Powerful Men Acting Stupid

It seems every week some political leader is caught up in a sex scandal.  A few from just the past year (Reuters):
  • New York Congressman tweets nude pictures of himself to strange women.  
  • California Governor admits to fathering a child with his maid.
  • Another married New York Congressman also sends a shirtless picture of himself to a woman.  
  • A Nevada Senator tries to cover up his affair with an aide.  
  • Idaho Senator arrested for soliciting gay sex in an airport restroom.  
  • Florida Congressman sends lewd emails to male pages.  
  • Louisiana Senator solicits prostitutes.  
  • New York Congressman solicits a male staffer.  
  • Indiana Congressman has an affair with a staffer.  
  • A Massachusetts Senator hires a male prostitute as an aide.                                         

All are embarrassing not just for the male culprits but for their families as well.  There is something about power and success that makes some men feel invulnerable, able to misbehave with impunity.  And of course the media loves this stuff.  Why?  Because apparently readers and viewers engorge on it.  We lap it up and pronounce our holier-than-thou outrage.  Typically there are calls for the man's resignation and usually he does resign.  

There are other scandals (non-sexual) involving leaders as well.  Consider the following:
  •  A New York Congressman found guilty on 11 ethics violations for essentially theft of funds.
  • A Texas former Senator convicted of money laundering in connection with Jack Abramoff.
  • South Carolina Congressman disrupts the State of the Union, shouting "You lie!" at the President
  • Louisiana Federal Judge impeached for corruption and perjury.
  • Illinois Governor arrested for selling a US Senate seat

Which set of violations is of greater consequence to how our nation is led?  The sexual violations or the financial and political ones?  Even more important, does it matter how these violations come to our attention?  I would argue that it does, even more than the violations themselves.  If political actors are targeting the opposing party to dig up dirt, I want to know who did the digging and who bankrolled them.  I want to know that more than I want to know what Anthony Weiner's crotch looks like.

See a lengthy list of political scandals here.  Many of these involve serious breaches of the public trust:  faking evidence to go to war, authorizing torture, bribery, embezzlement and more.

President Clinton faced 8 years of a special prosecutor, well funded and determined to find dirt on him and the First Lady.  The numbers of investigations and the disruption to the White House's important business were substantial.  Through all of that, the worst he found was an affair and a lie about it.  Do I care about his affair?  No.  I do care about the job he did though.  I care particularly about this tactic being used to do what political parties could not accomplish in elections.  In fact, such tactics serve to overturn legitimate election results. 

Elliot Spitzer as New York's Attorney General single-handedly took on the financial agents on Wall Street.  Had he remained in office and continued his work as Governor, the 2008 economic crash might not have happened. All those shady financial instruments by the Wall Street banks might have been stopped.  But someone (dare we guess?) spent a wad of money tracking his movements and revealed his association with prostitutes.  Spitzer resigned.

Anthony Weiner was a solid liberal resented by those on the right.  Andrew Breitbart was one of those who despised him.  When he published the photos and threatened to release still more, Breitbart claimed Congressman Weiner "invited this level of scrutiny". 
When President Bush's Justice Department ignored its primary mission in order to go after Democratic lawmakers, looking for dirt and bringing them to prosecution, American democracy hit a new low.  Using government itself to target political opponents is the stuff of two-bit foreign dictators.  But even allowing private parties with political agendas to remove duly elected incumbents from office threatens our system.  As long as you and I focus on the dirt they dig up instead of the motive for the digging, we play into their hands.

Next time a politician from either party is embarrassed by his bad behavior, I hope we attend equally to the motivation for snooping around in that politician's life.  I want to know who bankrolled the investigation and why.  

Who among us is safe from a well-funded investigator looking for embarrassment in our lives?  And if you're not squeaky clean (or even if you are but have taken controversial positions on issues), would you consider running for political office and exposing yourself and your family to excessive scrutiny?  If your answer is "no", ask yourself how we ensure the level of political participation envisioned by America's founders.