Is It Grown Up to Ignore Politicians' Sex Lives?

06/14/2011 04:59 pm 16:59:57 | Updated Aug 14, 2011

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to talk about a Congressional Member' (And no, I don't think that's an original.)

I refer here, of course, to one (unfortunately named) Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who is currently embroiled in a sex scandal over naked pictures he sent via his Twitter and email accounts to various young ladies to whom he was not married.

Needless to say, the media are having a field day with this story. It has spawned all sorts of clever titles, including The Incredible Shrinking Weiner and Anthony Weiner is Actually A Huge Dick, etc. etc., as well as some trenchant commentary on why politicians stray in such spectacularly self-destructive fashions. (Not to mention a superbly rendered recitation of one Facebook exchange between Rep. Weiner and one of his lady friends by Bill Maher and Jane Lynch.)

But the article that most caught my eye was by Slate's Amanda Marcotte, who argued that it was time for America to "grow up" and stop holding politicians to a single standard of monogamy.

Marcotte notes that as recently as a year ago, the grounds with which a politician's sex life became a matter of public interest depended on said politician's own stance on sexual privacy. So if they weren't trying to regulate [contraception/gay marriage/abortion] and/or breaking any laws (ahem, John Edwards), then we should treat their private lives as private.

If, on the other hand, said politicians campaigned and legislated as "family values" candidates, then their sex lives were fair game on the grounds of hypocrisy (Ahem, Newt Gingrich).

In the case of Weiner, his wife apparently knew before they married that he had engaged in on-line flirtation which included sexually explicit photos. So why -- as Marcotte puts it -- is the media treating this as though "Weiner somehow owes sexual fidelity not to his wife so much as to the rest of us?"

Time will tell whether Weinergate is really about the sexting or the lying or the teenager or the misuse of government resources to pursue this private activity. (Nancy Pelosi has launched a congressional inquiry to look into the latter.)

But the question of fidelity in public figures - and to whom they need to be faithful - is a good one. It's a question that's also arisen in the context of former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who's been accused of trying to rape a chamber maid in a New York hotel.

Apparently, Strauss Kahn's wife, the French journalist Anne Sinclair, has known for years that her husband is a Lothario and has even condoned his role of "seducer" as part and parcel of his political career. (Whether she will condone his role as rapist should the charges in New York prove true remains to be seen.)

So what do you think? Is it grown up to look the other way when judging a politician's private life (so long as they aren't trying to judge ours)?

Or do we, the public, have a legitimate interest in this stuff?