What the heck is going on with politicians these days?

Now, Mark Sanford is having an affair.  What the heck is going on with politicians these days?    Some possible answers:  1)They have always done this and now are finally being caught.  2)Politicians feel they are above the law, including the moral law.  3)The general lack of morality in society is infecting them.  4)We are all prudes and shouldn’t care.  Personally, I favor 1 through 3, but it’s especially disheartening to see it happening to politicians I used to admire.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

44 thoughts on “What the heck is going on with politicians these days?

  1. Wild speculation, of course, but I’d venture to guess that well over half of high-ranking elected officials have committed adultery at some point. The public confessions made are no doubt a small percentage of how widespread this problem really is.

  2. I would have to say that it is a problem of a combination of 1 and 2. I think the press was able to turn the other way in times past. Now their sins are ” shouted on the roof tops”. I think our leaders are what is causing 3. 4 is what happens when the behavior goes into overload.

  3. Power corrupts the hearts of almost all men, and many women are attracted to men with power. It’s a lethal cocktail.

    Interesting, however, to compare the U.S. to France and Italy, where politicians are *expected* to have a mistress on the side. Look at Silvio Berlusconi’s indignant response yesterday to stories that he paid for sex: “I’ve never paid for a woman. I don’t understand what satisfaction there is unless it’s linked to the happiness of winning someone over.” In other words, “How dare you insult me by saying I *pay* for sex!”

  4. I know there will be dozens of #5s, but I would also like to through in there that with a decline in the value of community and civic responsibility the best candidates we will get will be the ideologues, then venal, and the corrupt. They’ve always been there, but if great–even the good–people would have to be crazy to jump into politics, then we can’t be surprised when we have to deal with what’s left.

  5. I don’t think anything has changed with politicians or people. These things always have and always will happen. Its nothing new, though it seems like Americans are getting caught more and the media picks up on it.

    And as for the previous comment about USA vs European perceptions of sex, its still largely the same; American culture generally retains a Christian and publicly prude attitude toward sex, while Europeans are more liberal and not so worried about it. Part of this stems from the idea that America is a ‘more religiously inclined’ nation. Religion has long been a tired argument in Europe, and it has lost favor with many Europeans after thousands of years of religious wars and after seeing how religion has slowly human progress. America hasn’t had such experiences and we haven’t learned the lessons Europe has.

  6. I go with option 1, and with a dash that part of the reason power corrupts is that power comes with its own set of temptations.

    If a certain political party had not spent decades trumpeting their corner on family values and religious values, I doubt these events would be as newsworthy and as devastating as they are.

  7. Having an affair seems to be en vogue with US politicians lately, Senator Ensign admitted to his and now Governor Sanford admitted to one, too. It reminds me of the Hollywood crowd and rehab. They come out and admit to having a substance abuse problem (that’s the nice way of saying they are drug addicts and drunks), go to rehab and then come out saying how wonderful they feel after going to rehab. Yeah, whatever.

    I should know better than to hold politicians to a higher standard. I’m continually disappointed by their lack of standards.

  8. I’m with #1. I think there is nothing new under the sun. I’m with Mike Parker, power corrupts, and women are attracted to powerful men. With women basically throwing themselves at you, it gets a lot harder to keep chaste.

    Control yourselves guys!

  9. Power attracts corrupt people in the first place. More wicked people tend to get drawn into politics than moral people in the first place. Then, the more wicked you are, the greater chance you have of rising in the ranks. Therefore, the higher levels of politics have greater and greater proportions of immoral/wicked people.

    I used to think that GS-13 or 14, was the 50/50 cross-over point. Anything at that level and above, more than 50% of the people are corrupt/wicked/immoral.

    Those who are corrupt (or stupid) are the ones easier controlled by those behind the scenes.

  10. Brian,

    I should know better than to hold politicians to a higher standard. I’m continually disappointed by their lack of standards.

