On Anthony Weiner and Weiners in General

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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140 Responses

  1. I go back and forth on this, but in the end, I don’t think I agree. Anyone who’s human will err in some way and betray someone’s trust at some time in their life, whether it be by marital infidelity or by baiting a fellow blog commenter into an argument.

    I realize that doesn’t address your exact argument, as your willingness to buy from the philandering bagel monger suggests. Politics as a vocation is one in which its aspirants feel called to enjoy a monopoly on legitimate coercion.

    But here’s a more practical objection. It’s possible that someone who cheats on his/her spouse is less trustworthy than someone who doesn’t, but we need to add “ceteribus paribus” to that statement. I’d much prefer a certain philandering politician to another one I can think of who was/is (as far as I know) true blue to his wife.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Anyone who’s human will err in some way and betray someone’s trust at some time in their life

      Yes. But only some small number of betrayals come to the public eye. Tod had a post a while ago about how he learned from one of his managers that if someone has been caught doing one unethical thing, it probably means that he was doing a lot of unethical things–enough so that one of them became exposed.

      To put it another way, your penis doesn’t end up on the internet because you *once* sent a woman a picture of it. It happens if you send 100 women 1000 pictures of it.

      There is certainly the risk that someone whose only unethical act is discovered, and that is a shame. Still, for positions this sensitive, why risk it? Let them make bagels.

      we need to add “ceteribus paribus” to that statement

      Technically, yes. But keep in mind that we only need one individual to fill each position. There is quite likely someone capable of filling any given position who doesn’t have baggage that makes you question his trustworthiness. Go find that guy and pick him instead.Report

      • It’s not only how many unethical acts one commits. When I say people err, I don’t mean necessarily that they err only once or a few times. If someone is a chronic philanderer, then shame on him, and he’s probably a horrible person when it comes to entering monogamous relationships. But it doesn’t follow, at least not necessarily, that he would use his powers as a politician unwisely, or at least more unwisely than the non-philanderer.

        Part of what I’m saying (and I guess I’m changing my argument from what I wrote in my original comment), is that we also have to weight each error against another. What’s worse, a chronic philanderer or a chronic drinker? A chronic gambler or a chronic glutton? Or, moving up the scale to the more mortal sins (and I suppose with politicians, we can all stipulate to chronic lying), someone who is chronically slothful or chronically wrathful?

        As I said in my original comment, I go back and forth. I do think chronic philandering says *something* about a person’s character and probably a person’s character tells us *something* about how good and just a leader/politician they’d be. I just have a very hard time parsing it out. (Of course, if we’re talking about someone who sends out unsolicited pic’s of himself, or does worse things without another’s consent, then that might be a different issue altogether….or maybe not.)

        (By the way, I’m really enjoying your posts here at the Ordinary. I look forward to future ones.)Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I do think chronic philandering says *something* about a person’s character and probably a person’s character tells us *something* about how good and just a leader/politician they’d be. I just have a very hard time parsing it out.

        Yes! That’s what I feel too!

        And when confronted with a resume that is hard to parse for a position of great potential for abuse, my tendency is to go with the precautionary principle.

        Glad to hear you like the posts!Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        One thing I think we need to be careful of is making assumptions about other people’s private arrangements. Just because a couple are married and present themselves as fully conformist wholesome white hetero monogamous christians – especially when presenting as anything else would inevitably lose the election for them – doesn’t mean we know anything about what their own consensual arrangements are.

        If I were in an open or polyamorous marriage and wanted to enter politics, I don’t know if I would publicize the fact. To do so would distract from my platform, probably to the point that every article about me would focus on what a perverted freakshow my marriage is and my God won’t someone think of the children? Not to do so would leave me open to muckraking journalists noising about the “dirty secret” of a relationship outside of marriage, either my own or my spouse’s, even though it’s all open and above board within our marriage, and anyway nobody’s business but our own.

        In fact I’d be willing to bet that as a politician, you’re better off to be considered a philanderer, than known to be polyamorous – like honestly negotiating consent within a marriage and abiding by the terms you’ve agreed to is somehow worse than deceiving your life’s partner.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Cards on the table: the hypothetical part in my post above is the wanting to enter politics, not the polyamorous marriage.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    All I know is that he will never be a judge. This is a bit sad. Never will the world hear the Baliff announce:

    “All rise! All rise! The honorable Weiner residing…”Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    A trustworthy politician must respect the rights of the rich and poor, the law-abiding and criminal, and supporters and detractors.

    As you said, this is an impossible standard, and one that nobody can live up to. All too often, one person’s rights is in conflict with another person’s rights; and the job of politicians is to help sort out those conflicts. Politics is the art of compromise, and to that end, I expect politicians to be trustworthy to work at compromises that generally satisfy the greater good while recognizing the rights of minority groups. I need to trust them to work toward solutions to problems in an ethical manner.

    I was less bothered by Weiner’s philandering then his keen need to flash his stuff uninvited. Some groupie wants a gander, invites that gander, I could care less. If this is his nature and his wife doesn’t want an open marriage, that’s between them. His problem wasn’t infidelity, it was attempts at infidelity in completely uninvited ways.

    But he’s a class example of one of the privileges women have that men don’t: it’s totally acceptable for women to display themselves in a way calculated to provoke sexual desire. Men wanting to be so admired raise some sort of flag. Yet I’ve met many, many men who desire just this very thing, and many, many women who wish it weren’t such an automatic thing in how they’re viewed.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I was less bothered by Weiner’s philandering then his keen need to flash his stuff uninvited.

      Agreed.

      Some groupie wants a gander, invites that gander, I could care less. If this is his nature and his wife doesn’t want an open marriage, that’s between them.

      Well, we disagree there. If he has a past history of breaking promises that were presumably made with full sincerity, that is valuable information that his constituency should carefully consider before handing over large amounts of power.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Vikram, I simply don’t presume personal lives are that simple.

        I have a friend, a man, who cheated on his wife with another woman.

        Sounds terrible.

        But what’s hidden is that the wife is mentally unstable, the child has special needs, and he stayed put to care for the child. What real romantic love he had came from the affair. The marriage only offered him emotional abuse, something he needed to protect his child from. So he stayed.

        Peel apart the broken promises of every marriage and there are such sad and difficult tales, and it’s in no way my place to judge; as another friend will quip when this gossip appears, “Hard tellin’ not knowin.”Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I wish to strongly note that I am not asking you to be an insufferable prude with respect to your friends–or most people in general. I am only suggesting that we have high standards for positions that are uniquely ripe for abuse.

        And your point is well taken. If you adopt my suggested rule, good people will be disqualified when perhaps they shouldn’t be. But I think that is a small error to make compared to the alternative of allowing a bad person obtain such power. Is it really the case that there is only one person who could possibly be the right person for comptroller (or whatever else)?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @vikram-bath , perhaps ‘prude’ is the point that’s the problem; it’s not a good measure of a person’s integrity and ability as a public servant. Yet it’s often the standard — you’re suggesting it as a viable standard. Much of the art of politics is the art of impression. Sexual standards become the measure of the person, and there’s reason to reflect the expected norm of “married with children and attends Christian Church,” though attending Jewish Synagog has become an acceptable alternative. Same-sex committed relationship has made slight inroads, mostly in liberal circles. Divorced has become okay; sort of.

        But these belie the complex relationships real people find themselves in.

        Familys are complex; sometimes people screw up, and their screwups are valuable to their growth and education. The problems with Weiner are, to my mind, two fold; unwanted advances, as I said earlier. These are sort of a mental rape, actually, only more along the lines of what a pedophile does when he grooms a kid into doing what he wants; no force, just this happy comeon, let’s do this.

        But perhaps the even bigger problem, politically speaking, is that Weiner obviously did not learn; he continued. What he does is lewd; it’s like public flashing. Despite his public shaming, he continues. That’s the problem. Even though there doesn’t feel a threat of actual rape here, there’s the threat of lewd advances. As a woman, I could not trust him to represent me. Not because he’d cheat on his wife; that’s not necessarily an indication of a sexual predator, but because I cannot feel safe or comfortable in my dealings with him.

