Anthony Weiner, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the Circus
Some of the reaction to the Weiner scandal is vaguely reminiscent of the reaction in France to the DSK scandal, though far less overtly disturbing. While the French had a “how dare they?” reaction to DSK’s arrest and perp-walk, and while many in France remain in denial that the top French socialist could possibly have attempted to rape a maid (and how can we believe the story of a maid!?) American commentators are taking a slightly approach. We should ignore these stupid sex scandals, we have better things to do, how ridiculous that we’re still talking about this, oh the sensational press, etc. etc. etc.
But do we really have better things to do? This piece in The Economist paints the European political elite as a sort-of aristocracy, with the media all but silent on their sexual misdeeds:
European tolerance of cavorting politicians carries the risk of creating a culture of silence and immunity that too easily blurs the lines between a consensual affair, harassment and outright assault. Henry Kissinger may have thought that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. But power can also be a means of extorting sexual and other favours. If state and media conspire to keep quiet about the debauchery of politicians, might it not be easier to hide other misdeeds, such as corruption?
And Gene Healy makes an excellent point:
H.L. Mencken thought government as practiced in these United States was “dishonest, insane, and intolerable.” But that never stopped the sage of Baltimore from enjoying what he called “incomparably the greatest show on earth.”
In Mencken’s version of American exceptionalism, this great nation had elevated politics to “the plane of undiluted comedy” because “we have clowns in constant practice among us who are as far above the clowns of any other great state as a Jack Dempsey is above a paralytic.”
So have a guilt-free laugh about Weinergate. Not only are political sex scandals great fun, they serve an important social purpose. They remind us that we should think twice before we cede more power to these clowns.
Whether we cede them too much power or not, or whether they are accused merely of sending lewd photographs or of outright sexual harassment or assault, the media’s job is to report the circus act as it happens. I won’t say “keep the politicians honest” because some tasks are simply impossible. But at the very least we should keep their dishonesty on record, because their lies have far greater reach than the lies of simple plebes like you and me. Their lies hurtle nations into wars or economies into the incinerator. Puritanism has nothing to do with it. I’ll take a sex scandal over a culture of hush-ups any day of the week.