Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Notes on the 'scandal'

I couldn’t possibly care less about the fact that Auckland Mayor Len Brown had an affair with a 32 year-old-woman. It’s none of my business, or anyone else’s. Pretending it’s a big deal doesn’t make it so.

No one has alleged any criminal activity, though some on the right have tried to suggest it was unethical because Len was Mayor. This is an extremely sexist assertion because it implies the woman was powerless to resist the aura of the mayoralty, that she was too weak to say no.

The fact that the woman was on an advisory committee doesn’t make the mayor her “boss”, either literally or figuratively. In the recent election, she ran on the National Party’s local affiliate (and lost), so she’s clearly ambitious. She was using her position on the advisory panel to help advance her political career—something that’s not unique to her, of course.

She’s told the media that despite being a conservative politician wannabe, she and her family voted for Brown. None of us can prove who we voted for, so we’ll have to take her word for that. Even so, the president of the Auckland version of the National Party is the father of the rigthwing blogger and National Party propagandist who first published the allegations. The dad says he didn’t know of the affair and had nothing to do with passing the information on to his son. Maybe he’s telling the truth, maybe he isn’t, but the inescapable conclusion is that the revelation of this “scandal” is politically motivated.

The rightwing tried to defeat Len Brown. That rightwing blogger was relentless in attacking Brown and centre-left candidates for office. The dad, meanwhile, was on the campaign of the main rightwing challenger, the defeated American millionaire. So, they couldn’t defeat Brown at the ballot box, but they think they might get rid of him buy pushing this “scandal”; if they drive him from office, they think they can elect a rightwinger in the byelection that would follow. That’s their endgame, their motive for pushing this.

There’s nothing new here. For example, in 2006, it was revealed that Don Brash, then the leader of the National Party and Leader of the Opposition, had had an extramarital affair (a couple months later he resigned, but that wasn’t because of the affair, but instead because of revelations of his lying to the New Zealand public). The rightwing blogger who published the salacious allegations was himself named in court for being in an extramarital affair.

So, human beings—even politicians—sometimes act like human beings and—gasp!— make mistakes just like everyone else does. That’s hardly a hanging offence.

The fact that the mayor cheated on his wife is between the two of them, not us. Brown is a Catholic, which has a long tradition of allowing believers to confess their “sins”, repent and receive absolution. But the rightwing thinks that’s not good enough.

In general, I simply don’t care about romantic or sexual affairs between consenting adults as long as no criminality is involved and there are no unethical relationships. No one has provided any evidence that this is anything other than lack of personal restraint on the part of Brown and the woman—both of whom are “guilty”, of course.

For me, there’s one thing more: As a member of a minority that's frequently victimised because we have sex, I have no patience with people who try to “slut shame” people who have sex outside of marriage (before one or despite being in one). People have sex—get over it. Sometimes we don’t approve of what consenting adults do in private, but mostly we simply don’t want to know about it.

There’s long been an unspoken rule in the news media that affairs of politicians are never reported unless there are allegations of criminality or unethical behaviour of some sort. It’s almost certain that there are politicians all over New Zealand, including in Parliament, who are involved in affairs right now. None of us really want to know about them—particularly because, quite frankly, we don’t want the mental image of most politicians having sex with anyone. Kinda icky picture, more often than not.

But, again, absent criminal or unethical behaviour, our personal distaste or our personal moral judgements about politicians’ sexual activity are no reason to drive philandering politicians from an office we elected them to. After all, we elected them to do a job, not so we can sit around and watch them have sex (and what a good fact THAT is!).

Still, I have some advice for politicians, and I think it’s pretty good advice. It’s for all politicians—men or women, conservative, centrist or progressive, mainstream or fringe, young or old, regardless of sexual orientation. Ready? Here it is: KEEP YOUR DAMN PANTS ON! Politicians who follow that advice don’t have to worry about being “slut shamed” by slimy bloggers and partisan political activists.

But I really don’t care about this particular bit of non-news.

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