        I think using marital fidelity or sexual chastity as a political standard is bad policy because it’s such a human behavior; one that a lot of spouses put serious effort into overcoming, often one they use to make their marriages stronger. It teaches many lessons; lessons about trust, about forgiveness, about fallibility, about identifying the things that really matter to you. I felt very bad for Mitch Daniels and his wife; just these kinds of problems kept a potential good conservative from running for president.

        What would have happened if he had — that public trashing, the Clinton’s went through this — has much in common with a women facing her alleged rapist in a trial.

        There are so many other matters of character that do matter, and what you’ve learned from difficult experiences probably matter most. Many people who’ve had experience with infidelity either put it in a closet — bad practice that — or simply don’t run.

        And somehow, it strikes me that people charismatic enough to make great leaders might have a higher than normal amount of sexual temptation in their lives; that the two may go hand in hand. The only real value in a discussion of their fidelity is how the handle it; not that it happened.Report

      • @zic

        +1 to your entire comment.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        @zic, I don’t think I actually disagree with anything you’ve written. These can be experiences that strengthen a marriage, and people may learn from their failures.

        But not everyone has to be mayor. We can be picky. We shouldn’t be picky to the point of being arbitrary. We don’t want to disqualify someone for having the wrong hair color. But infidelity when a promise has been made. isn’t that. It’s a basis for concern.

        If a candidate somehow did communicate some of what your are communicating about having learned from their experience, I would be tempted to forgive. Wake me up if that ever happens. 🙂Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @vikram-bath
        <i<If a candidate somehow did communicate some of what your are communicating about having learned from their experience, I would be tempted to forgive. Wake me up if that ever happens. 🙂

        If fidelity is one of the first standards, it decreases the likelihood of it happening. That’s exactly the problem I have. I am not promoting infidelity; I’ve been a faithful wife for 33 years; I comprehend its value. But it is only one of many weights, and one we tend to put on the scale first; perhaps to the loss of good leaders.

        It’s pretty easy to find people who want to run for powerful offices. But the real heart of government is the people who run for local offices. They are also the pipeline, local/state government is the school of hard knocks for most politicians. Starting out in the House, Senate, or White House is the exception, not the rule. And you are wrong; it can be very, very hard to find people willing to run for those local offices; I know of many examples where good people didn’t run because they wanted to protect their families from this type of public humiliation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @vikram-bath

        Do you think that cheating and other similar/related behaviors is worse than other duplicitous acts? Or otherwise somehow unique? Or would you advise a similar view of politicians who are found to have cheated on their taxes or engage in other lies?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Kazzy, thanks for asking your question, because I think it helps frame zic’s point well.

        I am certainly not in favor of *uniquely* focusing on infidelity as a source of information about a candidate’s trustworthiness. I am only saying that the attitude that its personal and none of our business is mistaken. If information has predictive value, then use it.

        I’ve used the word “insufferable prude” a bit lightly because I thought it was funny. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, because it’s really not my intent. This stuff gets reported because it’s about sex, but the reason I think it matters is because it’s about a promise. I think all broken promises in any area of life should be held against a potential candidate.
        ——
        Zic, I suppose if there are counties where the only people willing to run have questionable histories, then they have to play the hand you’re dealt. (Incidentally, my city has a former drug addict on our council.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        That makes sense, @vikram-bath . I’ve long said that my issue with infidelity (be it that of a politician or the guy next door) is not the sex, but the breaking of a commitment.

        I don’t need to know if Pol X likes it rough or weird or kinky or with a man or woman or one of each or is a furry or whathaveyou. I do need to know if he can be trusted, relied upon, and his fidelity is one meaningful datapoint in determining that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Though I should say that not all infidelities are exactly the same. It is different now that we are adults and married. But when I dated in college and was cheated upon, I was much more bothered the time it involved an intense emotional relationship that never become physically affectionate than the time the girl got drunk and made out with some dude she didn’t know. Both were wrong and bothersome, but the former smoke more to mistrust, deceit, and trust where the latter was more about decision making and impulse control (when drunk). An ideal candidate would be aces in all those areas, but I’d probably be more forgiving of the latter than the former.

        tl;dr: Dishonest is worse than stupid.Report

      • @vikram-bath

        I am certainly not in favor of *uniquely* focusing on infidelity as a source of information about a candidate’s trustworthiness. I am only saying that the attitude that its personal and none of our business is mistaken. If information has predictive value, then use it.

        If that’s your argument, I’m mostly in agreement, with these two provisos. One, if the focus ought not be “unique,” then we’re required to weigh different indiscretions against each other. Two, the predictive value is difficult to suss out in this case, and probably in most any case when we’re trying to gauge someone else’s suitability for a position.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Vik,
        Everyone, or nearly everyone cheats on their taxes.
        Most people speed.
        I do not count “cheats on wife” as predictor of much more than
        1) Has free money
        2) Has limited imagination
        3) Has confidence

        Is it likely that someone whose life is “spiced up” by a bit of
        romance might want it to be “spiced up” by a little bribery?

        Not really. They’re actually antithetical, as one requires
        enough free money to splurge on an affair, and the other
        pretty much the opposite.

        (note: this is for “run of the mill” bribery (everyone gives a bribe, or nothing happens), not “need passport by tommorrow” bribery).Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        @Kim Everyone, or nearly everyone cheats on their taxes.

        I wonder if that’s really true. Do you know of any studies backing that assertion?

        I certainly never have cheated on my taxes. I wouldn’t consider it except as a last resort to ensure financial survival – and even then I’d be devastated at having to sink so low.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        dragon,
        You’ve never bought something online without paying state/local taxes?
        Ever?
        It is an ENORMOUS pain in the butt to keep track of it.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        @kim
        There is no provincial sales taxes where I live (Alberta, Canada). The federal sales tax is added to imported goods by customs based on the declared value on the parcel (they don’t bother below a certain threshold because the expense of collecting it would probably be more bother than it’s worth). On goods bought from within Canada, it’s the vendor’s responsibility to collect whatever sales taxes are applicable.

        When a tax is assessed, I pay it.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There are degrees of creepiness, I find. A guy who has a long-term mistress goes into a different category for me than a guy who frequents escorts and that’s yet a different category than a guy who predates on underlings.

    That said, (as Pierre points out above) Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were a much better governing team than any number of recent pairs.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’m not sure which one I like least.

      The guy with the long-term girlfriend on the side is (I presume) carrying out a long-term deception on his wife. I don’t want my elected official to sustain a long-term deception of me.

      The guy who dates his underlings is an abuser of power. If he’ll abuse his power to get his rocks off with an intern, he’ll abuse his power to get what he wants out of me too.

      The guy who frequents escorts may well do so because he sees them as objects rather than people, indicating that I too am simply an object to him rather than a citizen and a human being.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        The guy who frequents escorts may well do so because he sees them as objects rather than people

        If he really saw them as objects rather than people, he’d just rape them. Paying them—giving them something they want in exchange for something he wants—is very much a recognition of their humanity.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Ironically, feminists who play the “objectification” card every chance they get are quite happy to treat taxpayers like inanimate objects, namely piggy banks.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian says:

        Burt, isn’t having a mistress the traditional French marriage? Why should we assume the wife is being duped or conned? I think there has been lots of speculation that this is/was the Clinton model.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        “Ironically, feminists who play the “objectification” card every chance they get are quite happy to treat taxpayers like inanimate objects, namely piggy banks.”

        How so and proof please? This is a rather snide and sexist comment.

        If you are talking about feminists who want universal healthcare to cover birthcontrol and abortion, that is merely a part of why they want universal healthcare and probably not a major part. They would probably also want universal healthcare to cover prostate exams and viagra-type pills and medical marijuana.

