How I, Personally, Judge Sex Scandals (NSFW)
First, some principles, then I'll cite a few famous examples:
One: I really, really, really, more than anything else, give a shit about consent. Any sex scandal that whiffs of physical force pisses me off. Any sex scandal that even faintly hints of abuse of wealth, privilege, or any other form of power over the other partner pisses me off even more. If the accused didn't wait for consent or ask for consent, I'm angry; if they "asked" for consent under circumstances where the person who was asked faced punishment for saying no, I'm even angrier.
Two: I give a shit about favoritism. Even if the accused didn't offer anybody else the opportunity to benefit from their authority, if I find out that someone is accused of abusing their position to grant favors to someone that they've had sex with, I get very angry on behalf of all of the other people in the office who were wondering, "who do I have to blow to get ahead here?" and who find out that they were right, who have been told that blowing the boss is how you get ahead in life.
Three: It's not a deal breaker for me, but it's a bad sign if someone is accused of being callous or indifferent to people they voluntarily assumed responsibility for. That especially means the kids; you volunteered to have those kids, they didn't volunteer to be parented by you. Cheating on the mother or father of your children is one thing, good or bad, but doing so in a way that humiliates the spouse or that ruins life for the kids makes you a bad person, in my eyes. I give partial credit for the attempt, here; you tried to protect the kids from it afterwards and failed is better than you didn't give a shit if your kids got hurt by it.
Four: I care about official corruption, and so in theory I care if you spend company money or (worse) public funds on things like travel, hotel rooms, or meals to be with the person you love, especially if where you're working or the position you hold doesn't officially grant liberal "you can bring a friend along on our dime" perqs. On the other hand, I've softened my stance on this over the years, as it's come home to me how many violations of this principle are about protecting the higher principle of discretion to protect others; if somebody can't travel without it being official travel, and that's the only way to see someone they love, or if it's the only way they can see someone they love without having to put it out in public where their spouse or kids will be humiliated by it? I disapprove, but only mildly.
Five: As long as it doesn't violate any of the rules above, I honestly don't give a shit about "traditional values of marriage" and I don't give much of a shit about "sacred oaths" that are traditional, that people didn't get any input into, that were thus less than entirely voluntarily given, as in "I have to stand up and say these magic words to get the person I love onto my health insurance." A promise made under coercion is not morally binding. Given how young and dumb most people are when they swear out their marriage vows, I give even more slack. As Mark Twain said, marriage is two people who, in the grip of the most fleeting and insupportable of passions, rush directly to the altar of God and swear to remain that way forever.
Six: Other than worn-down, mostly meaningless ceremonial oaths, I do give a shit if you break your word. But if you at least tried to keep your word, I only barely give a shit.
Seven: I do not give a shit if you are "on my side" or not. I don't make excuses for bad behavior by Democrats, not even fellow liberals or progressives; I don't hold Republicans or conservative Democrats to higher standards.
Eight: I only give a shit about hypocrisy if it's something you built your career on, if it's something you spend a lot of time going on about. Some random politician who mostly campaigns on tax and regulation and foreign policy issues, who checked off a box on some "family values" questionnaire about "protecting traditional values" who had an affair? *yawn* Someone whose whole career in politics has been about "traditional family values" or, worse, who hounded some other politician out of office over their affair, who gets caught in an affair? That one pisses me off. Although, even then, it doesn't have to be a total deal-breaker; I can show some sympathy for someone who agonizes over it. Life is complicated. I feel no compassion towards someone who says "it's different when I do it," though.
Nine: As you might imagine from this, I honestly don't give a shit if you tell me "they lied about it." Of course they did. It would be unreasonable to expect them to do otherwise. Tell me how that lie callously or indifferently hurt someone, and it falls under #3, above, but otherwise, what did you expect them to do? When you catch a little kid with his hand in the cookie jar and cookie crumbs all over his face, and you ask him, "Did you take a cookie?" the kid doesn't lie; he answers the question he hears, which is, "Are you volunteering to be punished?" Telling the truth about it when you're caught, even if you didn't have to, can make a slight favorable impression on me, but I don't hold it against people when they harmlessly lie.
