Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Weird and the not so Weird

No, that is not exactly what I want. How about the almost normal and the perhaps not normal, or maybe, the expected and the not expected? To oversimplify, perhaps we might consider simply the normal and the abnormal, maybe the somewhat strange or the truly bizarre? I don’t know, this is really, as we say, “a tough nut to crack.” I am trying to understand the relationship between sex and politics, and I assure you it is not an easy task.

Consider, first of all, the case of a married man who has an affair with a woman not his wife, the Sanford case, for example. This was a terrible scandal at the time but it didn’t keep Sanford from being re-elected to office. This was perhaps because this was a more or less normal affair, at least in the sense that people could understand it and such affairs happen fairly often. But how about cases where public figures are caught with prostitutes, as in the cases of Congressman Vitter and Governor Spitzer? Vitter was re-elected with apparently little harm done, whereas Spitzer felt he had to resign in disgrace, so what’s the difference? Here again, one might argue, there is nothing terribly strange about men engaging prostitutes. You might even argue it is pretty normal as in many countries it is perfectly legal and no one thinks much about it. I guess one might argue that in states or cities where it is illegal it might be considered a crime, but that is really pretty silly and does nothing much to prevent it. Having affairs and engaging prostitutes is really not very unusual and might even be considered pretty normal.

Of course there are places where prominent men frequently have mistresses or are rather notorious for having affairs. President John Kennedy was known to be a genuine womanizer but in those days such things were not regarded as a subject for the press. I suspect this might have been true for many of our former Presidents but it seems not to have been a subject much mentioned. President Clinton, too, was widely regarded as a womanizer but the real evidence, I think, was somewhat thin, except of course when it came to Monica Lewinsky. Here we encounter a somewhat more complicated case as Lewinsky was a young (but adult) intern who voluntarily performed oral sex on the President in the White House. Most everyone was outraged. It was never clear to me exactly what was regarded as so outrageous. Was it the oral sex, the fact that it occurred in the White House, that Lewinsky was a young intern, that Clinton somehow took advantage of her (most unlikely), or that he was married to Hillary and this constituted adultery, or perhaps all of these things together? Ultimately it didn’t seem to matter much as Clinton stayed in office, even though impeached, and to this day is wildly popular. It was not as if other politicians in Washington never enjoyed oral sex or other sex acts, probably in their offices as well as elsewhere.

Of course there have been many cases of Congressmen caught having illicit sex, John Ensign, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich, for example, Ensign and Edwards had their careers ruined, Gingrich, strangely, did not, or at least not because of his sex life. Giuliani, when he was mayor openly appeared with his mistress which seemed to do him little harm. Schwarzenegger’s out of wedlock child by his maid doesn’t seem to have affected his life much (after all, his political career was mostly over and he was, of course, a “movie star” that mostly absolves him of anything). John Edward’s child out of wedlock almost landed him in jail and certainly destroyed his career.  

This raises the question of just what sexual behavior is involved, by whom, with whom, and how “normal” it might be considered. The current Spitzer and Weiner cases are interesting in this respect. Spitzer had sex with prostitutes, nothing really strange about that, and it appears he will be forgiven and get elected to an important office once again. Weiner, on the other hand, did not actually have sex but engaged in behavior that might well be considered weird. It appears he might not be forgiven, as sending photos of your penis in your underwear, or even exposed, to women on the internet is a bit strange (maybe not so strange these days). Anyway, you might say that Weiner’s behavior was weird whereas Spitzer’s was not so weird. This raises an interesting question about just how weird would someone’s sexual proclivities have to be to automatically disqualify him/her from office. Happily (perhaps unhappily) we do not usually know the details of these various sexual adventures. But there are hints of at least somewhat weird behavior, the famous Clinton cigar, for example, or in another case the subject apparently liked to wear a diaper when comporting with prostitutes, still another was described as enjoying sex while wearing his socks, and it seems that Weiner was fascinated by heels (not clear whether this meant high heels or just regular heels). The question of interest here is, basically, just how “kinky” would someone’s behavior have to be to be disgraceful enough to finish his/her career? We don’t know because we (perhaps mercifully) rarely get the actual details of the situation. There is perhaps something to the claim that an individual’s sexual behavior should not be considered when evaluating his/her professional behavior.  After all, as I was assured by a recent bumper sticker, “It’s only kinky the first time.”
Then there is the case of homosexual activity in Congress. There has been much less tolerance for homosexual scandals than for heterosexual ones. This is no doubt because until recently homosexuality was regarded as much more deviant. Idaho Senator, “Wide Stance” Craig, for example, was never forgiven when caught soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. Mark Foley was forced to resign and never forgiven for his attention to underage male interns.  There has never been much tolerance for homosexuals in spite of the distinguished career of the openly gay Barney Frank, who was himself briefly involved in a scandal but successfully recovered. Several others, like Bob Allen, Glenn Murphy Jr., and Phillip Hinkle, for example, never recovered and quickly disappeared from politics.
Finally, at least for the moment, there are cases of behavior so egregious they cannot be tolerated. You may remember the case of Bob Packwood of Oregon who resigned in shame after at least ten different women complained of his unwanted sexual attentions to them. There is a similar case at the moment in San  Diego where the current Mayor will be forced out of office for his apparent unusually aggressive approach to women. I am sure there are all kinds of sexual harassment every day, but unless it becomes unusually serious it goes pretty much unnoticed and unpunished.
What seems to be the case here is that in cases where people can see true “affairs of the heart,” or even ordinary cases of prostitution, they have a tendency to understand and forgive. In other cases, especially involving homosexuality, minors, or actual criminal acts, not so much. Similarly, when the behavior is perceived as weird in some way, chances of forgiveness are less. As we never know just how weird the sex may or may not have been this seems to be relatively unimportant. These questions never came much to the forefront until the unprecedented and shameful attack on President Clinton by Republicans, many of whom I am pretty sure were just as guilty as he was of improper sexual adventures (this was certainly true of Newt Gingrich, arguably  the world’s greatest hypocrite).

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