    Don’t be too hard on them. They’re not that different than the rest of society. We keep trying to hold them to a higher standard, for rather odd reasons. We say because they’re Senators or Governors or even Presidents that they should have a different standard of living than the regular person. What’s the point though? There aren’t laws set in place to restrict such behaviors differently for Senators than a welder at a local factory. Why should we EXPECT different behavior?

    You should be especially cautious with anyone who claims to stand for moral family values as a political platform. Look, even religious leaders can’t hold their private parts in their pants! Do you guys remember Ted Haggard? Or a number of other religious leaders who had had sexual relations with men or women outside their wives. If religious leaders have a hard time with this, why would you think political leaders would not?

  11. They do not take the steps required to safeguard their marriages — to create “hedges” or “fences” that protect their marital relationship. Too often, they put themselves in situations that invite compromise: attending social and political events without their spouse, consuming alcohol at such functions, traveling without their spouse, having emotion-laden conversations with members of the opposite sex without the presence of their spouse, etc. Couples who want their marriage to last will avoid situations where there is potential for compromise (by them or another). They keep office doors open when meeting with someone of the opposite sex. They avoid lengthy one-on-one phone conversations with members of the opposite sex. They don’t travel alone in a vehicle with a member of the opposite sex. If their spouse cannot attend a social function with them, they may choose not to attend, or they take an older child or staff member (of the same sex) with them. It’s often inconvenient, it takes creative thinking, and it is certainly not the way of the world, but committed couples find ways to protect their marriage (whether elected officials or not). Avoiding the mere appearance of evil, or impropriety, becomes a safety net for their marriage. Having witnessed two members of my family serve in high-ranking government positions, while honoring – in every way – their marriage covenants, I know it’s possible.

  12. I read a book recently about Presidents and the dirty little secrets of their lives. It’s been going on for forever.

  13. I think there are some good points in #12. If you read about the entire sad Sanford affair, he met this woman eight years ago and has been corresponding in a platonic manner for the entire time. He claims that a year ago it became something more than that. It might have been a better idea to stop the platonic correspondence long ago.

  14. Dan,
    The difference between people like Ted Haggard and some conservative politicians who make serious mistakes and are finally caught is that they are remorseful of their behavior. Some of the others glory in their sin.

  15. Jim McGreevey for one. Barney Frank for another.

    Dan, a warning. This will not be a thread where you dominate the conversation. I know the chances of reaching you are very slim, but I will try just this once: your behavior on this blog is often rude, like the person trying to dominate all conversation at a dinner table. I know you have been trying lately, and I acknowledge that sometimes you control yourself, but you still don’t get it: the polite thing to do sometimes is just to make one or two comments and then move on. That is what you will be doing on this thread and other threads on this site. You get one more chance to comment, so make it a good one and please move on to other topics on other blogs or on this blog.

    If you cannot accept these rules, please follow through on your many, many threats over the years not to visit M* anymore.

  16. New York Governor David Patersen is another who was pretty much “glorying” in his sin.

    Comment #12 got me thinking of the Truman biography by McCullough that I went through a few months ago. Extremely uplifting that there was such a man; extremely partisan and loved politics and yet complete in his integrity and very capable. He enjoyed men-only settings of booze and poker, but would leave such a place instantly if a woman entered the room. That decision to differentiate social relations by sex is a thing that many would criticize a man for doing today.

  17. John M, I think that biography has singlehandedly turned around Truman’s reputation, taking him from a below average president to above average in terms of reputation in its 800-plus pages. An extraordinary book. Truman is definitely my favorite Democratic president ever. If only more of our politicians (of all party affiliations) were more like him.

  18. Look y’all. This is not a partisan issue. It is another example of the elites living by there own standards (read Nietchze). Sanford and Spitzer, both stood to be serious presidential candidates someday. Now they are late-night talk show fodder. They also neglected and abused their offices, as the chief executives of their respective states, to carry out their affairs (this is why we should be harder on them Dan).

