Romancing the politician

Romancing the politician
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Sex scandals have certainly been coming a mile-a-minute these days — and each more sexually scandalous than the last!

In the previous two months alone, let’s see, we’ve had the Arnold Schwarzenegger lovechild scandal, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape scandal, and the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal. And last week we saw John Edwards formally indicted for some shenaniganry relating to his adulterous lovechild sex scandal. Four powerful men, all done in by the same fatal weakness.

I read a fascinating book some years ago — probably one of the most influential books in my life, in fact — called King of the Mountain by Arnold Ludwig. In it, the author posits that human leadership isn’t really that different from animal leadership, and that the sorts of personality traits and behaviour associated with, say, an alpha male gorilla, are quite similar to many of the traits we find in presidents, kings, and prime ministers. In particular, leaders of both animals and men alike tend to assert dominance by securing access to females — the more the better.

Aggressive displays of virility, expressed via adultery and skirt-chasing, is thus not so much a weakness of leaders as it is a prerequisite. A man who possess such predilections is, Ludwig concluded, also likely to have other leader-of-men attributes historically common to the world’s greatest rulers.(“Great,” in this context, is strictly defined in the sense of success and achievement. Clearly these men are not great human beings in most cases — as many of the women on the receiving ends of their lecherous advances could easily attest.) This is because the pursuit of leadership is primary an expression of an overdeveloped ego, a base personality type from which so many other seemingly unrelated behaviours flow.

What’s interesting is that as modern politics becomes more an ever-more transparent fish bowl, with never-ending and increasingly invasive media scrutiny of every aspect of a politician’s life and personal history, the Ludwig thesis would posit that our politicians should become even more sexually licentious. This of course contradicts the conventional wisdom, which often assumes the new intense media environment “scares off” flawed candidates. Yet it makes much more sense if we consider that the only person who would want to put oneself through the 24/7 multi-media madness that is modern campaigning — let alone governing — would have to be incredibly vain and egotistical — two other personality traits that tend to correlate highly with an obsession with sexual conquest. In other words, if it seems like there are more political sex scandals than usual these days, it’s not necessarily just because the media’s reporting more on stuff that used to go unreported (though that’s definitely a factor), but rather because the very sort of man who tends to run for and serve in political office has changed, and become even more of a caricature of the already not-too-impressive egotistical average.

If we look at Arnold, Edwards, Strauss-Kahn, and Weiner, what unites them is an enormous sense of personal vanity, as well as unbridled ambition. All were clearly obsessed with beautifying their own physicality (be it the athletic muscle-building of Weiner and Schwarzenegger, or the expensive fashion tastes of Strauss and Edwards) and pursuing ever-greater political offices beyond their reach (Strauss, Edwards, and Arnold were all said to have presidential ambitions, while Weiner dreamed of being mayor of New York City). All possessed a considerable degree of charismatic appeal, as well, with loud, brash, and unapologetically self-aggrandizing personalities that could be as personally annoying as they were politically effective.

In my view, the true dilemma raised by scandals such as Weinergate is not whether politician sex “matters,” or whether the media over-covers titillating stories at the expense of real news, but rather the consequences for democracy when modern politics becomes dominated by men with such borderline psychopathic personality disorders. It would be the height of naivete, after all, to believe a man predisposed to make such erratic and thoughtless choices in his pursuit of sexual partners could not someday channel that same egotistical energy into an equally destructive policy decision.


  1. Continentalist

    Great analysis. But, like all things related to the democratic process, ultimately the people themselves are to blame. When people huddle around one candidate or another, or talk about great leaders, that in itself is the mistake. Governments should not be run by a leader, but by many individuals. We shouldn't put our faith in men, but in ideas. We shouldn't care what they say, but look at what they've done. In essence, we need to choose principled candidates, who look to serving the greater good than their own ambitions.

  2. Continentalist

    There are few to be certain, but they do exist. Ron Paul is one such person I believe.

  3. diceman

    That must be why Ronald Reagan decided to stay in Hollywood instead of spending 8 years being shellacked more by conservatives than Democrats.
    As Ann Coulter would say, conservatives don't have sex dreams about their leaders, unlike Bubba and Barry. Narcissism in politicians is nothing new, except for the fact that certain politicians have always gotten a free pass from the media.

  4. Psudo

    Principled politicians hate the lifestyle surrounding the job but egotists delight in it. The two best Presidents in US history both despised the job: Washington resigned against the popular will and Lincoln was depressed all through his presidency. Those with blind faith in themselves, like Hamilton, Jefferson, and Jackson, tended toward sex scandals because they trusted in their ability to justify their own actions. The religious concept of Judgment Day directly contradicts that sense of personal exemption to the rules.

