David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Politicians and Personal Lives

In case you missed it, the other day the sky boiled with lava and winged monkey creatures came down from the clouds tossing Molotov cocktails at pedestrians. Pestilence broke out, crops spontaneously combusted, and children started randomly developing stigmata.

Senator David VitterThe cause of this all, of course, was Senator David Vitter’s confession that he had once partaken of the services of a D.C. prostitution service, helpfully provided to us by Grand Inquisitor Larry Flynt. You know, Larry Flynt, the canny investigative journalist behind Hustler who forced that rabid mass murderer Bob Livingston to resign from leadership of the House in 1998 because he strayed from his marriage.

I really get hopping mad at revelations like this. Why? Because I firmly believe that it’s none of our fucking business what our politicians do with their personal lives.

Guess what? I don’t care that Senator David Vitter is hanging around with prostitutes on his spare time. I really don’t. Also:

  • I don’t care if he’s cheating on his wife
  • I don’t care if he’s gay or bisexual
  • I don’t care if he litters
  • I don’t care if he’s getting audited on his taxes
  • I don’t care if he cheats at cards or golf
  • I don’t care if he got bad grades in college
  • I don’t care if he’s got a gambling problem
  • I don’t care if he smoked marijuana in college
  • I don’t care if he still smokes marijuana on his own time
  • I don’t care if he uses the “f” word or tells someone to “go f— yourself”
  • I don’t care if he did cocaine or heroin a long time ago
  • I don’t care if he uses the “n” word from time to time in private conversation
  • I don’t care if he calls somebody by an obscure French ethnic slur in the heat of a campaign event
  • I don’t care if he drives an SUV or a Prius
  • I don’t care how big his house is or how much electricity it uses
  • I don’t care how much he spends on haircuts he pays for out of his own pocket
  • I don’t care what his wife does for a living
  • I don’t care what religion he is
  • I don’t care if he’s friends with lobbyists
  • I don’t care if he’s a hypocrite
  • I don’t care if he flirts with the wrong people
  • I don’t care if he watches or downloads pornography
  • I don’t care if he owns a Confederate flag
  • I don’t care if he’s a closet racist
  • I don’t care if he’s a closet sexist
  • I don’t care if he’s a closet homophobe
  • I don’t care if he smokes
  • I don’t care if he has a drinking problem
  • I don’t care if he makes an egregious statement or two, as long as he promptly apologizes

Now here are the things I do care about as regards Senator David Vitter:

  • I care about the policies he advocates
  • I care about the votes he casts in the U.S. Senate
  • I care if he’s charged with a crime that’s not a misdemeanor

Let’s make up a new rule. When our politicians step out of the office at the end of the day, they’re private citizens. Which means that just like you won’t splash it all over the newspaper that your next-door neighbor is having an affair, you won’t do the same about a politician. You shouldn’t follow a politician around or snoop on his personal life or try to dig up dirt on him. Now if he kills someone or actively cheats on his taxes or stashes bribe money in his freezer, then I want to hear about it. Until then, shut the fuck up.

Larry Flynt tries to cover his exposés of public officials with the paltry fig leaf of claiming that it’s all about hypocrisy. Well, guess what? I don’t care if politicians are hypocrites. Public discourse is cheapened by making it a clash of personalities. All that should matter is the content of the bills Senator Vitter proposes and the speeches he makes and the articles he writes, not the quality of the messenger. Even if the bills he champions specifically clash with his own personal behavior, I don’t care. In all but the rarest of cases, it doesn’t matter if a politician secretly disagrees with a policy he’s promoting. Larry Flynt’s lame excuse that David Vitter should be exposed because he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage (i.e. anti-gay marriage) is just that — lame.

This means that we desperately need to stop this idiotic parade of third-rate Freudian analyses of our politicians’ every utterance. I find it disgraceful that Trent Lott was forced to resign his leadership position in the Senate because of a single slip of the tongue. I find it disgraceful that Bill Clinton was dragged before the Congress for evasively answering a personal question he should have never been asked in the first place. I find it disgraceful that John Ashcroft was branded a racist because of his tenuous association with someone who favored segregation. I find it disgraceful that every time Ted Kennedy opens his mouth, right-wing talk radio has to call him a drunkard.

