Is an unfaithful politician fit for office?

“While it’s all very well to say political private lives should stay private, we need to stop glossing over the fact that infidelity involves a great deal of lying and the breaking of a profound commitment.”

Should the media report when a politician is having an affair?

Yes of course they should, because the politician’s deception casts a shadow over their fitness for office.

While it’s all very well to say political private lives should stay private, we need to stop glossing over the fact that infidelity involves a great deal of lying and the breaking of a profound commitment.

A politician who embarks on an extra-marital affair has, at the very least, poor judgment and limited willpower.

Remember Anthony Weiner, the US politician who sent SMS photos of his wiener to a young woman who was not his wife? He’s a good example of the fools and self-indulgers that we don’t want making political decisions on our behalf.

Serial philanderers on the other hand, like former US President Bill Clinton, are power-trippers who think they’re beyond detection and reproach. While Clinton indeed got away with it, lawlessness is not a quality we should want in our politicians.

In addition to a weakness of mind and body, or delusions of entitlement, politicians who stray are deceivers.

When they publicly deny an affair, it shows they’re capable of mouthing commitment while simultaneously subverting that commitment with their behaviour.

Perhaps most importantly, a cheating politician puts their satisfaction before being honest with their partners. This shows they’re capable of putting their own needs before that of the community and the nation.

It certainly proved to be the case with the late Mal Coulston, whose wife blew the whistle on his misuse of a parliamentary travel allowance when she discovered his affair. Time will tell whether the same applies to Craig Thomson or Peter Slipper.

Perhaps by now you’re wondering whether I’m a bit of a prude.

I’m not, but I’ve lived and worked in Canberra for over 20 years, in reasonably close proximity to federal parliament and the various professions that hang off it like limpets.

I see politicians as ordinary people, thrust into extraordinary jobs.

Sometimes extraordinarily boring jobs, sometimes extraordinarily frustrating jobs, and sometimes a job that makes an extraordinarily positive contribution to Australia and its people. Nevertheless, they are flawed and fallible humans just like the rest of us.

But most people who follow the call to a politician’s life accept the 24/7 nature of the role and the accompanying expectation that they will at all times meet a standard of professional and personal behaviour much higher than that required of almost any other profession. That’s fair enough – politicians govern for the rest of us.

Just like sportspeople shouldn’t take performance-enhancing drugs, politicians shouldn’t act dishonestly.

I understand the highly charged nature of the political workplace and the temptations presented by working long hours alongside equally committed colleagues.

This hot-house environment is not an excuse, however, to dismiss political extra-marital affairs as professionally inconsequential.

So why don’t the media report politicians’ affairs?

While they demur that “what politicians do in their private life is their own business”, it’s clear that journos are also protecting their own kind by not shining the light into politicians’ bedrooms.

Pillow talk continues to be a time-honoured way of generating, and sometimes deflecting, news stories in Canberra. So not reporting politicians’ affairs is as much an act of collective arse-covering by the media as it is respect for politicians’ privacy.

Sometime in the next 18 months, though, the media will have to decide whether lies and broken promises are important in politics or not.

A federal election will be fought predominantly on the question of whether Julia Gillard is fit for government due to her broken commitment on the carbon tax and whether it was an intentional lie.

Surely if the breaking of a political commitment can make a Prime Minister unfit for office, then cheating pollies breaking a commitment to fidelity is no less morally or ethically acceptable.

It’s time for the media to accept that political private lives can be a public issue. It’s time for them to set aside the unspoken gentlemen’s agreement which protects cheating politicians from media exposure.

It’s time to start reporting politicians’ affairs.

Originally published at The Hoopla.