    I think Ron Paul is quite a bit like Jefferson: an intellectual who believes he knows all the answers that the rest of society is too stupid to figure out for themselves. Jefferson was a great politician and President, but he was hardly a moral exemplar. The biggest difference is that Jefferson had a fundamental, widely recognized claim to patriotism — he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Ron Paul has no similar undeniable achievement silencing his critics. Without one, I cannot imagine him winning a national election.

  5. Continentalist

    Interesting hypotheses. Personally, I think Lincoln was a terrible President, since he expanded executive power so very much, and essentially threw out the rule of law. While I wish he had freed the slaves based on principles, a simple reading of history shows that he was happy to go either way on that issue. I suppose one can argue he was a patriot for fighting for the preservation of the Union, but he did so at great expense to liberty, even jailing members of Congress who simply disagreed with him.

    As for Jefferson, while I do also believe he fathered children with Hemmings based on DNA evidence, it must be said that there isn't conclusive evidence of that. Even if true, I don't think it necessarily shows a grand ego or character flaw. His wife had passed away long before any relationship with Hemmings began, and he lived in a time when it was illegal, but not immoral by today's standards. Finally, Jefferson never justified his actions in any public or private writings, he simply ignored the issue.

    If you would like to paint Jefferson as a scandalous character that's one thing, but I don't see how Ron Paul reflects that in anyway. Certainly, there's no evidence to show that he has done anything immoral or scandalous in his personal life. It may be that he does have skeletons in his closet, but I suspect not.

    And even though I'm a fan of Ron Paul, I also wouldn't equate Ron Paul with the massive accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. Even so, I do think Ron Paul is quite principled, just like Thomas Jefferson. The main difference between them, is that Jefferson lived in a time where his message was well understood and supported, and Ron Paul does not, and thus his votes in Congress become ineffectual. But those votes do tell a story nonetheless. And his actions, by for example, refusing to take lavish Congressional pensions, do show his character.

    Finally, it's sort of ironic that you would condemn Paul for thinking he knows best, when his entire philosophy revolves around giving people the option to choose their own paths. But I do agree that Paul has a low probability of winning because people are too stupid to know what's best for them. In the end, it does prove that we get the government we deserve.

  6. Jake

    The problem with Ron Paul is not his social or economic views. It is his foreign policy views. Sure we would should be less interventionist. But I truly believe Ron Paul is the kind of guy that if he is President and we get nuked, he would simply wouldn't ever press the button or mobilize any troops because he thinks he doesn't have the authority (when he actually does).

  7. SES

    His social and economic policy views are absolutely insane, though.

  8. Jake

    His are pretty simple. Federal government regulates very little. Let the state do what it wants. If Vermont wants to be socialist. Fine. If Utah wasn't to be near Fascist, that's fine too. As long as its democratic and on a state level.

  9. SES

    "Simple" and "absolutely batshit insane with terrible consequences" are not mutually exclusive. There is no greater enemy of civil rights in Congress than Ron Paul.

  10. Iokobos

    If by 'civil rights' you mean welfare, entitlements and un-Constitutionally mandated spending I agree with you.

  11. Psudo

    I don't believe an expansion of federal power is inherently wrong in all cases, and with the exception of the Constitution itself no expansion of federal power was ever so justified as Lincoln's. We can nitpick about the details of his actions, but he finally concluded the half-century conflict over the slavery issue in a way that preserved the freedom and the existence of the United States. If it could have been done some better way, it would have. It could not.

    Even if you want to deny the conflict of interest of sleeping with a woman who cannot say no, Jefferson's overall character was one of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. His relationship with John Adams exemplifies that in that he would privately conspire against his political enemy and personal friend while denying to John Adams that he was doing any such thing. Also, blind support for the massacre that was the French Revolution, in which he would selectively reject evidence from his own agents in France, demonstrates that he preferred ideology to factual reality. He believed in a weak central government, yet expanded federal powers with the Louisiana Purchase. He preached national unity and democracy while assailing political opponents and even his own Vice President in the courts. He reduced military funding while opting for a war with the Barbary States in Tripoli. This is clearly a one-sided summary of his career and his greatness cannot be denied, but neither can his duplicity and overriding faith in himself above all others and even above the facts.

