Sex scandals should not render a leader impotent

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Punch /
January 25, 2011 /

Link to original unavailable /

As is the rite of passage for all conservative politicians, Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich has found himself embroiled in a sex scandal. Wife number two claims Newt asked for an “open marriage”. She, shockingly enough, now considers him too much of a jerk for office.

In even more yawn-worthy news, fellow hopeful, Rick Santorum, has pounced on naughty Newt and determined that those extramarital hijinks raise questions about moral character. Moral character. You know, the most fundamental of leadership qualities. Because, you might be the smartest, the wisest, the most hard-working of all politicians, but one sexual snafu and it can all end in a finger-snap.

Because far too many voters are comfortable with their own hypocrisy.

It’s pretty obvious: Newt is no great shakes as a partner. But I think we all need to be mature enough to separate the personal from the professional. Even if we think the personal is reprehensible. Let Newt be rejected on the provable fact that he is a Conservative, and let’s stop with our pretence about the rest.

We all do things in our private lives that we don’t Tweet about, divulge on Facebook or reveal at the proverbial water-cooler. We all practice compartmentalisation and separate our professional selves from our private selves. How could we ever enjoy sex or function as employees if we didn’t?

How is it then, that we can so readily rationalise our own behaviour but condemn politicians for doing the same?

If we are to have a system where we vote humans into office – as opposed to, say Kang and Kodos – we need to accept our politicians as humans. And humans – shock horror – are made up of foibles and fetishes. Sometimes we’re not always nice, sometimes we’re not always professional. Sometimes we act like morons, say things that would make regrettable sound-bites and treat people sub-optimally. Sometimes we even have sex with people we shouldn’t. In other words, we act human.

There appears a preoccupation in politics that grooming oneself for office needs to start early. No, even earlier than that! Long before that first joint was based to you, before you had you first threesome and before you left your first spouse. That the road to politics needs to be saintly, that temptation needs to be refused, vice resisted and living life eschewed.

Apparently, we like our leaders pure as the driven snow. A skeleton free of bought sex, kinky sex, extramarital sex is seemingly so much more important than the ability to govern.

I’m not advocating Newt’s behaviour. Quite clearly he’s a scumbag. My position however, is that provided he is not committing any crimes, his personal life is entirely his own. Instead, I am suggesting that the obsession with moral character needs to be put on the backburner. That arbitrarily plucking a single personal indiscretion out and expecting it to function as a predictor of performance in office is insanity and that doing so has resulted in some very good politicians being ousted.

Not that that stops anyone, of course. To some, apparently the equation is ludicrously simple: if his wife can’t trust him, how can we? If she schtupped around on her husband, surely she’ll betray us.

Me, and I think it’s all a little more complicated. Rarely is life simple, our private pasts are unreliable determinants of our professional futures, and untrustworthy leaders come in all shapes, genders and marital machinations.

Our criterion for determining electability needs to focus on the attributes that are actually important to governing. Let’s keep our own sexual hang-ups and amateur-hour fortune-telling out of the ballot box.

© Lauren Rosewarne