Thursday, June 09, 2011

Wowser explosion

“Wowser” is a great word, one of the best I learned when I moved to New Zealand. It basically means a person who criticises people for their supposed moral lapses, holding themselves up as morally superior. It has come to mean people who self-righteously promote their own version of morality or propriety—even if they have no right to do it because of their own failings.

We’ve had an explosion of wowserism in recent months as politicians are alleged to have committed supposed moral lapses. Sometimes criminality is alleged and, when crimes have been committed, public disapproval is to be expected.

But when a politician does something that’s merely icky (in our opinion), we should shut up.

The best case of this is the one currently swirling in America’s shallow mainstream newsmedia over Democratic US Rep Anthony Weiner sending photos to women. They’ve been called “inappropriate”, “lewd”, “explicit” and even “obscene”, although what I’ve seen so far doesn’t make my definition for any of those terms. I personally see nothing wrong with his having sent the photos, which do not appear to have been sent to unwilling recipients.

Rep. Weiner isn’t “sick” doesn’t have “a problem”, nor should it be assumed that he drinks too much or uses drugs, as some American journalists have actually suggested. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Rep. Weiner is “guilty of” or “suffering from” anything other than being male, one who, like so many other males, occasionally thinks with the wrong head.

Dan Savage has had the best commentary so far. When he live-blogged Weiner’s press conference, Savage wrote:
“Do reporters know what men are like? (And lots of women too?) This desire to pathologize behavior that isn't sick—that is, indeed, very common and human and completely and instantly understandable—is itself pathological. Weiner does not have a problem. He has a computer. The whole world has Weiner's problem: same old horniness, brand new box.”

Savage has plenty of other cutting remarks for the newsmedia sharks circling Weiner, and they’re well worth seeing for a more rational take than we’re likely to see in any US newsmedia report.

The fact is, Rep. Weiner broke no law, he broke no ethics rules for the US House, he did nothing that in any legal sense is improper. What about his judgment? I say, look at his political record to make that assessment, but even then, that’s for his constituents to determine, not us.

This has nothing to do with party or ideology. The reason so many of us on the left mock the Republicans who have “zipper malfunctions” is not their specific deeds, it’s that they’ve invariably portrayed themselves as “family values” conservatives, and they’re revealed as all-too-human hypocrites.

I think this sort of thing matters only when there's some actual criminal wrongdoing, like John Ensign is alleged to have done. Politicians of either party caught with their pants down, literally or figuratively, shouldn’t resign just because of that, again, unless they broke a law.

By that definition, Larry Craig should've resigned (he didn’t), but there are a lot of questions about that incident and I'm not convinced he broke a law worth enforcing. Mark Foley resigned, but apparently didn't break any laws since no criminal charges were filed. David Vitter’s patronising prostitutes was illegal, but it shouldn't be. Not only did he not resign, he was re-elected. Eliot Spitzer resigned because he’d patronised prostitutes; his being a former prosecutor raised the hypocrisy level of his transgression to one similar to “family values” Republicans. Even so, I don't consider that alone a good reason to resign any more than it would have been for Vitter.

Chris Lee was a “family values” Republican US Representative from New York State who posted photos of himself on Craig’s List, and apparently sought out transgender prostitutes. He resigned (and the resulting special election led to his solidly Republican district swinging to the Democrats, but that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Republicans’ plans to kill Medicare). But I don’t think he should’ve resigned just because of this “indiscretions”.

Here in New Zealand, a Labour MP resigned when he was accused of some sort of coercive sexual act on an 18 year old man. The police have decided not to prosecute. He resigned mostly to save his party from embarrassment in an election year, and such practical considerations are different from responding to moral outrage, faux or real. But I don’t think that applies to the US, which is not a parliamentary system.

Sometimes these men are treated harshly in public opinion because they “embarrassed” or “humiliated” their wives (which is projection, not fact—we usually don’t know that’s actually the case). But what happens to and within those marriages is none of our business.

Incidents that involve a man and another man, it seems to me, receive a harsher level of scrutiny, particularly when there’s an age difference. I’ve seen plenty of cases in which there seems to be a pretty clear double standard at play. Being a part of a minority whose sexuality is demonised every day, I probably see that more clearly than would heterosexuals.

Basically, I couldn’t possibly care less what some female politician does with her vagina, so why should I care what some male politician does with his penis? As long as it’s all legal (no one underage, no force, assault or harassment, as the lawnot the newsmedia—defines those terms), I have no right to judge those politicians, nor to say what they can and cannot do, nor how they “should” live their sex lives.

What they do or do not do as elected officials acting in their official roles is something we’re all free to comment on and to act on through normal democratic means. But unless we start electing bricks instead of people, we have to get used to the fact that sometimes they’ll do things that we personally think are icky and, second, that absent criminal acts, we have no right to condemn them for it.


Roger Owen Green said...

as usual, though, the coverup is worse than the act. Weiner should have said "we're looking into this" and then "no comment" until he was ready to come forward.

BTW, I thought Vitter SHOULD have gone, not because prostitution is so terrible, but because he, like Spitzer, was such a sanctimonious twit.

Roger Owen Green said...

My favorite new word is ultracrepidate.

Arthur Schenck said...

I agree with you, not surprisingly. I must find an opportunity to include ultracrepidate in a post—or maybe a Tweet…