    John Edwards is the case the bothers me the most. I never liked him much(I hate pretty boys). But Elizabeth Edwards is awesome. I am glad that she is making the best of it.

    NOYDMB,

    Sanford was so remorseful that he went to Argentina for five day to be with the other woman. He is remorseful about being caught. His wife, in her statement, does not seem to be buying it.

    Sheesh, this isn’t about a guy who spent to much time with a staffer and things got carried away. He had to travel to another hemisphere.

  19. Chris H, I agree with your comment. Sanford has no excuse, any more than Ted Kennedy does or Eliot Spitzer or John Ensign or John Edwards. Listening to his press conference is fascinating, however. You can’t help but say to yourself: “there but for the grace of God go I.”

  20. @Chris H.

    I agree with you. I think this issue transcends partisanship and speaks to the integrity of the individual and not the person’s party. That said, it matters to me how political parties deal with people like Spitzer and Sanford. People who abuse power and public trust can and ought to be dealt with in a way that removes their ability to continue the abuses.

  21. I would love to have Sanford show up on one of the late-night talk shows and have Letterman or O’Brien ask the question Leno made famous with Hugh Grant, “What were you thinking?”

    Geoff: When I was in 7th grade, I was the lead prosecutor for a moot court we held for President Truman for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We ultimately won a conviction after the person playing the part of President Truman could not explain why he was denied entry to West Point and several other key questions about his presidency. :-) (It’s a shame the individual didn’t do his research on President Truman, he might have saved himself from conviction). The punishment imposed by the court was for Truman to have an atomic bomb dropped on him. Nice.

    My favorite Democratic president was and will always be JFK.

    /end tangent

  22. Brian,

    Is it really the parties that are left to deal with these people? Of course, it was Ensign that took the lead in taking on my former Senator Larry Craig. It is up to the people (sometimes as represented by their legislatures to decide). Do you think the parties have handles this issue any differently. Vitter looks to be heading toward re-election. Ensign is out of leadership and out the the presidential race, but it is not clear as to the future of his senate seat.

    “People who abuse power and public trust can and ought to be dealt with in a way that removes their ability to continue the abuses.”

    True.

  23. @Chris H.

    No, it is not always up to the parties to deal with the politicians, but I think they have a responsibility to help remove people like Sanford from office. If the politicians won’t do it, hopefully the people will!

    I’m giving politicans WAY too much credit and responsibility. What was I thinking?!?!?!?

  24. Charles Krauthammer’s take:

    I think he (Sanford) is toast politically.

    And resigning from the Republican Governors’ Association chairmanship is not going to do it, and the reason is that there is a dereliction of duty here. I know there’s the titillation of the reason for [his disappearance], but even apart from that, he is the governor of the state.

    The governor of the state is chief executive, and if there is a disaster in the state, and this guy is incommunicado, he is nowhere to be seen and he doesn’t transfer authority to his lieutenant governor who calls out the National Guard, you cannot recover from that. I think he doesn’t last a week in the office of governor.

    And the idea that he could actually have an affair in Argentina as an acting governor is sort of insane. If you go to Argentina, you have to have your passport stamped. You can’t hide it.

    I don’t want to play psychiatrist on the show every night. However, the oddity of this and the self-destructiveness would suggest even to a layman that this is a near-intentional political suicide.

  25. @Brian Duffin

    Brian, I think the legislature will likely address the situation, though my guess would be that he would likely resign before anything got too far.

    Krauthammer is right. Sanford does not seem to be all that stable. I feel for his family.

  26. Brian, personally I don’t think it’s much of a threadjack because it is relevant to this subject: JFK was easily the most overrated president of the 20th century because he accomplished almost nothing yet is universally loved. And, most importantly and relevant to this thread, he was a serial philanderer whose sins were covered up by a compliant press (although in fairness that same press covered up FDRs and perhaps Eisenhower’s philandering as well).

