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Get Politics Out of the Bedroom and Politicians' Bedrooms Out of Politics

07/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn about Mark Sanford's affair... any more than I gave a damn about Bill Clinton's blow jobs.

I do give a damn that Mark Sanford tried to turn down Federal stimulus money that would relieve the suffering of South Carolina's long-term unemployed enduring the ravages of the worst recession in a generation. And I give a damn that Bill Clinton worked with Larry Summers, Tim Geithner's mentor Robert Rubin, and John McCain economic advisor Phil Graham to ban the Federal government from regulating the derivatives and credit default swaps and to repeal the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated federally insured commercial banks from risky investment banks, actions which directly contributed to the current financial meltdown.

I know nothing about Robert Rubin's marriage, but I give a damn that Rubin was rewarded for his role in deregulating the financial system by leaving Clinton's cabinet to become a Director of Citigroup, earning $126 million in the next 8 years, helping Citigroup use the repeal of Glass-Steagall to become "too big to fail", and securing $40 billion in Federal equity investment and $350 billion in Federal guarantees for Citigroup's toxic assets. I give a damn that Larry Summers earned over $7 million last year working one day a week advising a hedge fund and giving speeches at over $100,000 a pop to bailed out banks, and was then hired by President Obama as his chief advisor on economic policy towards the banks, hedge funds, and other "too big to fail" financial institutions who rewarded him so richly.

I give a damn about the revolving door between government service and lucrative jobs in business and lobbying, and about the legal bribery we call campaign financing, and wish Barack Obama gave as much of a damn about it as President as he claimed to as a candidate.

I give a damn that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, to whom Obama has largely ceded the formulation of health reform, receives millions of dollars in contributions from the health insurance industry. I give a damn that the very Wall Street financial institutions that were bailed out with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to block effective regulation that would keep them from creating new financial bubbles that will bring on the next financial crisis.

I'm proud that we elected the first African American President, whose only personal vice seems to be copping a smoke every now and then. I'm glad that Barack and Michelle Obama appear to have a happy marriage. But I wouldn't really give much of a damn if they didn't. I do give a damn that President Obama, the direct beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement, has so far done so little to advance the cause of gay Civil Rights. And I wouldn't give much of a damn if Obama drank, smoked, cursed and screwed around if he really took on the banks, insurance companies, and energy conglomerates and brought us genuine national universal healthcare, fought for legislation that actually brought greenhouse gases down to sustainable levels, and broke up and regulated the "too big to fail" financial institutions.

In short, I don't think there's much correlation between politicians' morality in the bedroom and his/her morality in public life. A politician can live a life of perfect marital fidelity and still betray the public trust. A politician can screw his brains out in private and still advance the public interest. The idea that if a politician can't be honest with his/her spouse then he/she can't be honest with the public shows a profound ignorance of human psychology and the ability of the human brain to compartmentalize.

It's time for American voters and the American media to grow up and stop their obsession with politicians' sex lives. Last week, while the media spent endless hours on the Mark Sanford sex scandal (and then morphed into "all Michael, all the time"), the House watered down and then passed a major climate change bill, President Obama tried to focus a national debate on reforming the health care system, and the Iranian Mullah's at least temporarily suppressed a mass movement for democratic reform. Americans learned far more about Sanford's love emails to his Argentine lover and about the rehashing of Michael Jackson's creative triumphs and personal weirdness than about the future of their climate or their health care.

Not only does America need to stop judging politicians by what goes on in their bedrooms. Politicians have to stop lecturing Americans about what goes on in their bedrooms. We don't need politicians to be "role models" for morally correct personal behavior. Leave that to teachers, parents and religious leaders. It's not the government's business to tell us whom to sleep with or whom to marry or not marry. I don't want politicians' advice on whether or not I should be loyal to my wife; whether I have the right to marry someone of the same sex if I wanted to; or if my daughter accidentally became pregnant, how she should make the difficult decision of whether or not to keep the baby.

There was a time when the media protected political leaders from public disclosure of their sexual indiscretions. We now know that Thomas Jefferson had several children with his slave Sally Hemmings; that FDR had a 30-year long affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford and that Eleanor Roosevelt's lesbian lover often stayed in the White House; and that JFK had dozens of lovers (including Marilyn Monroe) and the White House press corps knew that the Secret Service had to clear crowds of naked women out of the White House pool when word came in that Jacquie was on her way home from a trip.

For better or worse, there's no going back to that time. In a never ending effort to keep viewers glued to the 24-hour news cycle, the media will hash and rehash every hint of scandal in the life of public figures. The question is, can Americans handle it like grown ups?

So here's the deal America should make with our politicians. You stay out of our bedroom, and we'll stay out of yours.