Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tom Burns Headshot

Some Scandals Matter More

Posted: Updated:
LIONS GATE TRAFFIC
Getty

Over the last six months, sex scandals have intermittently plagued newsstands in France, Turkey and India, all involving high-profile political figures. But none of them should be as consequential to the voting public as scandals of the calibre Bridgegate.

Evoking "French mistress" stereotypes to the letter, glossy European and international tabloids were hooked for days when French magazine Closer alleged that President Hollande himself had been unfaithful. Selling out within hours of the glossy frontpage hitting the Parisian streets, office gossip was put on hold everywhere in lieu of a more intriguing public affair.

Reportedly begun during Mr. Hollande's 2012 presidential campaign, the alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet was said to have been an ongoing, two-year relationship. Never marrying, Hollande had been partnered for more than six years to French journalist Valerie Trierweiler.

Both Hollande and Gayet said they will take legal action over the Closer story, citing breaches of privacy. But they might be thankful that the paparazzi only got a few snaps in public; they'd be rightly shocked at what happens elsewhere.

Such "breaches of privacy" are a mild affair in the vanguards of Turkish politics. Although receiving considerably less international attention (perhaps because such incidents are so frequent), journalists and politicians of all persuasions have been "outed" for improper relationships. Occurring almost exclusively in the medium of anonymously leaked online sex tapes, the often unsubstantiated smears have become a mainstay tactic.

Late last year, a staple dissident news site allegedly received a tape of the Turkish Prime Minister's brother associating with businessmen charged with human trafficking and child prostitution. Untraditionally, editors chose not to publish the video, taking after another journalist critical of the Prime Minister who, one week earlier, reported on a sex tape including someone "very close to somebody very important to Turkey" but who chose not to reveal the person's exact identity.

However, this is all child's play compared to the sudden and shocking death of Sunanda Pushkar, who was found dead in a New Delhi hotel room. Days earlier she took to Twitter to accuse her husband, India's Human Resources Minister Shashi Tharoor, of having an affair with a Pakistani journalist.

Doctors say Pushkar had suffered "some physical injuries" and had an "unnatural, sudden death." Although police are still investigating, reports indicate she may have died from an overdose of the psychoactive drug alprazolam.

Nonetheless, other than the tragic death of Sunanda Pushkar, all we have left in these scandalous affairs is travesty. We might not have all the facts, and nor might we ever, but unless abuse or criminal activity is involved, we ought not overly worry ourselves.

Why? Because it's inconsequential. What happens in the complexities and shadows of our private lives can only truly be understood by those who share a part of those lives. One can never know, looking in from the public window, how much guilt, or pain, or passion inspired such actions. Perhaps it was spite or perhaps it was silly, but whatever it was it wasn't a "scandal" in the same way some others things are or were.

Most in the U.S. have been hearing for months about a certain scandal. A big scandal. One that's in a league of its own and shouldn't be thought of as similar in any way to any sex scandal, except to say that they were all kept secret (at least for a while). But personal secrets are different to professional ones -- a personal secret isn't one you want to keep whereas a professional secret is one you need to keep.

A personal secret is one you lug around begrudgingly, knowing its contents may hurt someone but at the same time justifying that you're not really hurting anyone. You're probably wrong but you're partly right: you're not directly endangering people, at least; you know who your actions could affect and how. But that's unlike a professional secret -- a professional secret isn't one you lug around, it's one you wipe your fingerprints off and bury in the ground somewhere, waiting for it to be forgotten completely, struck from history as if it never had occurred.

In the context of politicians' secrets, that's not where the big difference lies, though. For the real disparity, look at the environment, the ethics and responsibilities surrounding that environment, and then how it relates to public office.

In sex scandals, we can never know all of the pertinent details due to the environmental nature of those scandals. Thus, although we try anyway, we can never draw accurate or full conclusions about the morality of anyone's actions. What's more, we can't assume their line of reasoning or general attitudes would be the same in a professional environment where emotional intimacy is out of the picture. All we can do is respect that, like all of us, people have private lives, and in some cases we make choices in those lives which seriously affect others. Sometimes we even make mistakes. But it doesn't make those mistakes transferable to a professional arena.

Contrast this, for a moment, with the Christie scandal and you soon realize how much unfathomably worse it is, for this is in the professional arena. In this we know more than we might like to; in this there was actual tragedy, not just travesty. It wasn't just a partner who was left affected, it was the very people Chris Christie was given the responsibility to represent, to serve, to protect, and to ensure the freedoms of. Included was the freedom of movement, the duty to support -- not impede -- public services like ambulances and the police, and the obligation to help -- not hinder -- school students and the working class.

It might seem like I'm defending extra-marital affairs or saying it's okay to keep secrets from those you love, but I'm not, even though it's sometimes hard to know exactly the right thing to do in those situations. What I am saying is that it's inconsequential in light of the real scandals, the ones which betray the very core of what it means to hold public office. In fact, political science agrees with me -- we care less about sex scandals than financial or other ones. And so we should; trusting a political leader, especially someone who could have been a potential candidate for president, necessitates that she or he can be trusted not to wilfully and negligently abuse the responsibilities of their oath and office.