Why Do Politicians Behave Badly?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, in light of the rash of scandals afflicting politicians in office, Deborah Gruenfeld, professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, joined to discuss how power and politics can lead to bad decisions.

Power deregulates

It feels like the news has been saturated with sex scandals in recent months, but powerful politicians have been behaving badly since time immemorial. Our frustration and exasperation is just as entrenched. Why do they do it? So likely to get caught, so many to disappoint. It doesn't seem to add up. Elected officials are supposed to be good people, or at least experts at appearing to be good.

Deborah Gruenfeld said that her research showed scandalous pols weren't necessarily worse human beings, though; at least, not when it comes to their basic human impulses, which are no different from the rest of us. Rather, people in power seem worse at controlling those impulses. Average people in lower social standing feel more inclined to filter those bad temptations. 

We have a tendency to regulate our behavior in response to what we think the social consequences might be. Our hypothesis was that when people find themselves in positions of power, they stop trying to regulate their behavior. What you're seeing really is a more true expression of the person in power.

We find also that when people are in positions of power, they stop taking others' perspectives. One of the general hypotheses that we had is that power just makes people very fixated in a single-minded way on the pursuit of their own goals. There's a disinclination to think about how they're being perceived by other people.

Why not women?

Nearly every political sex scandal in recent memory has one thing in common: the politician was male. Does that mean women in power aren't as susceptible to impulse overdrive? 

Not quite, said Gruenfeld. For one, there are so few women in political office relative to men that it's far less likely they'd get into trouble. But in Gruenfeld's research, there's little difference in the degree and character of disinhibition between men and women when they're put in positions of power. She said, however, that there tends to be a lot of scandal among people with very high power motives—unless they feel highly responsible for someone else, which may be more likely for women.

US presidents who had younger siblings were less likely to engage in scandalous behavior while in office than those who didn't. That could explain why, if there's a difference between men and women in power, to the extent that women take greater responsibility for children, let's say, or tend to be more relationally oriented, you might see a lower rate of scandal.

Risky business

It's not surprising to hear that power has a deregulating effect on our actions, but what to make of the fact that scandals are so often of a sexual nature? Gruenfeld said the motivation for love and the motivation for power are inextricably linked. What is being an American politician if not getting people to like you?

What happens when you attain power is more people become attracted to you, and the paradox and irony of that is when people are attracted to you because of your power, you never trust that it's love anyway. That's part of what creates this insatiable desire to keep attaining more. It never satisfies the impulse in the end.

What's more, the very people most likely to lead us are the same people most likely to take a chance, however foolish or morally reprehensible.

The more risk-tolerant people are to begin with, the more likely they are to ascend to these very high level positions. They have a certain level of drive, of entrepreneurship, and a sense that you can do things other people haven't done in order to get there.


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Comments [49]

Has it occurred to anyone that perhaps Rep. Weiner is a statistically valid represenation of society, or at least his own constituency?
How many Americans who use our Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and other social media resources are as careless, foolish and just outright stupid as Wiener?
I don't think that he failed to live up to our standards, I think he may be unfortunately doing exactly that. The problem may be that he is just mirroring what far to many people's starndards are.

Jun. 11 2011 08:55 AM
B. K. Bogen from Westchester County

I am furious at Weiner for destroying his continuing effectiveness as one of a very few truly rational national public figures. Fortunately he will likely remain in Congress. as his constituents, judging from all their calls to WNYC, say they will definitely continue to vote for him. This despite the hypocritical raving of so-called Republicans [ better re-branded as Royalists, or worse] who fear his effectiveness.

The simple explanation of most flirting and more substantial casual sexual interchange is increased opportunity of some travelers, officials, musicians, salesmen etc.

From the NY Times photo of Weiner in shorts, [far less provocative than the recent full page ad photo of several young women in revealing negligees]. It is clear that no children resulted from these foolish contacts. No sex acts of any sort happened. No physical or face-to-face contacts occurred. No children were exploited, No offers of political favors occurred. No money was involved. Apparently there were only actions similar to those that occur hundreds or thousands of times daily between less vulnerable internet players.

Also from the Times, the women were not targets of some search by the Congressman. They were fan who were said to be attracted by his good and popular work. They contacted him first. In fact the middle-twenties woman who was interviewed by the Times admitted that she had asked him to send the photo that was published.

One has to suspect that the rotten apple [admittedly in this ridicules barrel], the notorious, activist, and destructive political slanderer Andrew Breitbart with his cabal of extreme political assassins, may have had an active role beyond simply as investigative journalists.

Jun. 10 2011 04:15 PM
Women are immune to sex scandals in our culture from a culture of Misandry ?