    Check this out:

    http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Lane/7250/thoughts/jfk.html

  27. “JFK was easily the most overrated president of the 20th century because he accomplished almost nothing yet is universally loved.”

    This is because of his tragic death. Being a philanderer (what a funny word) does not make him a bad president. His weak response on civil rights and his actions on Vietnam…well…in these areas there might be a case to be made against him.

  28. Someone has probably already said this, but I’ve long thought is that whatever it is that drives men, at least, to aspire and work towards elected office, especially at the higher levels, is similar to what drives men to seek multiple sexual partners. I’m still working out what that is in my head: thrill of the chase? enjoyment of exercising great persuasion? needing universal approval?

  29. I think the information age and population growth are bringing more attention to this and every other moral dilemma in the world. However, I believe human nature has remained fairly constant over time. The difference is that ancient Greece didn’t have the internet to stream the “news” 24-7.

  30. “Being a philanderer (what a funny word) does not make him a bad president.”

    Yes it does. If a man will be unfaithful to his wife, he’ll be unfaithful to his country. I don’t think you can really trust someone who’s unfaithful to their spouse. It’s just plain dishonorable. If you want some strange, get a divorce first.

    A couple Clinton sell-outs comes especialy to mind: approving the sale of MIRV and other missile/space technology from Loral to the Chinese was the biggest sell-out. That is really going to come back and bite us in the butt some day. Maybe not through China, but possibly through someone else they sold the technology to.

    Also come to mind: removing several big deposits of hard-coal in the Western US from the market (via making them national parks or something) in favor of hard-coal imports from his campaign contributors.

    A serial adulterer may not be dishonest in _every_ deal and in _every_ instance, but he’s guaranteed to be dishonest in some. If he’ll betray his wife, to whom he made solemn vows and legal contracts with (whether in a civil marriage, or in any church), he’ll eventually betray someone else too.

  31. Book, you know I usually agree with you, but it’s a complex situation. McCain was an adulterer and he would have made a better president than Obama, who was not (at least as far as we know). Of course Romney would have made a better president than both of them.

    You can make the argument, and I think it is a fair one, that McCain has been loyal to his current wife for many years now. There should be some kind of statute of limitation and exception for people who have apparently changed their ways — that’s what repentance is all about. But the situation is a bit more complex than we might think.

  32. Relatively speaking, yeah, McCain would have been better than Obama. But McCain would just have been less of a disaster, the lesser of two evils.

    McCains views on political freedoms were expressed in the “McCain-Feingold” bill that violates the 1st amendment, and which I hope gets overturned by the Supreme Court. (It’s too much to go into here, but McCain-Fiengold bill is evil in its muzzling of free speech.)

    Vietnam veterans hate McCain. McCain sold out and collaborated with the North Vietnamese much more than has been let on. I personally spoke with a former POW who heard McCain broadcast over their POW radio system, that was piped into most all of the POW camps. Granted, McCain had a gun pointed at his head (figuratively if not literally) when he did that. But only a small minority of former POW’s supported McCain.

    There was a huge movement by veterans in the 2000 election to keep McCain out, and that’s when some of the dirt on him was brought out, but the mainstream media didn’t run with it.

    Indiana veterans also hate McCain for his screwing over of Bobby Garwood, another former POW who was branded a deserter and collaborator. But Bobby Garwood was a scared kid, and McCain was an officer at the time. More was expected of McCain, but he screwed over Garwood for doing no worse than he did.

    McCain also got to privately redact and seal his POW records. So the official documentation of what he did may not officially get out until many years after his passing.

    The thing is, all POWs eventually cave in and cooperate with their captors for survival. However, POWs are supposed to resist, and draw it out as long as possible before giving in. But McCain’s behavior was not honorable in the eyes of other POWs.

    G. Gordon Liddy also had some choice words for McCain, and good comments on the question of whether you want a stealth-liberal in office or someone who everyone knows is liberal. A known liberal is most often better than someone who says they are conservative but actually votes liberal.

