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Friday, August 8, 2008

Entitlement: Political Edition


Today, I saw the story about John Edwards' affair.




I can't say I'm surprised, but I CAN say that I'm pissed. And no, I'm not some anti-sex prude. I don't really care who someone has sex with, as long as it is consensual, and doesn't hurt anyone, and isn't a part of a larger betrayal of trust. But when it crosses one of those lines, then yeah, I have a problem with it.


I have an even bigger problem with politicians engaging in stuff like this, because I think it really does show a huge character flaw when someone will willingly lie to, hurt, or exploit a family member.


If Edwards would willingly break his word to Elizabeth, why wouldn't he break his word to the American public?


I am particularly upset by Edwards' own take on the situation:






After the story broke Friday, Edwards released a statement that said, "In
2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was
disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake, and I
told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her
forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did
not tell the public."



He admits this was disloyal to his family AND his core beliefs, yet he did it anyway. He was "honest" with his wife, after the fact, but he elected not to tell the public. Why?





"I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices," he said. "With my family,
I took responsibility for my actions in 2006, and today I take full
responsibility publicly."



Because he was ashamed. Even though he had been disloyal to his core values, and was readying to campaign to be the President, and earlier ran for Vice President, and frequently questioned his opponents' "loyalty" to their "core values". But the public didn't deserve to know about his own disloyalty? And how "honest" has he been about the affair, even when pushed?





Last month, the Enquirer carried another story — the blaring headline
referred to an Edwards "love child" — stating that its reporters had accosted
Edwards in a Los Angeles hotel where he had met with Hunter after her child's
birth. Edwards called it "tabloid trash," but he generally avoided reporters'
inquiries, as did his former top aides.
He said in his statement Friday he
had "used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it," and he
called that "being 99 percent honest."



99 percent honest, eh? I wonder if he would be "99 percent" honest about his campaign funding sources, or if elected, "99 percent" honest about why he called a military strike on another country.


Does that sound familiar at all?


So why would Edwards do this?





"In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was
special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat
me up feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up
myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to
help my family and others who need my help."



Aw, c'mon, John. I bet I could beat you up more than you've beaten yourself up.


Frankly, I'm not really getting the vibe that John has beaten himself up over this much at all. Why?





In an interview, scheduled to air on ABC News' "Nightline" Friday night,
Edwards said the tabloid was correct when it reported on his meeting with Hunter
at the Beverly Hills Hilton last month.



That sounds like the act of a guilt-ridden, repentant man, doesn't it?


This just makes me sick. But what makes me sicker is the defense this behavior is getting from people who know a thing or two about the patriarchy, entitlement, and being left to twist in the political wind. This from Amanda Marcotte, over at Pandagon:





Edwards, as far as I know, has never been a “sanctity of marriage” wanker,
and so this is officially None Of Our Business, and anyone who dogged him on
this story should be fired on the principle that they don’t know journalism from
rooting around in the trash. Hypocrisy is a story; human weakness is
not.

I’m not going to get on a high horse about his judgment, because
he didn’t get on a high horse with me about mine. That’s all I’m going to
say about that.




Only, of course Edwards HAD been a hypocrite, denouncing Bill Clinton for his sex scandal back in 1999. But that isn't really the point. The point is, yeah, a person's personal life IS a valid story, when that person's deportment in their personal life just seethes with patriarchal entitlement, and he is willing to callously walk over the people beneath him when those people no longer have any particular use for him.


And how did he handle that whole ridiculous screed against Amanda, when she was blogging for him? He should have stood up for her; he should have told the Catholic League and her other detractors that her personal views, while expressed in ways that might have been inappropriate, were hers, and had no bearing on her work for him. He should have defended her, but he didn't. I cannot believe, not for one minute, that he would allow her to be hired to write for his campaign without knowing her personal beliefs on the religion issue. As long as her audacity was working for him, it was fine. When it wasn't... She was of the disposable class, so he let her twist. Just like he let his wife twist.


Edwards, sadly, is not alone. Many, if not most politicians have these feelings of entitlement. Just like John, they start to feel they are "special", and become "egocentric". The privilege they have is unfathomable. They get enmeshed in a win-at-all-costs mentality.


And we let them do it. Every time we give this kind of behavior a pass, we feed the ego machine. I don't want to get into dictating morality, but if a person actively engages in a monogamous relationship, then violates the parameters they themselves set for that relationship, it has wider implications, ethical implications we can't ignore.


And yes, I believe this is a feminist issue. A contractual obligation is no less a contractual obligation because it is made with a woman in the context of a marriage. The old "Boys will be boys" trope has allowed men to skip out of infidelity unscathed for a long time, and women are simply held to a different standard of accountability. The "slut shaming" that goes on with the Lewinskys and the Hunters involved in these high-profile cases does no service to women anywhere. The person primarily responsible for ethical misconduct in an affair is the person who is breaking their vows. Period.


I don't care how "good" Edwards or any other politician is on other issues- when they are guilty of severe ethical misconduct, they need to be called on it. We need to stop enabling bad behavior, and hold politicians to higher ethical standards. We have to make the hard choice to speak out against and vote out politicians who can't be trusted. Why? Well, to sum it up, in Edwards' own words:




"If we want to live in a moral, honest just America and if we want to live
in a moral and just world, we can't wait for somebody else to do it. We have to
do it."



1 comments:

Sara E Anderson said...

I don't care how "good" Edwards or any other politician is on other issues- when they are guilty of severe ethical misconduct, they need to be called on it.

I can't say I disagree with this statement, but if Edwards cheats on his wife, it doesn't necessarily follow that he wouldn't be an effective and positive leader. It's a lot like my attitude toward American Apparel and their skeezy CEO - Dov Charney is a sexist, creepy douche to the models that appear in his ads, but if his company really does in fact deliver on its promises about labor standards, I'm happy to support them. I think it's more important that a whole factory of workers are paid a fair wage than it is to financially ruin a creep. As to Edwards' sins and potential, I'd rather all Americans have access to health care than Elizabeth Edwards' marriage make her endlessly happy. That's not to say I don't wish EE all the best, but I think it's fair to prioritize a nation's people over the pleasant marriage inhabited by a rich lady from the Southern US.

I agree that any person going back on promises they made does have a serious ethical problem, but not that they are incapable of making good, tough decisions.

Oh, and by the way, I got here through your comment at Feministe.