        There are plenty of men who want universal healthcare and think it should cover birthcontrol and abortion.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Cascadian,

        There is the famous story about Francois Mitterand’s wife and mistress taking the same car to his funeral. I don’t necessarily think you can use this to prove that all French men (or French politicians) cheat on their wives and/or that all French wives understand that their husband will have a mistress and take it in stride.

        The rates for adultry are somewhere among 40-50 percent if I am recalling the statistics correctly. I also think these numbers are fairly universal across all nations.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Mitterand’s wife invited the mistress and daughter to the funeral. Everyone knows of Mitterand’s wife and mistress at graveside. The truly astonishing part of the story is Danielle Mitterand holding Mazarine Pingeot, the daughter, in her arms.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        How so and proof please? This is a rather snide and sexist comment.

        Snide, sure. Why not? Sexist, not at all. I said feminists—you’re the one who assumed that meant women.

        If you are talking about feminists who want universal healthcare to cover birthcontrol and abortion, that is merely a part of why they want universal healthcare and probably not a major part. They would probably also want universal healthcare to cover prostate exams and viagra-type pills and medical marijuana.

        That’s part of it, sure. I was referring more generally to the fact that feminists who make liberal use of the term “objectification” usually support left-wing tax-and-spend policies. I didn’t say anything about treating taxpayers like piggy banks solely for the sake of women. I said they treat taxpayers like piggy banks, period.

        As do non-feminist leftists, but that’s not particularly ironic, because they generally don’t accuse people of objectification.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Brandon, I’m sort of having trouble reconciling actual evidence with your ‘leftist’ and ‘feminist’ stereotypes.

        Because since the 1980’s, so for like the last 30+ years, government spending and deficits have decreased under Democratic administrations, and ballooned under Republican administrations.

        Right now, the federal government is smaller than it’s been in a very long time; and the most recent growth spurt was under the GWB.

        Some actual evidence from Forbes

        So since you’re bandying about unpleasant stereotypes, remember that you’re reinforcing the one about conservatives being unmoored from actual facts.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I said that leftists support taking money from taxpayers and spending it on social welfare schemes. If you don’t believe me, ask some. There’s not a lot of room for disagreement on this point.

        Nothing you said refutes anything I said. And what you said is questionable on its own merits:

        Because since the 1980?s, so for like the last 30+ years, government spending and deficits have decreased under Democratic administrations, and ballooned under Republican administrations.

        First, Republicans suck, and they sell out the libertarian wing of the party every chance they get. You won’t get any argument from me there. But there’s a great deal wrong with this sentence.

        For one, “Democratic presidents since the 1980s” is two data points. Both data points were the product of special circumstances. Federal spending is driven primarily by so-called “mandatory spending,” virtually all of which originated under Democratic administrations. And the claim that “Right now, the federal government is smaller than it’s been in a very long time” is simply wrong, unless by “very long time,” you mean five years. Since 2009, federal spending has more or less plateaued, but it’s plateaued at an all-time high, with the left demanding more, more, more.

        The special circumstances? Clinton was constrained by a hostile Republican Congress. Adjusting for inflation and population growth, federal spending declined slightly under Clinton, and that was due to the winding down of Cold War spending following the collapse of the Soviet Union cancelling out a substantial increase in domestic spending.

        And Obama came into office in the first year of a huge, $500B/year stimulus program. That was always supposed to be temporary. The idea that Obama deserves credit for not increasing spending even more on top of that, while constrained by a Republican congress for most of his administration, is just silly.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Ironically, feminists who play the “objectification” card every chance they get are quite happy to treat taxpayers like inanimate objects, namely piggy banks.

        And while they vociferously oppose some crimes, like rape, they champion others, like taxation.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Since 2009, federal spending has more or less plateaued, but it’s plateaued at an all-time high, with the left demanding more, more, more.

        For example, see here, where Elias, always happy to provide a convenient example of my stereotypes, describes record-high levels of domestic spending as “criminally low.”Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        @brandon-berg : Thanks, because when I read this post, the first thing I thought was “someone needs to take these liberals and feminists down a peg!”Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        It wasn’t a response to the post. It was an aside to a response to Burt’s description of hiring a prostitute as treating a person like an object. I can see how you would object to my calling a spade a spade, but that’s your problem, not mine.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        Was that what you were doing? I have no objection to calling things by their proper names—carry on then. Don’t know where I got the idea that you were injecting a political axe-grinding into a barely related topic.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        It was silly of me to think that it was appropriate to respond to a comment invoking the feminist concept of objectification by critiquing the feminist concept of objectification and citing an example of actual objectification.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        The guy with the long-term girlfriend on the side is (I presume) carrying out a long-term deception on his wife.

        I argue against that above – how much should we (dare to) presume about other people’s private lives? If I heard that someone presumed as much about my wife and her long-term boyfriend, and was speaking ill of either of them out of that presumption, we’d be having words, I assure you.Report

  5. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Perhaps it’s better to elect politicians widely known to be untrustworthy, so that people don’t trust them. As you say, there’s no guarantee that a politician who hasn’t been caught cheating is trustworthy. And even if he’s honest, true believers can be as bad or worse.

    Maybe it’s better to have a government constrained by lack of trust than to take a risk on trusting a seemingly honest one.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      except, rather paradoxically as trust in government has decreased, government as continued to grow. American Government now (or at least before sequester) is bigger than it has ever been before, but less trusted than ever before too. Distrust breeds cynicism which breeds apathy and grabiness. People stop caring that their politicians are deceptive. People become grabby as they vote for politicians who will give them goodies even at the expense of others. Why? because if you don’t trust the other side to respect your rights and interests, you will not vote for people who are willing to compromise with the other side and respect their rights and interests.Report

    • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

      Maybe it’s better to have a government constrained by lack of trust than to take a risk on trusting a seemingly honest one.

      Isn’t that in theory at least, sort of what we have now? Divided powers, checks and balances, advise and consent, oversight committees, ethics committees, possibility of impeachment of judges and executives, freedom of the press, and ultimately, elections? It’s not as if all that works perfectly mind you, but it’s not as if we just hand these guys the keys and go to sleep either.Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Thanks for the picture. I’ve a soft spot in my heart for daschunds, one having been our family pet when I was a child.Report

  7. Avatar Patrick says:

    A man’s infidelity (while ordinarily none of your business unless he’s dating your daughter) reflects on his trustworthiness. He lies to the most important person in his life. If he can do that to her, why do you think he’d hesitate to hurt you?

    I’m pretty sure that there are firemen who cheat on their wives, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be trusted to pull me out of a building if it’s on fire.

    Trust isn’t atomic like that. In fact, in a general security engineering setup, you assume that people aren’t trustworthyReport

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I can trust a fireman who cheats on his wife to pull me out of a building. But that’s because firefighter positions aren’t quite as prone to abuse as a politician’s.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        That’s fair enough, but the question rightly applied to politicians is, “Did their response to marital infidelity indicate a willingness to come clean, or a desire to cover up?”

        Because if you come clean, at the very least we know “Eh, if the guy/gal does it again, at least we know they’re probably not going to abuse their power to cover it up.”

        If they abuse their power to try and keep it from coming out, that’s a *lot* more troubling.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Patrick, I kind of gave way above in a comment to zic on a hypothetical coming clean. I fear that my ashes will have already been scattered by the time a convincing case for forgiveness comes up.Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    How would you feel about a politician in an open marriage? There have always been people who go for monogamish (Dan Savage’s term) because they don’t think humans can or should be monogamous? I disagree but I know a bunch of people for whom poly/the ethical slut is all the rage and the more unbearable of them think they are oh so enlightened for that stance.*

    How would you feel if the politician was in an open marriage but he or she and his or her spouse kept this silent from the public? I’m a bit cynical and wonder if there are politicians with open marriages and we don’t know about it.

