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How I, Personally, Judge Sex Scandals (NSFW)

Brad @ Burning Man
First, let me lie to you: these are my opinions, it's okay with me if you disagree, I won't judge you harshly for disagreeing. Why did I just call that a lie? Because intellectually, that is what I believe about my own beliefs. What makes me think that I'm lying to myself when I say that, though, and what makes me think I'd be lying if I said that to you without disclaimer, is just how angry I get when I see a politician get savaged in the media for days at a time over shit I just think is completely unfair, unreasonable, or even if it's just shit that I think is no big deal, and how angry I get when I see someone skate on something that really pisses me off personally. I don't want to be angry at anybody who disagrees with me on any of the following, and I absolutely will hear any reasoned or emotionally honest argument for principles that contradict mine. I just can't promise to be 100% calm and non-judgmental about your opinions, just as I find out that I don't even want to try, any more than anybody else does, to be completely non-judgmental about some of the scandals themselves.

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.



Nov. 29th, 2011 05:24 am (UTC)
Herman Cain
The reason I'm finally getting around to venting about this is that I've spent all day being hammered over the fact that Herman Cain cheated on his wife, with another woman, for thirteen years. Good for him; it shows that he's capable of more than one long-term loving relationship. And either the wife knew and was okay with it, or at the very least he was discrete about it, he was careful to protect other people's feelings. So it's okay with me if I never hear anything else about that one.

Nor do I want to hear any of my liberal friends playing the "conservative moral hypocrisy" card on Herman Cain, because you have to be completely uninformed to think that Herman Cain gives a shit about traditional family values. He's running as a Republican; he checked off the usual boxes on the usual forms; he pretty much had to. It's not something he campaigns on; he campaigns on the flat tax and deregulation, the issues he was already campaigning on, when he worked for the Kochs as a paid spokesman, before he even ran for President. Catch Rick Santorum cheating on his wife, and I may care; Herman Cain? Pffft.

No, I don't want this story to distract from the far more serious accusation: that he not only routinely sexually propositioned subordinates who were in no position to say no, who feared for their jobs if they told him no, but that he allegedly outright told one job applicant that if she wanted the job, she had to blow him. If true, then that, not the long term affair, is what makes him a monster in my eyes. (Not that I was going to vote for him anyway.)
Nov. 29th, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
Re: Herman Cain
I strongly agree with you on this. The affair is by far less damaging in my eyes than the way he treated the women he is accused of harassing while working for the Restaurant Association. "You want a job, right?" Yeah, fuck you buddy.
Nov. 29th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Herman Cain
This. I hadn't heard about the affair until Brad's comment, but it doesn't bother me (as someone also subject to Brad's item Ten). However, I am very, very angry about what happened to Sharon Bialek. Physical force plus circumstantial coercion makes for me wanting to beat him with sticks.
Nov. 29th, 2011 06:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Herman Cain
What I don't get is why the woman has come forward. If she cares about him, she's got to know it could hurt him. If I'd had a discreet thirteen-year affair with a political figure, I'd not come forward with it. It seems like a breach of a private matter. Of course, if we'd been publicly a triad or whatever, then, sure, that'd be different.

Sexual harassment, though -- even if the evidence DIDN'T show that he is either completely ignorant of economics, or a corporate tool, or both, the sexual harassment thing would be a deal-breaker. But an ongoing, long-term affair? None of my business.
Nov. 29th, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Herman Cain
What I don't get is why the woman has come forward.

According to an article about it in the paper Boston Globe on the subway, which I do not have to now, the woman came forward because she felt sorry for the women accusing Cain of sexual harassment. The recent media attention brought the incidents to her attention, and Cain's response to them troubles her. It seems uncomfortably plausible.
Dec. 3rd, 2011 11:04 am (UTC)
Re: Herman Cain
for what it's worth, I agree too.

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