Why isn’t it possible to respectfully disagree with someone and not start piling on about their perceived personal flaws? Why do we have to morally judge these people’s activities at all? Why can’t we just concentrate on the policy?

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  1. George Pedrosa on July 11, 2007 at 12:42 pm  Chain link

    I agree with you. Politics and personal life should be completely independent. Here in my country (Brazil), some people are suspicious of our president due to rumors that he DRINKS when he is not in the office. Guess what? So does 90% of our male population! That kind of hipocrisy really makes me mad…

    However, while I would never support an investigation on this senator’s personal life, it’s still damn ironic that a republican who defends the “sanctity of marriage” cheats his wife and uses the services of prostitutes. It tells a lot about a lot of right-wing conservatives that I know.

    Oh, by the way, I’ve read your book, and it’s absolutely fantastic! i cant wait for the sequel. And please, don’t stop writing on this blog. It’s one of the few that I actually read on a daily basis.

  2. David Louis Edelman on July 11, 2007 at 12:59 pm  Chain link

    Thanks, George! Glad you found the blog, and don’t worry, I’ll be blogging and writing novels for some time to come. :-)

  3. George Pedrosa on July 11, 2007 at 1:16 pm  Chain link

    I’m glad to hear that. One sugestion: a Wikipedia page for your novel and yourself would be a good marketing tool. While Wikipedia is certainly not whitout its flaws, it would still make more people (specially science fiction readers) know about your novel. I would do it myself if I didn’t have to study like crazy for my vestibular this year.

    Good luck with your work.

  4. David Louis Edelman on July 11, 2007 at 1:23 pm  Chain link

    I’d love to see a Wikipedia page about me and/or my work… but it’s not really kosher to submit one about yourself. Anyone feel like submitting one on my behalf?

  5. Dre on July 11, 2007 at 8:07 pm  Chain link

    David, you asked: “Why do we have to morally judge these people’s activities at all? Why can’t we just concentrate on the policy?”

    a) reasearching and explaining policies and their intended/likely outcomes is apparently no longer part of the job-description in mainstream-journalism

    b) it’s a lot easier to convince your editor to put your story on the front page of your newspaper if pee-pee’s and hu-hu’s are involved

    c) we don’t have to judge their morality, we could not read those stories/change the channel etc., but in America we are not allowed to focus the national discourse on anything of substance. looks like i’m blaming the press here… but in my opinion, the press hides behind “sex sells” and “we report what our consumers demand” way too much because it’s just so easy to play morality police, and it’s hard to read/interpret policy proposals and health care bills, and who wants to work hard?

    it might also have a lot to do with the fact that to be a politician in the US in the first place, one first has to establish this super-pious image to placate religious people and get the “religious vote”. once you do that, any hint of any interest in any sex with anyone just doesn’t fit the picture anymore. i mean, can you imagine an atheist winning the nomination to run for prez for either party? i agree that it would be great for the country if religion and personal lifestyle choices didn’t have to be part of political campaigns.

  6. King Rat on July 11, 2007 at 8:57 pm  Chain link

    If a person’s private life doesn’t match up with the policies they advocate, I’m interested. Particularly if their public policies include excoriating other people for their private lives.

  7. tommyspoon on July 12, 2007 at 10:38 am  Chain link

    Why do we have to morally judge these people’s activities at all?

    Because people like Trent Lott and David Vitter present themselves as occupying the moral high ground, lording their moral superiority over the rest of us. When people stop doing that, then I’ll stop making an issue of their personal peccodillos.

    Until then, pass me the popcorn while I watch these bastards squirm….

  8. tommyspoon on July 12, 2007 at 10:57 am  Chain link

    And while I’m at it:

    * I don’t care if he’s getting audited on his taxes
    * I don’t care if he’s got a gambling problem

    Even if he’s responsible for large sums of your money?

    * I don’t care if he owns a Confederate flag

    I agree. What about if he flies it proudly from his front porch?