    McCain’s voting record was actually more liberal than some democrats. But not as liberal as Obama’s, who was the most extreme liberal voter. So in my book, McCain would not have been a good president, just the lesser of two evils. Like having to eat a dog biscuit instead of dog poop. Yeah, I’d rather eat the dog biscuit, but I wouldn’t like it.

    Bush was in some ways a stealth-liberal, spending like a drunken sailor, prescription thing with Medicare part C, the excessive spending on rebuilding infrastructure at our expense in Iraq (paying for our military is one thing, but we spent even more on building infrastructure that the Iraqis and other oil rich Arabs should have paid for), and Bush is the one who started the whole “bailout” business with TARP.

    So maybe we do need a real and open liberal in office so the American people can re-learn the lessons we seem to have forgotten with Carter.

    I don’t know the circumstances of McCain’s first marriage and its ending. McCain may not have been a “serial adulterer”. I don’t know if I made it clear, but a serial adulterer (like Clinton) is worse than a one-timer. And you don’t have to be an adulterer to be a bad president either (Carter).

    Based on his anti-constitutional voting record, McCain seems to illustrate my point of “if you’re unfaithful to your wife, you’ll be unfaithful to your country.”

    But I do acknowledge your point, sometimes the lesser of two evils, the dog biscuit, is better than the alternative.

  33. Book, I can’t speak with any knowledge about veterans not liking McCain, but in general I agree with your comments. Bush was a disaster for the cause of conservatism, and McCain would have continued that in many ways. But with McCain we would be getting real health care reform rather than the garbage being discussed in Congress right now. We probably would be getting a harmless climate bill rather than one that will make the recession worse. We would have gotten a very different stimulus package that would really stimulate the economy. We would have had discussions about cutting the corporate tax rates and other measures that would help businesses and therefore stimulate jobs. We would have gotten a different Supreme Court pick, perhaps even another real conservative like Roberts or Alito. McCain probably would have let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt and let the market work things out. So in real, substantive ways McCain would have been much better than Obama.

    But in general I agree he’s not much better than a dog biscuit. :)

  34. What I think you’re saying is that McCain would have taken us down the road to socialism at a slower pace than Obama. Gee, thanks republicans.

    I say let’s get off the road entirely. Because, by going slowly, people don’t realize where we’re going, like the boiling a frog analogy.

    Maybe Obama’s and the Demo congress’s wild ride that they’re taking us on will do more damage in the short run, but it might wake people up, so we get off the road to socialism and actually go in reverse.

    Ya know, if you study US national political history since the 1960’s, the Republicans give the Democrats exactly what they want, only it’s usually 20 to 25 years after they first start asking for it.

    I think it’s all staged. It’s a false or artificial conflict of opposites that focuses our attention on the small battles, but keeps us from realizing that both sides are taking us to the same place. It’s just that one side wants to get there faster, and one side wants to get there slower, but they’re both going to the same place.

    Let’s pray for a 1994-like turnaround in Congress in the 2010 elections.

  35. We’ve got pretty clear scriptural authority (Ether 10:11) for the idea that a person can be a good and effective political leader while also engaging in sexual sins.

    I do think that moral character matters, but as I’ve said elsewhere, if I have to choose, I’ll go for someone with leadership ability, intelligence, and political understanding. Jimmy Carter is possibly the only President of the past three decades who you would want your daughter to date, but he was also a very ineffective leader.

  36. “If a man will be unfaithful to his wife, he’ll be unfaithful to his country.”

    I’m sorry, Bookslinger, but that level of blanket assertion is just silly, and is wholly unsupported by the evidence.

    First, the phrase is extremely vague. What on earth does being unfaithful to one’s country mean? That he will become President of another country, on the sly? That he’ll sell secrets to the Russians?

    Your examples of alleged betrayals which you use to prove your case just show how untenable the idea is: You cite to missile technology sale, national park creation (!), and campaign finance reform law. I know that some folks really dislike campaign finance reform, but ranking it as a betrayal of the country?