    *I am suspicious of any argument that says Humans are meant or not meant to do X as an absolute. If someone wants to be in an open relationship that is not my business (unless I am to be a participant) but I find poly to be headache inducing whenever people talk about it and what is needed to maintain it. Ordinary relationships are hard enough to maintain, poly/open seems triply so.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian says:

      Count me as one of the unbearable ones. I’ll pass on any headache inducing parsing or lectures.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      ND,

      See my comment below. It touches on this.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I’d vote for someone in an open marriage, but I’d be at least marginally less likely to. It doesn’t comport with my value system very well. Likewise Cuomo’s cohabitation. If I were a Democrat, I’d vote for him over a Republican. But all things being equal, I’d prefer to vote for somebody else.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Perhaps I should have made it more explicit, but one of the claims of my post is that trustworthiness is *more* important than ideology.

        If you are a Democrat/Republican and still want to vote your party, find a substitute candidate.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think that’s going to depend on ideology. If you’re a hard-core conservative, it’s quite reasonable to disregard just about everything but ideology (and electability) in general elections. If you’re a squish like I am, it’ll matter less.

        Squish that I am, though, it wold probably take more than one thing to get me to change my vote against ideology. Infidelity wouldn’t do it along, though infidelity would make me take corruption charges more seriously than I otherwise might. It would fit into a question of whether or not there has been a pattern of dishonorable behavior.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        If you’re a hard-core conservative, and the only candidate you can find is someone who is a serial cheater, then run yourself.

        There are actually a whole bunch of people equally conservative as Newt Gingrich. Millions. Pick one of them!Report

      • If you’re a hard-core conservative, and the only candidate you can find is someone who is a serial cheater, then run yourself.

        There are actually a whole bunch of people equally conservative as Newt Gingrich. Millions. Pick one of them!

        As someone who occasionally throws his vote away or votes cynically and/or principled’ly, as the case warrants, I might not have much standing here to criticize this statement, but criticize I will…..

        One person can’t vote for just anyone. One person can vote only for the one’s who run and who have enough money or other type of support to mount any campaign, let alone a serious campaign. If that one person doesn’t vote in primaries (and by the time a candidate for major office gets to his/her name on the primary ballot, that person has informally already edged out a large number of might-have-run’s), then the only choices are those who have survived the primary run or who stand the hope of winning a write-in effort.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        As someone who is an unaffiliated, unregistered unvoter, I have to admit it is easy for me to say.

        But if enough people felt the way I did, then infidelity *would* become reason for a candidate to bow out and let someone else try. Kazzy below mentions a defacto issue with getting elected if you are unmarried. We’d just have a similar defacto issue with getting elected if you have a (usually its lengthy) public history of infidelity. All it requires is for a critical mass of people to view it as a disqualifying factor important.

        Edit: I do not wish to suggest that infidelity should be used as a litmus test. My claim is that it should be considered along with other evidence.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “All it requires is for a critical mass of people to view it as a disqualifying factor.”

        It’d be interesting to see research on what people state they consider to be disqualifying factors for election. And to compare that to voting trends. Neither would be perfect, but it’d be interesting to see.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      If someone is caught cheating but the spouse then discloses that they have an open marriage, then I’d be OK with that. But I’m not going to assume they have an open marriage if they don’t tell me they do.

      As an example, both Gingrich and Clinton seem to have defacto if not explicitly open marriages, but I won’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they do because they have never actually said that and in fact they seem alternately apologetic or angry.Report

  9. Avatar RichardS says:

    Maybe I’m the only one who sees this, but some politicians can be serial philanderers (see Newt Gingrich) and seemingly suffer no damage to their electability, while others can’t cross the street without getting a ticket for jaywalking which becomes an unpardonable offence.

    And maybe it’s just me, but it seems to depend which side of the political spectrum they belong to which treatment they get by the general public. Sometimes trustworthiness seems irrelevant as long as they sing from the right songbook (pun intended).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Gingrich’s infidelity played a role is downfall. Lest we wish to dismiss it as having been all about about the 1998 election, I’d point to what happened to Bob Livingston. Mark Sanford may be a congressman now – which is wrong – but he paid a price for his infidelity as well. John Ensign (though the coverup played a role in that one). Contributed to Tim Hutchinson’s fall. Christopher Lee.Report

      • Avatar RichardS says:

        He hasn’t had so much of a downfall that the faithful won’t support him at the ballot box… and his infidelities don’t seem to affect the trajectory of his career as (see below) say a Tiger Woods….Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Even if it were a matter of losing at the ballot box, why doesn’t that count?

        There’s no question that Gingrich had a change in career trajectory. The only question is how much we attribute it to the rumors of his infidelity. I happen to think quite a bit of it, given what happened to Bob Livingston and who eventually became Speaker. But he went from the most powerful Republican in Washington to a has-been before anything was actually proved or admitted. Then when he came back to run for president, the whole thing came up again.

        David Vitter got away with something (in large part because he was, like NewDealer points out, a Republican Senator in a state with a Democratic Governor). Newt Gingrich isn’t.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I don’t think Gingrich is the best example.

      It seems to depend a lot on partisan politics. New York was able to throw Spitzer out because we would be replaced by a Democratic politician. Republicans rallied behind Vitter because Louisiana had a Democratic governor at the time.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think it played a role. I think an indicator of that is what happened to Bob Livingston – the guy who would have been his successor – when he was found to be unfaithful. Arguably, Denny Hastert’s primary qualification for the Speaker of the House is that he was the highest-ranking faithful husband.

        In any event, I ticked off several examples.

        I think you’re on to something about the Vitter/Spitzer dynamic. The more dispensable you are to your would-be defenders, the less likely they are to defend you and the more vulnerable you are.

        I’d also say that it usually requires something else, beyond the act itself. An aggravating factor.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

        Realistically, while trustworthiness is a valid criteria for selecting a candidate from a slate of choices, it seems much more relevant to intra-party dynamics than general contests. And that is perfectly rational.

        Consider two candidates of the same party in a primary contest. If they are espousing essentially equivalent policy preferences–of which I approve–then the revelation that one is a philanderer, and thus less than fully trustworthy as V.K. correctly asserts, then I should definitely support the more trustworthy candidate. And I should do so for two reasons: 1) This candidate is more likely to actually do what she proposes should she be elected in the general, and 2) she is also less likely to suffer from scandal attacks in the general election. Example: in the 2008 Democratic primary contest, we had three really attractive candidates; Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. The revelation of Edwards’ infidelity really pissed off his supporters (by which I mean they were/are pissed at him, not the revelators) but at least the timing let the party dodge a huge bullet in the general.

        On the other hand, given two candidates A and B, where candidate A espouses policies I prefer, but is revealed to be a philanderer and thus untrustworthy to some degree, and candidate B espouses policies I disagree with but has no such personal baggage, it is still rational for me to support candidate A. That’s because if candidate A wins I at least have a non-zero chance that he will be faithful to his campaign promises, even if he is proven unfaithful in his personal life. On the other hand, if candidate B wins, and his personal fidelity is predictive of his public fidelity to campaign promises, I’m guaranteed that he will pursue policies I disagree with. So perhaps a 50% chance of getting what I want versus 0% chance.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Rod, I understand the argument you are making, but let me note that a lot of what a politician does isn’t really ideological. For example, they may exert some control over who may or may not get a permit. How will he respond to a tempting offer?Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

        @vikram-bath , it depends a lot on what flavor of politician we’re talking about I suppose. National, state, or local? Legislator, executive, or judicial?

        As a first cut, I would say that local politicians, though they may run as Dems or Repubs, are actually performing a largely non-partisan function and so “virtue” tests become much more valid and important. Ditto for Sheriffs and especially for judges.

        The state and national level is where ideology becomes a lot more important, especially for legislators and executives. However, even at these levels the judicial branch should, at least in ideal theory, remain non-partisan and basic virtues come back into play.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    While it does not excuse dishonesty or betrayal of one’s commitments, I wonder about the societal pressures on politicians (among others) to present a particular public image and how this can conflict with how they’d rather live their life.

    I’ll use a bit of an odd analogy: Tiger Woods.

    If one looks only at Tiger’s extramarital relationships, it appears he is very much doing what Derek Jeter did, with perhaps a lower class of woman. Does Jeter ever catch grief for his lifestyle? Not that I’ve heard. He is a good looking, single multi-millionaire, is discreet in his dealings, and very much enjoys living the bachelor lifestyle. And no one really seems to mind.