    * I don’t care if he’s a closet racist
    * I don’t care if he’s a closet sexist
    * I don’t care if he’s a closet homophobe

    Even if they are supposed to represent ALL of the people? Including people who look different from him, are of a different gender, and who may have a different sexual preference? I believe that these characteristics should automatically disqualify anyone for public office, but I realize that testing for these characteristics is all but impossible.

    * I don’t care if he has a drinking problem

    As a child of alcoholics, I respectfully disagree. Addictive behavior can lead to serious consequences and this person should be removed from office until they have their addiction under control.

  9. David Louis Edelman on July 12, 2007 at 12:21 pm  Chain link

    Tommy: I dunno, personally I feel that even if someone lords their morality over everyone else, our business is just to shrug and say who cares?

    How can you tell who’s a racist or a sexist? John Edwards supposedly once said that he was “uncomfortable” around gay people. Should he be disqualified? Can you really call Trent Lott a racist just because he tried to flatter an old man who used to be a segregationist at his birthday party? What about Joe Biden then? As far as I’m concerned, if someone really has a moral deficiency, it’ll come out in their voting and legislative record. Then I can vote or not vote for that person based on their opposition to a civil rights bill or whatever. Trying to read the tea leaves and determine who’s a racist or a sexist by parsing every little utterance a politician makes is just plain crazy.

    As for alcohol — how much drinking is too much? If they’re that much of an alcoholic, then it’ll affect their ability to be an effective legislator. If the guy’s boozing it up at lunch and showing up incoherent at committee meetings, then that’s a problem. But if he goes home every night and tosses back a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, not my business.

    Now admittedly we need some way to evaluate a person who is a first-time candidate and who has no voting or legislative record. But even then that person should be judged by their public acts — their work and civic life — and not private ones.

  10. tommyspoon on July 12, 2007 at 12:46 pm  Chain link

    As for alcohol — how much drinking is too much?

    Wait for it, wait for it…

    But if he goes home every night and tosses back a bottle of Jack Daniel’s…

    Congratulations! You just answered your own question! The correct answer is this: for an addict, ANY amount is too much.

    Obviously we are talking about politicians, but what if we were talking about a fighter pilot or the captain of a ship? Does that change the discussion on alcohol? Why should politicians get a pass? Don’t they make decisions that can affect the lives of many people, just like a figthter pilot or a captain of a ship?

    Do you view addiction as a disease or as a moral failing? Just curious.

    I agree with you that people should be judged on “their work and civic life” and not their private acts. But at some point the personal and the private will become public if you choose to enter the political arena. (How many of us were counting the days until Bill “Horndog” Clinton’s penis would trip him up? I knew the kind of man he was in 1992 and 1996 and voted for him anyway.) So I’m not sure that politicians get to have the same kind of considerations for their private lives as we do as ordinary citizens. I don’t think that’s fair, mind you, but that seems to be the reality that we inhabit at the moment. I think that when politicians stop posing themselves as paragons of virtue our interest in their private lives may ebb away.

    I only enumerated 7 out of the 29 or so items on your list. I’m willing to throw back 3 of them because we have to work homophobia, racism and sexism out as a culture. The Confederate flag remains an issue for me because the symbolism is too powerful and too ugly to ignore. (“Southern Heritage” my ass…) Addiction is so destructive that I feel it must be considered. If only to get that person the help that they need.

  11. David Louis Edelman on July 12, 2007 at 1:15 pm  Chain link

    Okay, I used sloppy wording calling addiction a moral failing. I think it’s more of a disease.

    You’re trying to hold politicians to the same standards as enlisted military personnel. I just don’t see why that’s necessary. I agree that there are times when the personal should become public — say, if there’s some guy who moonlights as a KKK member, to use an extreme example — but I just draw the line much closer to civilian standards.

  12. Matt Jarpe on July 12, 2007 at 2:59 pm  Chain link

    The problem with zeroing in on the addictive behavior itself rather than the consequences to job performance is that you can’t keep track of all the things that can impact job performance. If the guy is addicted to Space Invaders and skips committee meetings to rack up his high score on his laptop in the broom closet, that’s a problem. It isn’t the drugs or alcohol or prositutes that are the problem, it’s the putting other things ahead of job performance.

