Sunday, 6 February 2011

Politics and Sex: Why, and What Are We Hiding?

Should we care so much about personal flaws when our government -- and our financial system -- is so hobbled by . . . incompetence and greed? Author Peter Ekland on the Eliot Spitzer Scandal

People don’t like talking about sex. I can’t see why. Sex is perhaps the greatest thing in the world when a strong connection between two people is present. In recent discussions, I have been told I am the most honest and forthcoming about the way I feel about sex than just about anyone else. Why are people so concerned with the way others perceive their sexual activity? Why do people choose to keep their sexual lives so private and locked away? In my opinion these secrets account for the majority of relationship failures and breakdowns. We live in a sexually closeted society.

This is particularly the case when politics is concerned. Politicians are fearful of their own sexual identity for fear that the majority of the voting public do not condone their sexual activity. There is a reason that modern day politicians are involved in too many sex scandals to mention. The price of public office asks you to suppress your sexual desire.

The political sex scandal I’m most interested in involves former Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer gained his political reputation by being an aggressive politician who went after corporate high flyers to reform corrupt practices in New York’s financial sector. In March 2008, it was revealed that he frequented an escort service called The Emperors Club after the FBI tapped the phone of its operators. Critics of Spitzer revelled in his downfall for dear old Eliot made the mistake of portraying himself as morally just and above the law. Ironically legislation he enacted to investigate prostitution rings in New York helped contribute to his downfall.

The film Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer tracks the trajectory of the scandal in a way that I think is supportive of its protagonist. The documentary interviews him and it is interesting to discover that while he displays remorse, he shows almost no capacity for reflection. The film also interviews one of the escorts he spent his time with (Not the infamous Ashley Dupree). The most interesting aspects of this particular interview are not the salacious details, but rather the paranoid attempts of Spitzer to avoid public identification, and paradoxically raising suspicions into his behaviour. Howard Fineman of Newsweek commented that this scandal was reflective of Spitzer’s demeanour:

Some of my best professional friends are his closest personal friends. These are people who are secure in their lives and in what they do, and, it seemed to me, they always spoke of "Eliot" in tones that were both awestruck and a little worried, if not put off. As I look back on it, they seemed to sense an explosive danger in a man loaded with so much rocket fuel. He could blow up on the launching pad. He just did.

There are many reasons why people visit prostitutes, almost all of them I believe to be valid. Prostitution is illegal in the United States, which I think is idiotic (Perhaps that is a topic for another blog?).  Obviously that is the main reason why Spitzer was criticized, aside from subjective moral opinion. It is this moral opinion that I’d like to question.

In general why do the public subject politicians to higher moral standards than the rest of the citizenry? Psychologically speaking there are many parallels with alternative sexual behaviour and the qualities that we expect our politicians to have. We like them to be strong decisive risk takers. We want them to recognise elements of danger in their decision making. The majority of the time the most successful politicians are arrogant egomaniacs. It is any wonder that these same politicians might adopt unconventional sexual practices?

The moral crime, which Spitzer should be punished for, is one of hypocrisy and deception. He was a politician who stood for family values, integrity and lied to both his wife and his family. Therefore he lied to the voting public about what he stood for and believed in. For this reason there is no doubt that Spitzer deserved the entire political backlash he received.

What if a politician was uncharacteristically upfront about their sexual practices? In Queensland where prostitution is legal I often wonder how voters would feel if a politician freely admitted that they regularly visiting a brothel? What if he and their partner liked to swing, or to participate in orgies? What would the public think if a politician admitted that he or she likes to have sex in public? Or that he liked BDSM? Or even further away from the mainstream what if your local politician freely admitted to cuckolding? My guess is that such a sexually liberated climate would not exist. There would be outrage!

As long as the above assertion is accurate politics is going to be filled with more Eliot Spitzer type scandals. The public will continue to remain judgemental and intolerant of unconventional sexual practices. The cycle then continues. Politicians will continue to be dishonest about their sexual activity and lie to their loved ones, ultimately satisfying no one, least of all themselves.

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