    I’m not sure Tiger could have chosen this route. Tiger plays golf, not baseball, a very different sport with a very different culture. On top of that, he is multi-racial, and generally viewed as being black. This alone led to some obstacles to membership in golf’s social fraternity. Doubling down on being “other” by taking the Derek Jeter route, living the bachelor lifestyle, likely would have drawn Tiger much ire. So Tiger went the traditional route and married the beautiful blonde woman. This made him more palatable to the golfing community… he fit in culturally.

    Alas, it all blew up when we learned that Tiger was not the dedicated family man he presented himself to be. He was, instead, a serial philanderer who cheated on his wife and his family with Lord knows how many women.

    But could Tiger have taken the Jeter route? My theory is that he couldn’t have. Or, more precisely, that doing so would have put an inordinate amount of unnecessary (and, really, unfair) pressure on Tiger as he would have been flouting all the norms of the golfing world.

    To bring it back to politicians… being single-and-ready-to-mingle or being gay* can often make someone persona no grata in the political world… and unfairly so. So, I suspect that there exists a subset of politicians who, if left their own devices, would probably not opt to marry and stay committed to a single woman. But doing so is perceived to be required for them to pursue their career. So they do. But one can only life a lie for so long. Eventually, one’s nature takes over.

    As evidenced by the analogy to Mr. Woods, this isn’t unique to politicians, but I imagine it being a professional field where these pressures are higher than most. As such, there are times I am sympathetic to the guys (it is almost always guys) because of the pressure to deny their very nature. Again, that doesn’t excuse it, but I think it offers a bit of perspective.

    * I want to emphasize the use of the word or here. I do not mean to lump gay men in with men who who are promiscuous beyond the fact that neither is well-accepted in the political arena.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      1. I know you didn’t say this, but I’ll just point out that we can trust Tiger to sink a put even if we can’t trust him to be faithful to his wife. Part of my argument is that politicians are somewhat unique.
      2. Tiger may have felt pressure to become a family man, but he didn’t have to. Maybe it would have cost him some endorsements, but cry me a river. If meant not fitting in culturally with other golfers, so be it.
      3. …I suspect that there exists a subset of politicians who, if left their own devices, would probably not opt to marry and stay committed to a single woman.
      Would you have enough tears left for one more river? The proper response to the thought that “I can’t get elected unless I get married” is to try getting elected anyway or to decide you don’t want to be a politician after all. If someone is getting married for the purpose of showing the public a certain (false) face, I’d say that’s all the more reason for him to be disqualified. Like I mentioned, we only need one person per position. We can afford to be picky.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @vikram-bath

        I don’t disagree with anything you have said, either in this comment or in the OP. I was only offering a bit of nuance and pointing out some broader issues that I think are also problematic.

        It seems wrong that some politicians feel as if they need to choose between pursuing their romantic pursuits and pursuing their professional ones, provided both are healthy and legal. No more or less wrong than anyone else forced to make this choice. I just think it probably happens more in politics than most other fields. Again, it doesn’t excuse any dishonesty. And, as you say, if honesty and trustworthiness are part of the job description, well, we shouldn’t overlook the lack thereof.

        I suppose all I’m saying is that separate from the honesty/trustworthiness issue, we as a society have an issue in that some members of the electorate think that being straight or being a “family man” are part of the job description. They aren’t and should not be.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Jeter is also of mixed race (black father, white mother), but that almost never gets discussed; that is, it’s well-known, but since it doesn’t make Jeter even close to the first black anything in baseball [1], there’s no pressure on him to represent the black athlete in his sport.

        1. E.g. Jackie Robinson couldn’t play shortstop well either.Report

      • Avatar Mal Blue says:

        Wanted to mention here that Harold Ford came within 50,000 votes of being the first black senator from the South in a really long time, despite being unmarried.

        On the other hand, his opponents did try to make an issue of it. Arguably in a racist way.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Mr. Blue,

        I should make clear that I think the pressure to be “traditional family men” exists for potential politicians regardless of race. It might not be distributed equally among the races, but I think it is near universal. I’m sure there is also a geographical component; I doubt there are many states other than Massachusetts where Barney Frank can win.Report

      • Avatar Mal Blue says:

        Kazzy, I think you’re right all around. I pointed to the Ford thing because it’s so unusual. A single guy, and a single black guy, who almost got elected in the South.

        Come to think of it, our next black Senator is also single. His not being married has definitely become an issue.

        I wonder how many never-married senators and governors we have. Cantwell from Washington is the only one I know about. Napolitano was an unmarried governor. Both women. Hmmm.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        A question I have is whether the electorate would prefer married-but-cheating or single-and-minglin’.

        I see no reason why they should prefer the former, but it wouldn’t shock me if they did.

        Do you have any links to show how the different candidates’ single status became a campaign issue? I’d be interested to see how their opponents tried to use it against them.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I was only offering a bit of nuance and pointing out some broader issues that I think are also problematic.

        Yep. I acknowledge the pressures you mention. I just don’t accept any of it as excuses.

        If, heaven forbid, I was ever in the position to advise a young celebrity, I would probably encourage them to never get married. Just go ahead and have fun the way they are going to have fun anyway without the added drama of a voluntarily adopted commitment you aren’t going to keep.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        An excuse? Certainly not. But a mitigating factor when calibrating the outrage meter? Sure. For me at least.

        Derek Jeter is the person I’d point to for any young celebrity/public figure who doesn’t want the “traditional family life” of his/her own volition.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Egads. Thanks for sharing, @mal-blue .

        I noticed you said “our”… are you from NJ? Or did you just mean “our” as in “the nation’s”?Report

      • Avatar Mal Blue says:

        Kazzy, I meant as Americans. I’m not from Jersey. I was raised in and around Ford’s congressional district, though.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        mal,
        yeah, skeptical brotha had words about who Ford chose to marry.
        Ford tried to run for Senator from NY.
        He got shut down so fast and hard it wasn’t even funny.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian says:

      The difference for me is whether the individual is living a lie or not. Whatever comes out of their mouths, Clinton and Newt both have acknowledged on some level what they are. They’re relatively unapologetic except for what they’re expected to mouth. I didn’t lose respect for Tiger because he was unfaithful, I lost respect for the way he handled himself after being outed. I think Weiner is a similar car wreck.

      One problem I’m having with this concept is where “character” becomes a filter for religious preference. Is the candidate truthful? morphs into is the candidate an acceptable role model? I don’t need Potus to be a role model.

      Report

  11. Avatar Michelle says:

    I mostly disagree with your premise. Plenty of politicians have cheated on their wives and yet been fairly decent politicians, no more or less trustworthy than their presumably faithful colleagues. FDR’S had a mistress; JFK had several. Both were capable leaders.

    The problem with using Weiner as your primary example is that he’s a beast of a different sort. He’s the Internet equivalent of a flasher and there’s something disturbing and squicky about such behavior. He’s also stupid. Having been driven from his House seat for distributing dick pics on the Web, he went right back and did it again. Did he think he wouldn’t get caught? Weiner clearly has some unhealthy compulsions and some control issues that, to my mind, make him unworthy of public office.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Plenty of politicians have cheated on their wives and yet been fairly decent politicians, no more or less trustworthy than their presumably faithful colleagues.

      This is a testable claim. I would be curious if it is true. We could go through all the politicians ever and categorize them by infidelity and see whether that predicts whether they are implicated in any abuse-of-power-type scandals.

      FDR’S had a mistress

      Frankly, I score that on my side of the card. FDR certainly abused his power by hiding evidence from the Supreme Court so that he could intern Japanese Americans.

      JFK had several

      Does invading a country without Congress’s knowledge not count as an abuse of power?

