Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sexual Politics: The Part that Involves Actual Sex

You did not think that I forgot about this doofus, did you?

I have done a lot of thinking about Mr. Sanford and his lady problems. In the end I came to a conclusion: I do not think that politician should have to resign his or her post if they cheat on their spouse. If they did, there would not be any politicians left.

When the story first broke, I remembered a clip that I watched on The View. (Why do I watch "The View" online? I don't know. It is like a giant train wreck that I cannot turn away from.) Anyway, the young one, Elisabeth, made the comment, "If someone breaks that most sacred covenant, marriage, how are we supposed to trust him to lead?" Boy, is she going to be in a rude awakening if she ever finds her husband cheating on her.

However, I think her comment is typical of American views regarding politicians and marital fidelity. Americans often expect their politicians to be Übermenschen. These Supermen never cheat on their wives, are not over weight, do not smoke and always put the interest of the little guy first. On the other hand, Americans want politicians who "are just like them." Therein lies the contradiction.

Europeans have a decidedly different view of these matters. Your private life is your private life. Period. Nicolas Sarkozy left his wife and children to marry a supermodel, and he is still President of France. If anything, the French love their new first lady. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was on his third or fourth wife when he was first elected. I am not sure which, It was hard to keep track sometimes.

The Governor of my lovely Bundesland, Lower Saxony, is an even better example. When Christian Wulff was first elected in 2003, his campaign featured large posters of the handsome young politician and his beautiful wife and daughter. In 2006 he left his wife for his new girlfriend and in 2007 he was divorced. By the end of 2007 his girlfriend was pregnant. In January 2008 he was reelected, in March got married, and in May had a son. The only person who found this all a tad strange (i.e. portraying himself as a family man to get elected and then leaving his wife and living with his pregnant girlfriend) was me. The Germans never batted an eyelash.

Sadly, spouses cheat on each other. This does not disqualify a person from being an elected official and is something left behind closed doors. As I approach my 5th wedding anniversary and watch my toddler getting bigger, the black and white view that I had about cheating has gotten a lot grayer.

However, leaving your family, including your four sons, over Father's Day weekend to visit your mistress in Argentina and not tell anyone, which you know will lead to wild speculation, and then using the story of King David to defend yourself . . . well, that just makes you an IDIOT, and may be a reason to step down.


katze said...

As a general proposition, I agree with you. BUT. I do have an issue when a politician builds his career on "family values" and spouts off loudly about the "sanctity of marriage" while fighting the right of gay people to marry on the grounds that it "threatens sanctity of marriage"-- and then shows by his actions that he doesn't value his family or the sanctity of his marriage very much at all. I'm not sure that I'd say it's black and white-- the politician should absolutely resign-- but it definitely ought to carry some weight. It's not that I think that marital infidelity makes a man unfit to lead, but I do think that if you're going to base your career on a conservative ideology that revolves around trying to force people to live by your values, then you can be and OUGHT to be criticized on the basis of your failure to live by those values.

Anyway, I think your closing paragraph is spot on in this case: forget the infidelity, it's the stupidity and irresponsibility of his actions surrounding the infidelity that form the reason for Sanford to step down. You don't get to just wander off without informing people of your whereabouts for five days when you're the governor. And in this case, it makes no difference to me whether you were off visiting your Argentine mistress or off praying in an Argentinian monastery.

PapaScott said...

Back in the 90s when Schröder had the job that Wulff has now and was still married to wife number 3 (Hilu, who was supposed to become the German Hilary), he rather openly shacked up with a journalist wile on a junket to a Norwegian oil platform. That journalist later became wife number 4.

Must be something in the water in Hannover... :-)

G in Berlin said...

What I have read is that he charged his trip to the taxpayers.
If that's true, and if his time was not "vacation", then I think that he shuld be fired. Otherwise, I don't give a crap about him or his family life and although I think he's a moron and an ass, it has nothing to do with his job.

ann said...

There are other situations involving potential conflicts of interest (e.g. journalists and lobbyists) and subordinates. If you are doing something that someone who works for you would get fired for - I think you're fair game.
Then there's just the complete break from reality that seems to be a feature here and in the Spitzer case. (king of the world syndrome)

Ms. Lolly said...

You know what I think is amazng? The excessive detail on his private life Sanford is providing in these very ill advised interviews. I think his wife is insane for taking him back. It would be one thing is it was an affair that ended but he keeps calling the mistress his soul mate and saying that he has to learn to love his wife again. The whole thing is like a Shakespeare play.

But I agree infedelity does not mean you'll be an ineffective politician...cue Bill Clinton. But the fact that aids didn't know where he was for 5 days and that he was out of reach without warning? Now those are grounds for dismissal. It sucks too because Sanford two weeks ago looked like a great potential nominee for President.

C N Heidelberg said...

I don't really care what politicians do, but it is bound to rub everyone the wrong way when their behavior runs contrary to their own highly touted moral standards.

I'm mostly surprised here at what you say about marriage/children affecting your view of cheating. With nearly six years of marriage now, I find my view of cheating becoming LESS gray, not more, than it was before marriage. If having a kid will make me feel more gray toward it again, that kind of scares me...something to think about. :/ I don't want to start down that slope.

Claire said...

These are all such great comments! I should write about sex and politics more often.

I tend to agree with most of what you guys commented on, and even thought, "Damn, I meant to say that!"

I especially like E's comment (aka Ms.Lolly), it would get you fired in any other job!

CN: Cheating being gray . . . I used to say that I would walk write out if I ever caught my husband cheating. But now with a child, I would not walk as fast. I would at least stop to consider why it happened and for how long. Affairs of the heart though, I do not think that a marriage could hold up to that.

C N Heidelberg said...

Ahh, I understand now. :) I read it as, "I see now why people cheat and would be more willing to do it" rather than "I would be more willing to put up with cheating." That makes sense to me!! Thanks!

sarah1976 said...

Mark Sanford has opened quite a can of worms for American politicians and the way Americans think about political scandal.

This is one of the guys that loudly and clearly denounced Clinton's sexcapade and Larry Craig's bathroom break. He actually said something to the effect of 'were I in that position, I would step down.' Doesn't seem so willing to walk the talk now.

This situation has even (finally!) brought up talk in the GOP of backing away from 'family values' as a/the major portion of their platform.

Übrigens political moralizing, there's a fascinating podcast out about a quasi-theocratic policy-pushing group of which Sanford was a part. It's NPR's Fresh Air from July 1. I found it chilling. But I'm a church-state separation fanatic.

Bethy{aka}lilsis said...

You know, it really amazes me how people all around me spout conservative garbage when it comes to this. They act like if they can't be true to their wife (and God, I guess) then they can't be true to us.
Back it the day, it was almost expected that a man who did well for himself would have both wife and mistress. Was it right? No. But it was a tradition started when marriages were built on money and advantages rather than love. Mistresses were the ones who could be more of a wife than your wife.
I do not point it out because I think we should go back. We choose our spouses these days. And if things go sour, we also have the option of walking away.
I just look back on all of that and wonder how people came to think THAT way. Roosevelt had a mistress. Was he not fit to lead? :-)
I don't view cheating kindly. But it has jack sh*t to do with their leadership capabilities.