For most people, there is nothing more exciting than a press conference given by a politician who is confessing to his/her personal transgressions.
There they are, completely vulnerable and exposed to the world. They bare their private lives for all to see, asking their families and the public for forgiveness. Usually, they utter really memorable things like former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's "I am a gay American" line.
Frankly, I'm exhausted by the private lives and scandals of politicians being major news. People who disagree with me say that it's all about holding politicians to a higher standard. I don't disagree; I think politicians should be held to a higher standard. I just don't think our standard is high enough.
We love to hold our public officials accountable for their personal transgressions. We love holding them accountable when we find significant evidence of corruption.
Anything else? Nope.
Think about it. Every time you see a politician publicly confessing his or her sins, those sins are about sex or money. As far as I'm concerned, holding a politician accountable for a sex scandal or political corruption is child's play. Our standards are much too low. We need to hold politicians accountable for their failure to follow their conscience. In my mind, that's the real political scandal.
When personal scandals, like the one New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is facing, play out in public, we always hear from the same pundits about how it's time for us to focus on major issues like jobs and the economy, not political scandals and gossip. While I think that these constant reminders are important, let's just admit to ourselves that it's never going to happen. For us to really zone in on jobs and not scandals, we need a fundamental shift in the way we think and process news.
Personally, I'd love to see more juicy, tension-filled press conferences. I'd just like the questions to be different. Instead of, "Senator, according to instant messages we obtained from a confidential source, you were having an illicit affair with one of your office interns, do you have a comment?" I'd like to hear, "Senator, according to emails obtained from a confidential source, you told your chief of staff that it was an abomination that we don't have health care reform. Yet, you voted against the health care reform bill repeatedly. Do you have a comment?"
Instead of, "Congressman, according to a report in the Washington Post, you went on an all-expenses paid golfing trip with lobbyists and failed to report it on your gift disclosure form, care to comment?" I'd like to hear, "Congressman, you claim to be a man of the people, yet you always seem to miss key votes on issues like raising the minimum wage and immigration reform. Care to comment?"
Politicians are practically trained to publicly answer and deal with questions about their personal scandals. It's a clinical process that does not require them to engage in any real soul searching or gut checks. But if you ask a politician, "Are you going against what you think is right in your heart and mind?" then you are truly challenging them.
So next time there is a big press conference in Washington, instead of "Senator, you lied to your wife, how is she handling this?" I'd like to hear, "Senator, you lied to your constituents about who you are and what you believe in, how are they handling this?"
The tension would be so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Now that's the kind of press conference I'd like to see.