      Of course, you only said that they were capable leaders, which I agree with. I do not, however, find either of them trustworthy, which is a related but different thing.Report

      • @vikram-bath

        I’m not sure that claim is testable. We can’t recreate FDR’s 1930s/1940s or JFK’s 1960s, but insert a non-philanderer in their place. Even though it isn’t (in my view) testable, it is analyzable, and maybe we could look at your objections to FDR or JFK and ask the following: Did their philandering make it more likely for them to do what they did, or was it irrelevant? Or to put it in less absolutist terms, in what ways did their infidelity make them less trustworthy in the ways you describe and in what ways did it make them more so or have no effect?

        I find it credible that a President Willkie would have signed off on interning the Japanese and would have hidden the relevant evidence (actually, I wasn’t familiar with the hiding of evidence part of the internment and at least Jackson’s dissent in Korematsu suggests that the Court had access to enough evidence to know he wasn’t guilty of any crime). I also find it credible that a President Nixon ca. 1961 would have authorized the Bay of Pigs (I assume you were referring to that).

        I’m not trying to engage only in hypotheticals, although I am doing that, too. And I’m not even trying to suggest that the most likely stand-in’s for FDR/JFK present a good control group (I have heard that Willkie was unfaithful, so there goes the control for him, but as far as I know Nixon wasn’t unfaithful). I’m more inclined to believe that the circumstances of the moment to a decisive degree influenced their choices.

        Even if I’m right, none of this goes against your argument, because I suppose we could find some margin on which the untrustworthiness of which infidelity is representative tips the scale in favor of the untrustowrthiness that you and I wouldn’t like to see in our presidents. But to my first point, this type of claim just doesn’t seem testable, and there are alternate analyses that probably have more weight when it comes to assessing the trustworthiness of politicians (and I’ll add to those analyses your point, in another post, that we should expect politicians to lie).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        FDR had a mistress

        Frankly, I score that on my side of the card. FDR certainly abused his power by hiding evidence from the Supreme Court so that he could intern Japanese Americans.

        This illustrates what you ask people to trade off for your most-and-almost-exclusively-valued indicator here. It’s not like people haven’t considered whether, all things considered, they’d take FDR with his affairs compared to an alternative offering the same positives and none of the affairs who did not exist. Many people regret the internment of Japanese Americans, but they wouldn’t take it back if they had to give back the New Deal and the successful prosecution of WWII. Perhaps they’re mistaken, but I don’t think you’ve remotely presented an argument here that suggests that as an indicator of performance in office people should place marital fidelity in the high place you say they should. You say they should, IOW, but you don’t do more than present an argument that people will take or leave based on various priorities they hold. You don’t have the argument here (yet) that shows people why those priorities are misplaced; as yet, you’re still just asserting your own as against theirs.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Mrs. Roosevelt took a lover, too. Lorena Hickok was probably as close as Eleanor Roosevelt had to a soulmate.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        We can’t recreate FDR’s 1930s/1940s or JFK’s 1960s, but insert a non-philanderer in their place.

        No, not that exact test, but the one I mentioned would give us an indication of whether people who have personal issues also have professional issues or if there truly is no overlap. My main concern would be that there might not be enough documented instances of abuses of power. Also, the uncovering of issues is decidedly non-random with some politicians getting much more scrutiny than others.

        But if it is not testable, why not be more cautious rather than less?

        Did their philandering make it more likely for them to do what they did, or was it irrelevant?

        This is a good question. As you mentioned, this whole thing needs the “ceteris paribus” rider, so we are talking about non-philandering versions of the same people, which thinking about kind of makes my head ache–especially in the case of JFK where that seems to have been his most salient personal attribute.

        I’m perfectly willing to say that maybe the non-philandering versions would have made the same mistakes. At the same time, they would certainly be no *more* likely to take liberties and perhaps a tiny bit less likely, so the precautionary principle would seem to support my claim.

        Regarding controls, I’m not sure Republicans should be used but instead the next available Democrat. If we did adopt my rule as a social norm, then we’d only get spotless nominees.

        Edit: I do not wish to suggest that infidelity should be used as a litmus test. My claim is that it should be considered along with other evidence, so it would be possible for the nominee of your party to have a history of infidelity–but only if your next-best candidate is really weak in comparison to the best one. I’m unsure of how likely that would be though.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        This illustrates what you ask people to trade off for your most-and-almost-exclusively-valued indicator here.

        I never meant to say that personal fidelity should be a most or exclusive indicator. Rather, I argue it should not be categorically ignored, as many people seem to feel it should be. All I am saying is don’t ignore this information. That doesn’t mean “only pay attention to this information and nothing else.”

        FDR accomplished much, but I don’t know that the next-best Democrat would have done so much worse. The alternative universe where that guy became president might not look much different except that in that world it would have been just as unimaginable that someone else could have done the job as it is here.

        You don’t have the argument here (yet) that shows people why those priorities are misplaced; as yet, you’re still just asserting your own as against theirs.

        This contradicts what I’ve said in a couple of other comments here, but let me propose this and see if you can live with it: “Go ahead and retain your other priorities. But don’t ignore personal fidelity. If you have information about a person’s trustworthiness, use it. Don’t pretend that it has the same information value as hair color because it most likely doesn’t.”

        Given that, a theoretical voter could have judged FDR against his Democratic nominee rival and made a judgment as to whether FDR’s advantages outweighed this area of concern.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Bush43’s only virtue was loyalty. He demanded it of his subordinates, often to the exclusion of other virtues. He valued loyalty as more important than competence or philosophical orientation. We know what he did.

        I’m not sure trustworthiness is the virtue we should prize above all others, not in politics, where a man’s vote must be more than the voice of his own conscience. The greatest evils arise from the best of intentions.

        Back in the days of Senator Paul Simon, I was outraged by his vote on a draft of the Clean Air Bill. I photocopied my voter’s registration card onto a piece of paper and asked for an explanation of his vote. He wrote me back, saying Texas had demanded an exemption and he couldn’t vote for that bill. Handwritten note. I thought the world of him, still view him as one of the most upstanding politicians of his era.

        I can understand why you’ve taken the position you have. You’ve done a fine job of explaining yourself. But politics is not a place for the trustworthy man. Sometimes, what you want is a bastard lawyer, a Wily Odysseus who will stand up for you, in a world where words are twisted and honesty is in short supply.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I guess I was never clear what your injunction exactly was. Maybe what would be best for you to say (since I think it;s fair to say it’s now clearly changing) is, “Hey, some advice: consider the idea of considering infidelity as a negative indicator of trustworthiness for officeseekers.” No one can even disagree with that; it’s just advice, and it doesn’t even say how important anyone should make that consideration in their deliberations. Is that too weak a formulation?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …I mean, is what you argued really just that it shouldn’t be categorically ignored?

        On how important you said the infidelity question ought to be, you said “Trustworthiness in a politician, therefore, is more important than competence or philosophical orientation.” So perhaps I’m conflating assessment methods of trustworthiness generally with infidelity as an indicator of that. So… how significant of an indicator of lack of trustworthiness ought a record of revealed marital infidelity be? A bigger indicator than a record of official corruption or abuse of power? Equal to it? The faintest shadow thereof? I’m unclear.

        And… if trustworthiness in a politician is more important than competence or philosophical orientation… what does that leave as being more important than trustworthiness? I’m not sure what attributes might not be occurring to me.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        @michael-drew ,
        These are good questions, and I admit I don’t think my original post was flushed out well enough to have answered them. Here is attempt #2.

        1. Trustworthiness *is* still the most important thing in a politician.
        2. Infidelity is an indicator of trustworthiness. It is not be any means a perfect indicator, but it provides some information.
        3. Many people seem to think infidelity shouldn’t be considered at all because it’s “personal” and therefore has nothing to do with how a politician might act. My claim is that this is wrong.
        4. I am not suggesting that we switch to using infidelity as a litmus test; I am suggesting that it and *all* other indicators of possible untrustworthiness be evaluated before actually trusting someone with vast amounts of power.

