Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why Political Sex Scandals Aren't Just About Morality

The Digital Weiner

Let's say we lived in a world where there was zero personal judgment of others. Anything goes, particularly where matters of sex are concerned. (We could call this world "France," but we'll leave that for another day.) What we do behind closed doors is nobody's business, period.

Morality, is, after all, a relative judgment, and if no one is getting hurt, we shouldn't care.

One often hears this argument from people when a politician with whom they are sympathetic is caught with his zipper down. I remember this chorus was particularly loud during the Monica Lewinsky follies, but Republicans occasionally make excuses for their guys, too.

The problem is that when politicians fool around, people are potentially hurt, and those people are you and me. No, I'm not talking about the uncomfortable ickiness of having to explain what the headlines are talking about to your eight year old. No, I'm talking about hard matters of policy, because if we did live in this world, there would still be a reason that politicians, in particular, should be held to a different, higher, standard. A practical, non-moralistic standard, and one I have been arguing for years. Kyle Smith, in today's New York Post, was the first columnist I have seen mention it.

The reason is called extortion, for any politician who fools around, particularly when they are leaving a digital trail, has set themselves up for it.

Don't think it's likely? I argue that it's already happened. What else can explain why this person...

...didn't fire this person...

The Kennedys hated J. Edgar Hoover. Bobby, in particular, had strong feelings, and running the Justice Department, he was forced to work closely with Hoover. Hoover had actively supported Nixon in 1960 and was arguably a tyrant, having run the FBI as his personal fiefdom since its founding. Why didn't JFK simply fire Hoover?

The answer is one of two things. The first possibility is that Hoover, undoubtedly possessing evidence of JFK's and RFK's varied affairs, was blackmailing the administration. The second is that the Kennedys simply feared that Hoover had the goods. Either way, America had to live under an unchecked, tyrannical FBI director for longer than it should have, all because the Kennedys couldn't keep it in their pants.

There you have it, an actual real life example of why the personal behavior of politicians matters.

And now we are in the digital age, where evidence is so much easier to obtain. Think about it: ack in the day, someone had to sneak around with a camera and catch you in the act. That required real work.

Now, we have emails, texts, tweets, and digital photographs, each potentially damning and impossible to control once the "send" button is hit.

And how much easier, today, is it to set a "honey" trap. Even just ten years ago, the services of an attractive girl would have been necessary, and she would have had to be willing to bed the target. Today, all you need is a photo!

How? Simple. Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Find a picture of a random hot chick on the internet.
  2. Create a fake facebook or twitter account using the picture of the girl.
  3. Start friending politicians and flirting with them online.
  4. Steer the flirtation in a sexual direction (assuming the pol doesn't do it first).
  5. Inform the politician that he will vote a certain way on a crucial bill or he will be exposed and his career ended.
Do you know how easy this would be to do? I'd be shocked if it wasn't happening already. Consider that a woman recently discovered that her ex-husband was trying to hire a hit man to kill her by creating a fake facebook account (as a slutty looking high school girl) and friending the ex. He's on his way to jail.

Don't get me wrong, I think character in one's personal life does matter, and there are plenty of politicians who manage to keep to the straight and narrow. Fidelity is not unheard of, and we should desire it in our leaders. But there are plenty of people, mostly liberals of a more libertine bent, who don't put much stock in this argument. Fine, that's their prerogative. But I can only assume that they don't think extortion is a desirable course of events. Extortion is not a moral position that one is for or against, it's just a dangerous potential subversion of the democratic process.

Here's to hoping we can start holding our leaders to a higher standard.

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