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.

10 thoughts on “Is an unfaithful politician fit for office?

  1. You end with
    “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.“

    BULLSHIT !
    The petty, pathetic embedded media already wallow in nonsense way too often to give them much credibility. Why encourage them?

    Poster boy Clinton you have used to make your point, but you need to ask yourself,
    Is spending 50 Mill$ taxpayer cash on investigating a penis, a vagina and an unwashed dress good value?

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  2. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Dragonista.
    I never told anyone to lie, not a single time.
    Now, I have to get back to work for the Australian people.

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  3. In short, you/we can`t/won`t. Not in our lifetime anyway. There are really much bigger issues for the embedded media to pull their finger out over.
    Politicians marriage failure and sex affairs are about the bottom of the barrel.

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  4. Is an unfaithful politician unfit for office? Only if he or she uses their private life/family as a standard to denigrate values that do not conform to their version of ‘family values’ in order to court votes, or to put down an opponent. Otherwise, it is noone’s business but the people involved.

    You refer to the culture of lies and deception, what has this to do with marriage? Marriage breakdown, extramarital affairs, or an open relationship (yes, some politicians have lavender marriages in which their partner knows exactly what is going on) does not mean a person is inherently dishonest – it becomes dishonest when one publicly preaches the opposite.

    I remember the post in which you argued marriage equity was a liberal value as the state should butt out of the private business of citizens. Should politicians – who are citizens, after all – not have the same right to conduct their private life in, well, privacy? Why should someone cede the right to a private life because they are a politician? Does a politician’s family not have a right to privacy? Many non-politicians cheat on their partners, should they be sacked from their jobs too? v

    Dragonista, I enjoy reading your blog. Many of the topics you discuss resonate with me, and your thoughtful and reasoned arguments are rare in a world of shrieking wowserism. In this case, however, I think you really have it wrong.

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    1. Yes, I do still believe that the state should butt out of people’s private business. But I have come to the view that the code of silence between politicians and the media on this one issue (ie. extra marital sex) engenders a culture where politicians think they can get away with lies and deception.

      I don’t think it a coincidence that the cheaters are often also the rorters. If the rorting involves sex then the politician knows that it is off limits with the media and so they can carry on with impunity.

      And I do believe that if you choose to become a politician, you choose to uphold a higher standard of behaviour than us mere mortals – it comes with the job.

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      1. Unfoxed: The state (and media?) should butt out of people’s private business. But (not politicians) I have come to the view that the code of silence (incompetence) between politicians and the media on this one issue (ie. Iraq War) engenders a culture where politicians think (know) they can get away with lies and deception.

        I don’t think it a coincidence that the cheaters (war-mongers) are often also the rorters. If the rorting involves sex (oil) then the politician knows that it is off limits with the media and so they can carry on with impunity.

        And I do believe that if you choose to become a politician (journalist), you choose to uphold a higher standard of behaviour (propaganda) than us mere mortals – it comes with the job.

        I don`t call them the embedded media for nothing.
        The people you depend on for the `truth` are not going to give you the truth.

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