        ——

        Blaise, surely we can find people who are trustworthy *and* not W?Report

      • @blaisep

        My boss, who grew up in Chicago, told me this story about Senator Simon:

        One day when she was downtown, she saw a homeless man who probably didn’t even recognize who Simon was ask Simon for money. The senator took the man to a sit down restaurant and bought him a meal. By my boss’s telling of the story, other than herself, there weren’t any observers and no media cameras around.

        I really like that story, and my boss is a pretty honest person, so I have every reason to believe she’s telling the truth.Report

      • @vikram-bath

        Thanks for your answer. I suppose that as long as you’re not suggesting a litmus test, then I don’t have a lot of disagreements, except for perhaps relatively minor ones,such as how much weight the collective “we” ought to put on infidelity (You seem to put more weight on it than I do) and to what extent we can consider infidelity discretely from other traits (you seem to think of it more as something that by itself can be identified as an attribute that suggests at least something knowable about a person’s character, while I tend to see it as something that is so bound to the mess that is a person’s psychology and decisions that it’s hard to know what it says about that person’s character in contradistinction to his/her other traits.)Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I’m uncertain about whether I put more weight on it than you do. I think it’s more likely that I simply do not see the top candidates for a position as being the only people who could possibly do the jobs they are doing.

        I think Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton are thought indispensable to their parties because of their name recognition, not because they are particularly competent. Among the lessons of Obama’s presidency is that you can take a smart person with virtually no relevant experience and ask them to be president, and they won’t necessarily do any worse than someone who has been a multi-term governor of a large state.

        So, I don’t think it’s that I think infidelity is more important than you think it is. It’s just that I don’t think politicians are as irreplaceable.Report

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      Frankly, I score that on my side of the card. FDR certainly abused his power by hiding evidence from the Supreme Court so that he could intern Japanese Americans.

      I’m not sure what, if anything, his abuse of power here has to do with his having a mistress. His wife, as pointed out by another commenter, also had one. All that tells me is that the Roosevelts had a complicated personal life. It tells me little about his trustworthiness as a political leader.

      Does invading a country without Congress’s knowledge not count as an abuse of power?

      If your referring to the Bay of Pigs, it was planned under the Eisenhower administration (oh, that’s right Eisenhower also had an affair while stationed in Europe during WWII). Again, I don’t see the relationship.

      Both Obama and W have abused executive power. W authorized torture and signed on to a definition of the almost complete power of the president, in his role as commander-in-chief, to use military power as he sees fit. Obama seems perfectly willing to run with W’s expansion of executive power. I’d call his use of drones an abuse of power. And yet neither man has, as far as anyone knows, cheated on his respective spouse.

      So, while having an affair might tell us something about a politician’s character, I don’t think it tells us much about how that politician is going to govern.Report

  12. Avatar dhex says:

    the important thing about weiner is that his campaign has been a complete cock-up; if he’d held firm to the course instead of dicking around, he might still have a chance of maintaining an election lasting more than four hours.Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I just find it weird that you can now cheat on your spouse with someone you haven’t yet met.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think it used to always be possible. It would just take longer and be more emotional. We always had episiltory friendships and romances.

      Though those were probably about emotional adultery than anything else.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      There are a lot of things that busybodies can find to complain about with any given affair but one of the go-to topics is the whole “made the spouse lose face” thing. Weiner did a good job of not only scoring the touchdown on this one but spiking the football.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Why does anyone care if he hurt the feelings of an Al Qaeda agent? (Like Townhall had any credibility to lose with the California-become-part-of-Mexico BS.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        You know, I had thought that Al-Qaeda was likely to be all hung up on the whole sexuality thing but there are clerics calling for Joy Divisions for militants.

        If the whole “hey, sex for God is a-ok” thing takes off (perhaps a Baez sisters poster equivalent?), we just might have to start freaking out.Report

  14. Avatar Fnord says:

    When a man runs for public office, he claims himself trustworthy–impossibly trustworthy.

    And thus there are only two kinds of people willing to run for public office: messiahs and those willing to lie.Report

  15. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Are we optimizing or are we satisficing? We could try to select the absolutely optimal candidate who will tick all the positive boxes: pleasure to work with, wondrous private life and public life, stellar resume… As you say, there’s only one office to fill. Perhaps politicians who eat rainbows and poop butterflies would be great. But by the time election day comes around the individual voter is often satisficing, not optimizing. Should marital fidelity be put in that category of satisficing, election day questions questions?

    Looking at the nature of questions politicians are called on to answer, I lean no. A town must cut its budget by X. What departments, programs, divisions take those cuts? A town has an unexpected windfall: tax cuts, provide more services, or a rainy day fund? To me, “how faithful have you been to your spouse?” doesn’t really present much additional useful information. A politician’s private life could be disqualifying in some circumstances (various kinds of abuse are mentioned upthread), but I tend to just admit a certain level of human frailty in the equation from the start.

    Alternatively put, here are some, very general, options from a poll that I find controlling (from a Reason post on a Reason-Rupe poll):

    – “The less government the better”; OR, “there are more things that government should be doing.”
    – “The government should be doing more to regulate businesses”; OR, “Too often, government regulation of businesses does more harm than good.”
    – “We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems”; OR, “People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement.”
    – Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

    Obviously these questions can be narrowed much further, Greg Mankiw’s excellent post How do the right and left differ? is a good guide (a kind of paraphrase of competing visions he lays out):
    – How do you assess the distortionary effect of taxation?
    – How pervasive are market failures and externalities?
    – How much checking of corporate market power by government is required?
    – To what extent can the government protect people from their own mistakes?
    – How efficient is the government at allocating resources?
    – Is market-based income distribution fair or unfair?
    – What, if anything, should government do about unfair income distribution?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Men, angels, etc. The USA is a republic. We grant authority to our officials for specified periods of time. If the elected body of officials represents us all, it can’t be optimal. Elections produce results trending more to mediocrity than excellence, usually to some horrible Least Common Denominator, substantially worse than mediocre.

      James Carville said we vote for people just like we fall in love: there’s very little rational thinking about the decisions we make. We’re presented with the Jamoke du Jour from our favourite political party. Cue hoopla, bunting, canned music, much sweet talk, earnest if vague promises are made — crank the handle and out comes yet another elected politician, beholden at once to everyone and no-one. Such people aren’t born, they’re excreted. How could we ever hope for better?

      Lawyers become politicians: overwhelmingly, that’s their craft before they become politicians. They’re advocates. They’ll use every wrinkle in every statute, valiantly strive to keep incriminating evidence out of the discovery process, tell their clients to shut up and let them do the talking — that’s what they’re good at. Whatever they may personally feel about taxation and the distortions thus created, these people don’t care. They’re serving their constituencies as they served their clients. It’s not that they’re immoral, they’re amoral, bound to the dictates of their craft.

      We have to get beyond looking at a politician as a human being, though I suppose in his heart of hearts, he believes something. A politician is an advocate. His personal life is of no consequence. If some wag put up a sign in the Rose Garden “The line to fellate the President starts here” half of Washington would be rushing to get a place in line. Put homeless people in line to hold their places.

      The only people we can trust with power are those who understand it, not those who promise not to abuse it. In a very real sense, the bigger the rogue, the better the politician. Asking a politician if he’s for less government — who’s going to answer Yes? These bastards crave power, the power that derives from mandate. Madison engineered the process to work at cross-purposes to itself, lest any one of them get too much of it.

      Here’s what we ought to ask politicians:

      Who’s giving you the money to run for office? Account for every cent of it, in a sworn document. And it’s presumed any attack ad run in your district against your opponent, whether or not you approved it, is being run on your behalf. Who are these people?

      Who will be on your staff? Your own track record isn’t enough. Nobody runs for high office alone. You can tell more about an executive by the character of his chief of staff than anything he’ll ever say in public.

      Enumerate the concerns of the people who elect you. And don’t say “Jobs and Mom and Apple Pie and Jesus and Our Servicemen”, jackass. If you’re going to represent us, what issues face the district.