    We’ve had several known philanderers in the Oval Office: FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton. None of them were Russian spies.

    Of all of the problematic actions of recent past presidents, the most clearly problematic were Nixon’s actions — if anything constitutes betraying one’s country, then seeking to undermine the democratic process like that has to qualify. After that, the most problematic acts were probably Reagan’s constitutional shenanigans in Iran-Contra, and Clinton’s lying under oath.

    The minimal overlap between the groups does not support your statement. And in fact, sometimes a philanderer is also a very effective President — most notably, FDR piloted the country safely through one of its most dangerous crises in history.

  37. Book is certainly capable of defending himself, but if I may I will step in here and say that what he probably meant was a man who is unable to be faithful to his wife (therefore breaking a promise to her and to God) probably will find it easier to break other promises. Truman said you can tell a lot about a man character by whether or not he is faithful to his wife, and he was correct.

    Having said that, I would agree with Kaimi’s overall point that it is possible to be a good president and be a philanderer, based on what history tells us.

  38. We’ve got pretty clear scriptural authority (Ether 10:11) for the idea that a person can be a good and effective political leader while also engaging in sexual sins.

    And look how rare an exception he was among the sinful kings. And taken in context, he was also a war-lord until he made himself king. The few positive sentences about him and his reign don’t give a complete picture, just that he was popular after he took over, and the people prospered.

    FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton. None of them were Russian spies.

    Straw man. No one is saying russian spies. I don’t know that much about Ike presidency or controversies, but FDR, Kennedy and Clinton all betrayed the country.

    “Missle technology” was national security secrets that should have been kept secret. “Creating parks” was just the cover story or excuse for removing American coal from the market in order to help out Clinton’s coal-rich overseas contributors. (The parks were not needed, or could have been created elsewhere, or made parks after the mining and reclamation.) And “campaign finance reform” was another huge lie, it’s really about limiting political speech. All of those were betrayals. And just quick nice-sounding labels for unconstitutional laws.

    FDR gave us socialism, and helped prolong the depression. And remember that threat of his to pack the supreme court if he didn’t get what he wanted?

    So yes, FDR, Kennedy and Clinton all betrayed the country. They all did some major things to sell us out. I don’t mean to entirely blame them, because they had congresses creating and passing the laws.

    You might observe it in your business dealings. Someone who’ll betray his wife will eventually betray or screw over others. Maybe not by doing something illegal, but it will at least be a morally wrong kind of betrayal.

    Geoff: I think it might depend on the definition or degree of “philanderer”. I think there is an important distinction between someone who repeatly cheats with multiple partners, someone who cheats repeatedly with one person, and someone who cheats once and repents without having to get caught. There are probably other shades and variations too.

    God is the judge of the eternal consequences. But I’ll stand by my assertion that at least the repeaters and the unrepentant cheaters shouldn’t be political leaders or in positions of national security.

  39. Bookslinger, it was GW Bush who signed campaign finance reform in 2002 (although with as little fanfare as possible), so I guess you will have to add him to your list of presidential traitors. It seems like almost every president will be on the list since all they have to do to qualify is to take some action politically that you disagree with.

    I can think of many things worse than campaign finance reform that GW Bush did that have hurt the United States, but I don’t say that he betrayed his country, because that type of rhetoric is unhelpful. Not every compromise is a betrayal, and not every disagreement about the true interests of the country is a question of black and white. Recognizing the existence of shades of gray in questions of foreign policy and national security is a mark of maturity, not of weakness.

  40. Bill: Yeah, Bush too. I never said cheating-on-one’s-wife was the _only_ criteria. :-)

    We probably haven’t had an honest man in the White House since Lincoln. And maybe before that.

    Our democratic republic is an imperfect system. And I should more often voice my thankfulness for the good in our system and country, instead of harping so much on the negative.

    But we are in a hand-basket, and we do happen to be going somewhere.

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