Politicians’ ethical lapses – Who cares?


The Huffington Post, that bastion of All the News That’s Fit to Blow Out of Proportion or Deceptively Headline, appears to have done some solid reporting on Tea Party congressman Scott DesJarlais, who – shock and devastation! – has turned out to be a hypocrite. Seems the “pro-life” DesJarlais is heard in an old phone transcript pressuring his mistress to have an abortion.

At the time, many years before DesJarlais (a doctor by trade) entered public life, he was trying to reconcile with his wife, which, of course, explains everything. DesJarlais hasn’t even denied the accusation, but simply taken refuge in the standard hideout of the cowardly politician: “Desperate personal attacks do not solve our nation’s problems.” (He sure is right about that, as George W. Bush learned after knocking out Saddam Hussein.) The sad fact is, DesJarlais is a politician, and politics is a veritable victory garden of hypocrisy.

The thing is, though, stories like this don’t do anyone any good.

There’s a long, long line of Republicans accused of acting against their stated “values.” Democrats aren’t any better behaved (see: John Edwards, Bill Clinton, JFK etc.) but, because Republicans are the ones who advocate “family values” so strongly, they’re the ones who most often open themselves to charges of hypocrisy on these matters.

Yet publicizing these tales doesn’t usually accomplish anything. Since no one cares, it doesn’t help the hypocrite’s political opponents. Nor does it make those of us who disapprove of his views feel (much) better. In rare cases like that of Anthony Weiner, when a career is actually derailed, it’s because of the ridiculousness of the circumstances rather than the ethical failing itself.

Politicians’ serious ethical lapses are news and must be reported, and so, I guess, should these personal infractions. We presumably have an interest in the “character” of those who are supposed to be representing us in government, irrelevant as the content of that character usually proves to be.

But at a time when representatives are doing so little representing, and so much kowtowing to the desires of big business on the one hand and extremists on the other, their personal peccadilloes seem less important than ever. Getting outraged over extramarital affairs or inconsistency on a matter such as abortion feels like a big fat waste of time.