Saturday, August 09, 2008


(This is not a particularly well-informed post, I realize now. I'm not proud of it, but I'll leave it up.)

I haven't posted anything until now about the John Edwards adultery story, and maybe it was a bad thing that many traditional-media sources were reluctant to cover it, but I don't really care. I don't know what their reasons were, but here's mine -- and it's the obvious reason.

In a rational world, ordinary adultery involving politicians would be titillating, gossipy news, but no more than that. If the parties worked things out and made matters right, we could move on and make political judgments based on more relevant criteria, namely the pols' job performance and positions on issues.

But we don't live in a rational world. Some politicians use attacks focused on sexual morality, including the morality of ordinary citizens, to help them win power. They attack gay people and people who have non-marital sex and people who have abortions or just believe abortion should be a legal option. They try to keep realistic sex education out of schools. Some of them, not content with classifying abortion as murder, try to classify some forms of birth control as abortion.

Needless to say, most of these politicians are Republicans, and their strain of Republicanism is the dominant one at the national level.

So, hell yes, I'll mock a D.C. Republican who runs on a platform of superior sexual morality and then is found stalking same-sex youths, or trolling for sex in public toilets, or serving his wife divorce papers while she's mortally ill. And I'll hold a Democrat to a different standard because Democrats haven't proudly branded themselves as the Party That's Better Than You in terms of sexual morality.

The party split isn't absolute. Here in New York State, after Eliot Spitzer was (justifiably) compelled to leave office after the public learned about sexual behavior on his part that was both illegal and hypocritical (he'd been a moralizing crusader against prostitution), his Democratic successor, David Paterson, acknowledged adultery in his own marriage -- and state Republicans really haven't tried to make a big deal of that. They understand local mores -- or maybe they realize that the guy they may run against Paterson, Rudy Giuliani, has a far more checkered marital past. In any case, I'd be inclined not to gloat if I learned about garden-variety adultery in the marriage of a New York State Republican.

And on the other hand, in some of the red states, pols from both parties moralize in this way. All of them deserve mockery if they get caught doing something they've declared is the Devil's work.

But on a national level, I'm going to maintain a double standard. John Edwards cheated? Fine -- he's done a bad thing. But he's a Democrat. He's not a member of the party that wants to sniff around my sexual behavior, or my neighbors', when that behavior isn't anybody's business. So I'm much less inclined to dwell on his.

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