Ten: I have an unreasonable bias, one I'd complain about in other people, towards people in consensual non-monogamous relationships or other non-traditional relationships. On the one hand, I think this is an unfair bias of mine, because when the supposedly naturally monogamous insist on judging others harshly for their lack of monogamy, it pisses me off; I sometimes justify my prejudice by hoping that someone who has been a victim of prejudice will have learned tolerance from it; I know that I'm lying to myself about this because I know that what a lot of victims or prejudice learn is the importance of being the one who gets to enforce their prejudices. So while I can't prevent my feelings about this, I try hard to question myself when I find myself looking favorably on someone for this reason.
Now, those principles being stated, I'll address specific sex scandals in the comments; if you have one you want to ask about that I didn't bring up, do so as a direct reply to this journal entry so it gets its own comment thread, please.
- New comment
Bill ClintonIt's impossible for anybody of my generation, or of the generation before mine, to talk about sex scandals without talking about Bill Clinton. So let me talk about Bill Clinton, before I talk about anybody else.
Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of really, really crudely propositioning her for sex when she was a subordinate of his, when he was governor of Arkansas. That really pisses me off. Not specifically because of the consent issue, although he didn't ask her permission before exposing himself to her; that being said, yes, I know that as a subordinate, she had reasonable grounds to fear retaliation if she said no, to wonder if she was going to receive favors if she said yes, and that pisses me off, the way it pisses me off whenever anybody sleeps with a subordinate, however voluntarily.
Also about the consent issue; to be fair, it was in his hotel room, where he was used to groupies throwing themselves at him. He and others say that Bill Clinton had had so many political groupies throw themselves at him by then that he mistook her for one of them; she says that she had no idea and said or did nothing to give that impression; I believe both of them. I can't get too angry about that part, though, because it was the kind of circumstance under which miscommunication, misunderstanding of each others' intent, is too easy. That she sued him after he apologized, that her examples of alleged retaliation for turning him down were so lame and obviously concocted, pissed me off about her. What she alleged was so minor that I really do not believe that the civil suit should have gone forward while he was in office; I think it was unfair to him as a defendant to have to mount a defense while under that kind of public scrutiny, while he and the country had so much to lose if he just admitted, "I was a jerk when I was young." I would respect him more if he'd ever said, though, "I was a jerk when I was young."
That being said, there is a place where the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals overlap. Jones alleges that the groupies who did blow the governor got government favors for it. I wouldn't believe her, on no more evidence than she offered in her suit, if he hadn't turned around and done exactly the same damned thing for Monica Lewinsky. No other White House intern got the same full-court press to get them a good job that she got; that he did it out of guilt, or because she was blackmailing him if she was, doesn't keep me from being pissed off for all other interns who were left wondering, "Gee, if I'd offered to blow the President, I wonder how much money I'd be making now."
I lose respect for anybody who raises the perjury angle unless they're just totally ill-informed and admit this. The question was inadmissable under federal rules of evidence, on multiple grounds. Questions about past behavior are only allowed in sexual harassment suits if they relate to pattern of behavior. Bill Clinton was accused of propositioning Jones; her lawyers knew, from affidavits they already had, that Lewinsky was the one who propositioned Clinton. That they already knew the answer also made the question inappropriate during the discovery phase of a trial. Had Clinton been free to take his case all the way to court, he could almost certainly have beaten the perjury rap, even without raising the question of what "is" is. No, I lose respect for people who raise this issue because, almost without exception that I know, at least in my personal experience, the people who raise it are people who are violating my rule seven; they claim to care about perjury, but all they really care about is making the other side lose.
That being said, the Clintons win both win huge props from me for doing right what almost nobody in Washington does right: staying together, not for the career, and not just for the kid, but because they love each other, try to do what's right for each other, and forgive each other when they fail. By my standards, that makes theirs a nearly ideal marriage, and I give them significant props for that.