    Of course I’m at work as I type this, so I’m setting a poor example.

  13. Cindy Blank-Edelman on July 12, 2007 at 10:15 pm  Chain link

    I think what you said is interesting, Dave, but maybe overly simplistic….? I think the reality is that we elect people to be our country’s leaders, not just to make policies and laws. Yes, the way they use their leadership *is* to make policies and laws, but that is not the only thing that makes them leaders. I think an interesting question is: what qualities does someone need to have to make them qualified to be a leader of the country, a symbol of the country’s democracy? In general, people tend to agree that hypocrisy is not a quality we want in our leaders. This is why people who act hypocritically get in so much trouble in politics.

    A lot of it comes down to the issue of trust. Can we trust our elected officials to act in the country’s best interest? How do we know? Do actions in one’s personal life indicate how one is likely to act at work (in politics or elsewhere)? How?

  14. Jim Stewart on July 13, 2007 at 12:52 am  Chain link

    The thing I think you’re not taking into account is that the offense that matters here is his hypocrisy, which is a public issue, not his adultery, which is private. Bill Clinton cheated on his wife, but his main platform wasn’t “the sanctity of marriage.” For Vitter it was, which in practice entirely meant keeping gays from participating in the legal advantages of that legal status. You seem like a Libertarian type, which means you probably think the gov’t shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, and I can go along with that. But the point is that Vitter thinks that it should.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a politician to live in a way that is at least somewhat consistent with his political views. This is exactly like people jumping on Al Gore for riding private jets while complaining about global warming. It questions whether a person is really qualified to talk about an issue.

  15. Jim Stewart on July 13, 2007 at 12:58 am  Chain link

    Sorry, I commented before I read after the jump, and you did address the point I made. I still disagree, but it wasn’t fair to say you hadn’t mentioned it.

  16. dave on July 13, 2007 at 9:36 am  Chain link

    I agree that the news is too often focused on the purient personal lives of our leaders. I couldn’t care less if a politician sleeps around. We all have human weaknesses. But I think I have to draw the line at saying hypocracy in our leadership shouldn’t matter.

    If a politician demagoges about how a sitting president should be impeached for sexual misdeeds while _at the same time_ visiting prostitutes himself. Well, that is valuable information to know about said politician. It lets us know how far he will go and what things he will say for political gain. It lets us know what he thinks of fairness and justice.

    It may be distasteful, but it is, in my opinion, news worthy.

  17. George Pedrosa on July 13, 2007 at 10:29 am  Chain link

    Jim, you said that David seems like a libertarian guy. However, judging from his comment on Five Things Democrats Should Shut Up About (“what the Republicans are guilty of vis-a-vis the economy is giving the spoils to the rich through tax cuts and a stagnant minimum wage, among other things”), he clearly seems like a liberal guy. Liberals ALSO believe that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. In fact, that’s one of our main objectives.

  18. tommyspoon on July 21, 2007 at 9:21 am  Chain link

    At the risk of piling on even further…

    http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/07/resign_senator.php

    Senator Vitter should resign. He’s no better than a common criminal.

  19. David Louis Edelman on July 22, 2007 at 3:45 pm  Chain link

    Honestly, Tommy, I don’t even think prostitution should be illegal. I don’t think Madame Whatsherface should be facing jail time for running a prostitution ring at all. (Well, not strictly for that, anyway — not sure exactly what other illegal things she might have been doing with that money. And I’m also not saying that everyone in her employ was necessarily a happy, kinky, liberated sex worker doing this for college money and/or kicks.) I think Vitter should be able to hire him a lady to give him a massage or a “massage” anytime he feels like it.

    Now, the fact that she could be facing serious jailtime and the dudes that paid for the services won’t — well, that kind of irks me. But I’d rather address the inequity by letting her off the hook too than by prosecuting him.

  20. tommyspoon on July 22, 2007 at 9:19 pm  Chain link

    David, your feelings on prostitution are, frankly, irrelevant. He’s admitted to using the services of a prostitute. Prostitution is illegal. He’s no better than someone who embezzles money or shoots somebody. He should be prosecuted; he should not be functioning as a United States Senator.

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