      Don’t ask a politician what he’s going to do while in office. Don’t ask him about his ideals, he doesn’t have any. The word Fairness makes him snicker behind his hand.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Asking a politician if he’s for less government — who’s going to answer Yes?

        Well, there is that set of people in US politics who want to end a bunch departments/agencies. Offhand I’ve heard of eliminating the EPA, IRS, Department of Education, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR, and the national endowments for the humanities and arts. I think that’s what that type of question is getting at. And this divide readily shows up in Congress, witness the House’s proposed cuts to food stamps.

        I don’t think the ideological-type questions are to the exclusion of the one’s you offer. They’re really sensible, especially: who’s paying for your campaign? who’ll you hire? There are preset frames that a politician, or appointee, will view the world through. I’d expect a very different foreign policy from a Ron Paul as Secretary of State versus a Susan Rice as Secretary of State for instance. Those kind of big think questions get at similarly important, ongoing debates in the domestic sphere. Some things wouldn’t even register as problems under some views, and if they do register then the solutions applied are really limited.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        So true, every word of it. I did some work for an executive search firm, which confidentiality agreements keep me from naming. Learned a good deal about how they sort through the lists of viable candidates, though I was nothing but a lowly IT guy at the time. See, it’s not about their experience so much as it is their character. It’s not a science, it’s an art, how they winnow out the duds.

        Every day bringeth fresh hell. Most of leadership amounts to coping with that hell. All that talk about Smaller Gummint, that’s the aforementioned hoopla and bunting. Won’t happen. At best, they’ll put in better administrators who will reorganise these bureaucracies, run them more efficiently, prune them back. Hell, we can’t even kill a project like F-35 knowing it’s a boondoggle — because someone will defend it. Jobs in his district. Many districts, F-35 is distributed all over the nation precisely because it will thus have more defenders.

        The House wants to cut Food Stamps because it seems like an easy target. Food Stamps / SNAP spending has gone through the roof — and why? Because lots more people qualify for them. What a surprise! These morons think if they eliminate the symptom they have eliminated the problem. It’s all a sham. The GOP just wants to paint the Democrats as Enablers of Welfare Queens and Other Reprobate Piglets A-Suckin’ Upon the Public Teat.

        The GOP lack the testicular fortitude to do anything meaningful about public expenditures upon the poor. The last thing they want is actual cuts. They just want to blame it all on the Democrats.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      @creon-critic , This was my claim:
      Trustworthiness in a politician, therefore, is more important than competence or philosophical orientation.
      As I mentioned to Rod, a lot of what politicians do is not actually about the ideological balances you mention. It might be about selecting a contractor. Or about making sure someone’s paperwork gets special treatment and a competitor’s doesn’t. Or about deciding whether to discipline a city employee who has done something wrong and which donor’s son to replace that employee with.

      How someone makes those types of decisions have little if anything to do with right versus left. They have everything to do with how well someone is likely to perform as an administrator.

      Sure, when *we* talk about government, we’re interested in policy and specifically policy differences. The actual work of government, however, seems to be largely administrative. We don’t pay attention to that, but that’s where most of the opportunities to defraud the public occur.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @vikram-bath: “This was my claim: Trustworthiness in a politician, therefore, is more important than competence or philosophical orientation.”

        It’s funny. A year or so I did a post where I made a comment about rooting out corruption being more important for the health of the nation and a party than your party winning a single election. I even glossed over it a bit because I assumed it would be pretty universally agreed upon.

        I was surprised at how much pushback I got. I had always assumed that cognitive dissonance was what allowed people to back clearly corrupt people in their party. It never really hit me till then that a lot of people not only allow corruption in their party, but openly and knowingly embrace it if the candidates/politicians are people who stick hard to their litmus tests.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I wonder how universally that opinion is held. Blogs do tend to collect people who care about political ideology more than the average bear.

        As someone who’s largely apolitical though and has some passing familiarity on research about corruption and GDP per capita, I find it self-evidently obvious that minimizing corruption is perhaps the most important thing a country can do public policy-wise. It might be the only thing that comes before reducing internal and external trade barriers in importance.

        Everything else pales in comparison–even things like entering wars and safety nets and welfare states and education washes out as noise. We would be much better off, I think, if instead of voting Democratic or Republican, we could just vote for the less corrupt candidate each time.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @vikram-bath,
        I find it self-evidently obvious that minimizing corruption is perhaps the most important thing a country can do public policy-wise.

        I agree with this. But the problem is what are the most effective ways to shine light into corrupt practices; even clearly define what corrupt practices actually means. It’s not typically the take-some-money-and stuff-it-in-your-freezer variety any longer, it’s aiding and abetting regulatory capture. Those few words in a law that are not obvious beforehand, put there at the request of some lobbyist representing some industry, that effectively gut the law’s implementation, for instance, or creates a loop hole big enough to ride a camel through. It’s the many hours a day our kongresskritters have to put in working the phones for campaign contributions.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        The presumption that you and Tod are both making is that we can all agree on a standard defintion of what constitutes corruption. I don’t think that’s a viable assumption. For somebody who’s a hardcore right-libertarian, for instance, the very existence of welfare spending or progressive taxation might constitute corruption, with moochers voting themselves benefits that they don’t have to pay for. For others on the left, the absence of carbon taxation could constitute a corrupt transfer of resources to polluters. I don’t think you can simply assert that either of these don’t actually count as corruption, and that we should focus on the “real” corruption–you have to prove it, and I’m not convinced.Report

  16. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    Trustworthiness in a politician, therefore, is more important than competence or philosophical orientation.

    I think this, right here, is what I disagree with. Maybe it’s just me, but replace politician with attorney. I know it’s not exactly the same, but I don’t think the path from this attorney is a bad spouse to this attorney will do a bad job of defending my interests is really a plausible one. Put another way, I don’t see how a purity test would increase the pool of good lawyers.

    The types of behaviors that make one an unfaithful spouse are, I think, mostly separate from the types that make one a crooked lawyer or crooked politician. Tod’s point about unethical business practices is different – unethical business practices show that you’re untrustworthy in business. Think of the converse: Is a corrupt pol/lawyer/manager more likely to be cheating on his or her spouse? Would anyone really give their answer to that question a second’s thought?Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Is a corrupt pol/lawyer/manager more likely to be cheating on his or her spouse?

      This is a very fair question to ask. But I think my answer is “I dunno. Possibly.” I get that your answer is “obviously not”, but I don’t know what is so obvious about it.Report

  17. Avatar Damon says:

    Infidelity is just one of many failings. When I find out some politician is banging some chick on the side, it goes into the “disappove” side, but so does catching him in a direct lie, breaking a promise on a campaign pledge, etc. Converserly, when he stands up for the right thing against the tide of public opinion, he gets credit. There are so few examples of stuff being put into the positive side I remember them a lot more than the bad side.

    My question is, every politician has lied to you in the past, many times likely, and people, when pressed, acknowledge it, then explain it away and reelect him. F’ing why? You therefore endorse his actions and encourage it even more.Report

  18. Avatar Kim says:

    How. Absolutely. Idiotic.
    I want to know whether a politician is blackmailable.
    Most are.

    Just like you don’t get much mileage out of asking
    “did you ever speed?”
    you don’t get much mileage out of asking
    “did you cheat on your spouse?”

    The myriad perversions on display in
    our elected officials dwarf your imagination.Report

  19. Avatar veronica dire says:

    Why do I only care about a man’s fidelity when he is dating my “daughter”? First, I have no daughter. Second, should I not care if he is dating a friend? What if he is dating me?

    Woman are not valuable merely insofar as they are related to men.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I’m a little surprised it took that long for someone to ask!

      I wrote the OP to be as traditional and heteronormative as possible in an attempt to belabor the point that that is how these things generally play out in the public. We rarely see non-male politicians. And it’s even rarer to see them non-male politicians get caught in this sort of thing.

      The daughter thing was an extension of those assumptions. The actual message I wanted to communicate with that sentence was that personal stuff is personal if it has nothing to do with you. If it has something to do with you, then it’s personal to you.Report