurient”. It’s the same thing with the “horse race” for the Democratic nomination: it’s always so much easier to focus on the easy-to-understand but essentially meaningless things than it is to engage around substantive issues. Part of that, of course, is that it’s very difficult to educate oneself enough about a given issue to be able to form and articulate a reasonable and defensible position on it. (Marcy Wheeler and the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson is the exception that proves the rule.) But everyone has an opinion about sex.

  7. Sort of true, granted, I do now have to kind of defend what I do since horse race is a bulk of what I write about. You’re dead right that issues take a back seat to horse race coverage, but there’s a really understandable reason why.

    Take the health care debate between Obama and Clinton. Okay, right now it’s firmly lodged in “mandates for everyone vs. mandates for children only”. Not so bad right now. But let’s deepen it a little bit. What about how to pay for it, and since we know neither program from either candidate is single payer, we now have to look at which providers will be involved and how we’re going to get them to make it affordable.

    Then we have to look at how the mandates will be enforced, and then where’s the money going to come from that would make this whole thing a reality. Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’re talking about really big numbers and moderately complex calculations and projections and well above half of the nation’s eyes just glossed over.

    Time to look at the next issue: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Welfare.

    hoo boy, get a calculator.

    Now, I’m an info junkie, I am constantly trolling around for more information and getting properly deep in this stuff makes my eyes roll into the back of my head sometimes. And remember, I LOVE doing this. Take someone who is more concerned getting to work on top, not getting scalped by their boss for filing the reports with the wrong cover sheets, then getting home in time for the kids’ bus, and putting a meal on the table for the sun goes down, and what you have is someone who *says* they want to talk issues, but in all reality they really don’t want to.

    The fact of the matter is, where the metal meets propulsion in politics is enough to make someone comatose and I think if the media really covered the issues as much as some people beg for, you would have a stark drop in political participation.

    Not that substance is bad, no it’s very very good, but when we talk about covering issues, we have to find a kind of sweet spot where we’re not trying to take someone who maybe drives a truck all day and try to feed them doctorate level economics. (I would have used my own profession, but my own profession sounds an awful lot smarter than it really is).

    To Obama’s credit here (and yes I’m an Obama partisan but I really do try to be fair), for all the talk of substance and style, he does have a leg up on the other two candidates still in the hunt for the Oval Office. All three candidates have web pages where they outline their platform one plank at a time. This gives the illusion of substance but one thing I think you’ll find is that when you go to investigate all of them, you will find that each plank is more a collection of platitudes with very little meat on the rhetorical bones.

    What Obama has that the others don’t have (unless something changed recently), is a pdf called the “Blueprint For Change”

    The really cool thing about the BFC is that it’s a sixty plus page document that, as Mike characterized it last night, is ” a primer for government reform”. So what we’re talking about here is a notably meaty document that’s full of all the issues oriented material one could want, but I doubt it has enjoyed very much circulation.

    It definitely has not seen as much circulation as say, whether Hillary wants Obama as a running mate or Ms. Power calling Hillary a monster. If it did, there wouldn’t even be talk about how Obama is all talk.

    Now one thing, we’re going to do here at CFLF in coming weeks is we’re going to bring the substance to the blog. For the most part we’ve really focused on the horse race because, as you say, it’s easy to cover and it’s moderately entertaining. But what I want to do is I want to start putting a magnifying glass to the platforms of each of the three remaining candidates and see how they stand up to each other.

    This is a pretty big project considering each platform has ten or more planks to it, so this may be weekend content kind of stuff, but with weeks ahead of us before we go to Pennsylvania, that’s plenty of time to really scrutinize these candidates on what matters most.

    How they would actually govern.

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