    I did not mean to paint Ron Paul as a sexual hedonist to any degree. I'm sure he's not and apologize for not making that more clear in my previous post. But, much like Jefferson, Paul believes that he has the solution and no evidence can dissuade him. He preaches the rhetoric of freedom of conscience but supports it only selectively, rejecting abortion as a choice, denying the right of a representative government to establish a central bank (The Federal Reserve), and opposing military action even when it has the popular support of the populous (as in the no-fly-zone in Libya). In these cases (and others) he points to the law, the Constitution, or the higher law of morality as overriding personal choice, a compromise that undermines the fiction that he uniquely seeks to empower the people. He makes the same compromises between liberty and morality that every politician makes, which makes him unique only in the radical nature and low viability of his views. He deserves to lose national elections precisely because voters understand how his message contrasts with reality. I think Ron Paul is quite likely a very good man in his personal dealings, but he is not a particularly great or good politician.

    I believe in limited government, but I do not automatically support politicians exclusively based on how powerfully they support that principle. States' rights are important, but using them to justify slavery, segregation, mob violence, or other clear immoralities is simply ridiculous. Actual leadership capability, the talent to negotiate productively with political opponents, and the admission that one's philosophy is at best a rough estimate of morality continually in need of justification are also vitally necessary. Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, and even Nixon are better exemplars of those principles than Paul and Jefferson.

  12. Continentalist

    This is getting so off topic that I almost feel like a troll posting about this again, so I'll just make some point form responses, just for the record..

    1) In regards to Lincoln, I would never say that this way or that way would succeeded without a doubt, but to say that it could not have possibly been done another way is equally foolish.

    2) We'll never know the personal relationship between Jefferson & Hemmings. He may have forced her, it may have been mutual, or one of the other 25 Jeffersons living at the time could have fathered her children. The only thing we do know is that it would have been completely unacceptable to society purely because of race. But to assume the worst of Jefferson based on such little evidence isn't justified.

    3) Jefferson never directly attacked Adams, he funded a less than reputable guy and denied doing so, bad on Jefferson.

    4) The Louisiana Purchase hardly expanded federal power, it merely expanded the Union.

    5) Worth mentioning his Vice President killed Hamilton in a duel for supporting Jefferson over himself for President. Killing people usually deserves some punishment.

    6) The Barbary States declared war on the USA because Jefferson refused to pay massive bribes.

    7) Paul points to the law, the Constitution to be exact, because it is the supreme law of the land, the rule book by which everyone must play. Those who ignore it because it doesn't suit their personal desires are the unprincipled. If the Federal Reserve Act had become an amendment to the Constitution, Paul would wish to overturn it to be sure, but would follow the law to be sure and resist any legislative or executive order to overturn it, even tho he personally despises it.

  13. Psudo

    1) Saying "Lincoln should have done it differently." is declaring willingness to risk the emancipation of the slaves and survival of the union over a states rights quibble. It is not equally foolish to refuse that gamble.

    2) DNA isn't the only evidence, and assuming the best of him is not reasonable, either. I'm not trying to convict him in court, so I don't have to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    3) Jefferson did everything through intermediaries. Yet he attacked Adams in multiple ways, even demonizing him as a British pawn and possible traitor to his Republican contemporaries. Funding one muckracker is only the tip of the iceberg.

    4) The Louisiana Purchase was not explicitly allowed by the US Constitution, which meant Jefferson established a Republican precedent for an inclusive interpretation of the powers of the federal executive. That precedent has been used to defend various increases of federal power, notably including Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and the establishment of the Federal Reserve (though only successfully for the latter).

    5) The Burr/Hamilton duel was directly about Hamilton attacking Burr's character, and had only a weak, tangential connection to the election. Burr wasn't put on trial for the duel, he was put on trial over a baseless conspiracy theory that claimed he was establishing an army to attack the capital (which Jefferson believed against all evidence). Dueling was a common practice that, though illegal, was not typically prosecuted until the Burr/Hamilton duel ignited backlash against it, and men as prominent as President Jackson defended the practice of duels for decades thereafter. The obviousness of it as murder to modern minds has no relevance to what was then a very open question.

    6) Jefferson overturned a long-standing US policy of paying those massive bribes, knowing that pirates tend to get violent when they don't get what they want. Stopping those bribes and cutting military funding were part of the same spending cuts plan. Cutting the military and igniting a war at the same time is still irresponsible, even if the war is justified.

    7) Paul points to his principles when it suits him and law when it suits him with no consistent policy. He ignores the vast majority of constitutional scholars who find the Federal Reserve Act and so-called "undeclared" wars to be constitutional. He thinks the constitution only means what he believes it means regardless of all contrary arguments and evidences. He lacks both a legal and a popular basis for his views.

