Do politicians have private lives?
Posted on June 7, 2011
The biggest news story of the past week is that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) has admitted he sent lewd photographs to women over his private Twitter account. For many people, this story matters because Weiner’s private life speaks directly to political life. You can find this argument laid out in an editorial in the News-Sentinel:
The line between a politician’s public and private lives is blurred, and that is understandable. Those who volunteer for the public arena are in some big ways giving up their claim to privacy. And it’s not just mean-spirited curiosity when we seek the sordid details. How people live their private lives says a great deal about what kind of public servant they are likely to be. Morality is morality, and so is its lack. The first thing we should want to know about candidates is how they treat the people closest to them.
But others, like Conor Friedersdorf, say this position is mistaken.
As far as I can tell — we’ve all got a depressingly big sample size — a politician’s sexual fidelity in marriage, or his sexual behavior generally, doesn’t reliably tell us anything about the integrity he demonstrates when acting in his official capacity. Nor is our moral culture elevated when we focus on these scandals. It is degraded, both because a large amount of the interest is prurient, and because by focusing on the sexual behavior of egocentric alpha males who spend a lot of time traveling far from home (that is to say, politicians) we may even be fooling ourselves into thinking that sexual impropriety is more common than it is, and thereby normalizing it.
What are your thoughts?