Sometimes “None of Your Business” May Be the Right Answer
Nearly twenty years ago, then-Ohio Governor Dick Celeste went to Iowa, exploring the possibility of making a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. One of Celeste’s hosts while there was a transplanted Ohioan, a Methodist pastor. During that stay, a wire reporter asked Celeste about reports that he’d stepped out on his wife. The pastor-host told the reporter that if he were Celeste, he’d simply say, “It’s none of your business.”
I thought of that advice as I read that the newly-inaugurated governor of New York, David Paterson, and his wife, Michelle, went before the media on Tuesday in order to confess that each of them, in the past, have had extramarital affairs. It was apparently a matter of the Patersons wanting to get out in front of a story they must have feared could bring the governor down.
That may be understandable, but it’s lamentable.
There were good reasons for Paterson’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, to get in hot water for his extramarital affairs. In fact, I count at least two of them:
Spitzer’s patronage of prostitutes was illegal and abetted illegal behavior.
His reckless expenditure of $80,000 on prostitutes called his judgment into question.
Spitzer’s behavior objectified women. Prostitution is not, as some insist, a “victimless crime.” Prostitutes, very often the victims of sexual abuse as girls, are used by their “johns.” No matter how self-assured prostitutes may seem, there is nothing consensual about their involvement with sex. They are victims of a strata of culture that regards sex as a commodity and women as play things.
But no such issues are involved in the Patersons’ situation. They each apparently engaged in consensual extramarital sex, morally wrong, but none of it fraught with the legal or judgment issues that attached to the Spitzer case. Their behavior was in danger of being outed simply because, they feared, with just cause, persons privy to the information were likely to make it known.
Absent reasons like the ones involved in the Spitzer case, there’s no reason any of us need to know about the private problems or issues of our political leaders. Unless a politician is a serial adulterer, in which case his or her fealty to campaign promises and oaths of office may be legitimately questioned, or other behaviors, like those exhibited by Spitzer attain, there is no need for the public to know or for the media (or bloggers) to broadcast information or allegations about their sexual behavior. Adultery is contrary to the will of God, but it may say little of a longterm nature about the characters of public figures and it isn’t, between consenting adults, illegal. It is a matter between the parties themselves, God, and such counselors, pastoral and otherwise, they may seek. (See Martin Luther’s explanation of the Sixth Commandment here.)
Apart from our living in a supermediated world, I think that one of the most important reasons for our deepening interest in the sex lives of our political figures is that, as a society, our sexual standards and boundaries are in flux. In a society in which anything goes, where there’s no longer any sense of what is right or wrong, more and more gets reported, dissected, discussed. Everyone is condemned. No one is condemned.
I say, “Knock off the condemning.” Unless a reporter or a blogger has reason to believe that the sexual patterns of a political candidate reflect poor judgment, an inability to keep promises, evidence of being under the thumb of nefarious characters, or guilty themselves of criminal behavior, they flat out aren’t any of our business. Period.
There is, of course, no way that we can or should police those who have access to rumors or confirmed reports about the sexual behavior of our political figures from disseminating them. This is an area where self-restraint is needed. Sadly, adulterer politicians aren’t the only ones failing to exhibit self-restraint these days though.
(And while people are checking out Luther’s explanation of the Sixth Commandment, they might also want to see what he had to say about the Eighth Commandment.)
[Mark Daniels regularly blogs at Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels.]