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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 06:04 am (UTC)
Newt Gingrich
I dislike Newt Gingrich for his shallow, dim-witted, self-serving pseudo-Libertarianism and his shady fund-raising practices, but I don't hate him personally for those things.

I hate him personally for the fact that both the woman he cheated on his first wife with, and the woman he cheated on his second wife with, were subordinates. I also find it distasteful that he, as with a lot of rich and powerful men, feels entitled to trade in a spouse for a younger model whenever they lose any of their looks. The allegation that he served divorce papers on his first wife in the hospital, so that he could trade her in on someone younger and healthier, is just loathsome, reptilian in its selfishness.
Nov. 29th, 2011 06:40 am (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
The allegation that he served divorce papers on his first wife in the hospital, so that he could trade her in on someone younger and healthier, is just loathsome, reptilian in its selfishness.

That particular one started out making me angry, then headed into flames-on-the-side-of-my-face territory when it turned out that my partner had had a parallel experience of getting a phone call hours after a major surgery, while in a bed in the recovery ward, from the health insurance company, with the news that they were going to deny coverage for the procedure. The luckless phone-banker assigned to deliver the news wound up crying when the situation was explained, and the combination of those two things means that I have a special revulsion for those who think it's remotely acceptable to willingly heap trauma on people who are already in a recovery ward. Gingrich reminds me of your series about the GOP and Satanism, except with him as a cartoonishly evil caricature of a LaVeyan Satanist.
Nov. 29th, 2011 06:53 am (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Oh, and don't get me started on the fact that someone who cheated on his first wife, divorced her, married the subordinate he was cheating on her with, cheated on her, divorced her, and married yet another subordinate he was cheating with, frequently criticizes Bill Clinton for adultery, while making lame excuses about why it's different when he does it.
Nov. 29th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Let's also not ignore that his first wife was his high school math teacher, whom he began dating while he was still in school! He was 16, she was 25.
Nov. 29th, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
I understand you as saying that Newt Gingrich had early experience in workplace relationships across a power gap.
Nov. 29th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Even though she took advantage of him when he was a teenager and her student (in ways that are now recognizable as harassment, possibly some kind of molestation), that doesn't justify the way he treated her years later. Newt doesn't even try to use it as partial excuse.
Nov. 30th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Oh, it doesn't justify squat. What it does show is that Newt was making bad relationship decisions even before he got married.
Dec. 1st, 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
I dunno, scumbag or no, I don't know anyone who made really awesome long-term sex/romance decisions at 16.
Dec. 3rd, 2011 11:14 am (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Oh, there's bound to be a few of them. I know a woman who, at 18, saw her future husband across a room and said, "that's the man for me" and when I knew them 40 years later they were like lovebirds....
Dec. 8th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Newt Gingrich
Didn't McCain do this too?

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