  14. Continentalist

    I'm done discussing anything with you, but it's sad to see someone twist the facts so much, unwittingly or not.

  15. JfC

    Not particularly found of conflating consensual adultaries with rape here, but otherwise interesting analysis.

  16. Joel Barini

    What a coincidence: tomorrow is the "lover's day" here in Brazil. I guess our politicians will have an unusually busy day.

  17. D Muldoon

    JJ, one could extrapolate your argument to say that the only reason you run Filibuster is to display heightened mating-value to prospective fertile females by demonstrating worth, influence and knowledge. When you look at things through the prism of sexuality, *everything* seems to be tainted by it, and rightly so. None of us would be here, commenting, without it.

    People have sex, bottom line. Everything else is a societal construction around that most sacred and necessary act. To ascribe evil or lecherous motives to powerful men because they *want* sex – who doesn't? The main difference is that most of us keep that urge wrapped up in daily niceties to prevent undue embarrassment or exposure. But what happens when you're a person who is unburdened by feelings of guilt or inadequacy? What happens is – the feelings we all have are instead laid bare and exposed. And then we all collectively gasp in indignation. Ridiculous.

    People fuck. It's about time we moved past that, mentally. JJ, you have more pressing matters to cartoonize.

  18. jjmccullough

    I think there's a difference between admitting that "people have/want sex," which is obviously true, and acknowledging that the political class of the western world seems to be increasingly dominated by particularly lecherous, vainglorious psychopaths. You're right that most of us use "niceties" to moderate our most base animal instincts, and that this is unnatural to some degree. But it's also how we ensure a civilized society. I'm troubled by the consequences of a society run by erratic men who don't feel the need to adhere to social norms, only their own passions.

  19. Psudo

    Not everything that is inevitable is also tolerable. People rape. Should we ignore that, too?

  20. CKASlacker

    Rape obviously implies a victim. I submit that there are lots of things that are inevitable and tolerable that are also 'immoral' to some degree. Sure, a lecherous jerk who cheats on his wife isn't probably the kind of guy you necessarily want to hang around with (or maybe you do), but that doesn't necessarily disqualify him from being effective in political office IMHO. Let's not forget that women are also attracted to men in power — who knows how many these guys say "no" to before biology wins the day.

    Let me posit this: if these same guys are skirt-chasers but *single*, does their philandering change anyone's opinion of their ability to be an effective leader?

  21. Psudo

    Adultery obviously implies a victim, too.

    Besides, we're not talking about normal sexual behavior, but people who stick out as unusual precisely because of their unrestrained sexual appetites. Virtually everyone has sex (asexual people are only about 1% of the population ), but not everyone cheats, abuses, or ruins lives in the process. Some people control their biology, and some are controlled by it.

    I don't think being single or married matters as much as the heartache caused and the responsibility demonstrated. If your conscience allows you to lie, manipulate, and break rules to get girls into bed, it'll probably also allow you to lie, manipulate, and break rules to win an election, pass a law, or evade law enforcement, too.

    Hamilton argued that he only cheated on his wife, not with government money, which helped discredit the Federalist Party. Jackson declared Margaret Eaton innocent of adultery based on nothing more than an appeal to authority (his). Clinton questioned what the definition of 'is' is. All of these people hurt people or attacked the basis of law to hide their personal failings. All of these people let sex scandals get between them and good governance. Conscience is conscience, and character is character. You can't separate one kind from another.

  22. Psudo

    The only reason Sarah Palin is a household name, as far as I can tell, is because her critics can't get enough criticism. Without that spotlight pointed at her, she'd be the Republican answer to Howard Dean.

  23. Iokobos

    Sarah Palin is a household name because she doesn't have the same political chops as most GOP. And no, I don't have sex dreams about her. 5 kids, are you kidding?

  24. @Andy928766

    Personally, I think too often these sex scandals are rather overblown. Take the recent case with Anthony Weiner. Was what he did silly and inappropriate? Of course it was. Has he done anything illegal (as far as we know right now)? No. It seems the only reason his ability to perform his duties as a member of Congress has been compromised is because of the constant media attention to him. Unless something illegal has been done, I believe the personal lives of politicians' should be no one's business but their own. Weiner did what he did because he gave in to his human urges. He did it because he thought he could get away with it and he did for a while until he made a mistake on Twitter.

    But if you look at the also recent cases of John Edwards and John Ensign who broke laws attempting to cover-up their infidelities, then it becomes a situation that should be rightfully investigated.

    Besides, considering how many married men in this country cheat on their wives, it really should not be unexpected that a few cases crop up every now and then with a man in public office.

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