Sex scandals harm males mostly
because our culture basically makes women virtually immune to sex scandals.

For example, when a female teacher
had sex with her underage student - the
first several offenses led to minimal punishment. A man who did the same thing would be in jail permanently.

Men culturally still have the burden of initiating relationships, and at the same time can have their lives destroyed for doing so clumsily.

Furthermore, women often gain substantially both financially and in
public support and recognition from being
involved in a sex scandal - they are rewarded when a male politician or celebrity is destroyed.

There used to be stigma for a woman who
had a child out of wedlock. Now, the stigma is only for the man - who is called a "deadbeat dad" - even if he is the victim.

Consent to have sex is not consent to have
a child with someone. Forcing someone
to have a child against her will is every
bit as bad as acquaintance rape - perhaps worse. If a man tried to force a woman to have a child with him against her will just
because she had agreed to recreational
sex, he would JUSTLY go to jail.

If a woman forces a man to have a child
against his will - the state will hunt the man
down and destroy HIS reputation. She will
receive no stigma, only sympathy and child support payments. How is this just ?

We should look into these cultural biases
against men that seek to stigmatize and
destroy them for normal consensual sexual
behavior, and seek to control every aspect
of male sexuality.

Jun. 10 2011 01:43 PM
Availability bias or perhaps more. from define "scandal" ?

First, sex scandals get lots of media coverage. They are easy to understand and tend to garner lots of prurient interest.
Powerful people modifying accounting, appropriations or other regulation to give
billions to favored insider interests - at REAL cost to the national interests - tend to be dry and complex and therefore are
sadly ignored.

Second, sex scandals may be a form of
character assassination that is easily accomplished in our current culture.
Politicians and wealthy interests often
benefit from destroying the careers of others. Interesting, such dirty tricks seem to have mostly damaged more progressive politicians and those who
tried to contrain the expansion of plutocracy. For example :

Gary Hart, Pres Clinton, Elliot Spitzer,
John Edwards, Arnold Schwartzenager,
Anthony Weiner.

Perhaps we should find out who may benefit. At a minimum, sex scandals
distract the public from important issues
like unemployment, increasing concentration of wealth and economic decline.

Third, sex scandals harm males mostly
because our culture basically makes women virtually immune to sex scandals.

For example, when a female teacher
had sex with her underage student - the
first several offenses led to minimal punishment. A man who did the same thing would be in jail permanently.

Men culturally still have the burden of initiating relationships, and at the same time can have their lives destroyed for doing so clumsily.

Furthermore, women often gain substantially both financially and in
public support and recognition from being
involved in a sex scandal - they are rewarded when a male politician or celebrity is destroyed.

There used to be stigma for a woman who
had a child out of wedlock. Now, the stigma is only for the man - who is called a "deadbeat dad" - even if he is the victim.
Consent to have sex is not consent to have
a child with someone. Forcing someone
to have a child against her will is every
bit as bad as acquaintance rape - perhaps worse. If a man tried to force a woman to have a child with him against her will just
because she had agreed to recreational
sex, he would JUSTLY go to jail.
If a woman forces a man to have a child
against his will - the state will hunt the man
down and destroy HIS reputation. She will
receive no stigma, only sympathy and child support payments. How is this just ?

We should look into these cultural biases
against men that seek to stigmatize and
destroy them for normal consensual sexual
behavior, and seek to control every aspect
of male sexuality.

So why so many scandals ?

Jun. 10 2011 01:37 PM
margaret from san diego ca

I have always related the "Halls of Power" in Washington to the Medieval Castles of the the Middle Ages time in history.
There were "coups" going on, different affiliations hoping to ascend to power, very much like the two parties now. Also, they surrounded themselves with their military to protect themselves from the disgruntled/oppressed peasants that were struggling to survive and pay the exorbitant tithes/taxes.
Like now, constant wars kept the peasants too busy,too worn down, to reflect on their situation.
Those in the Castle could do anything they wanted without constraint or consequences because they had ultimate power.
King Henry V111 is a perfect example. He could even get away with executing a number of his wives as well as his close friend who held the position similar to an Attorney General of today. This man of principles refused to condone Henry's actions with regard to divorce let alone murder. He was executed.
I don't see how we've progressed beyond those times. We the public may be more aware but certainly have no more power to change the dynamics.

Jun. 10 2011 12:46 PM

John (#42) nails the hypocrisy perfectly. And what of the hypocrisy inherent in the coquettishness of soi-disant feminists like Maureen Dowd?
You can't have it both ways - you can't simultaneously claim that adult women are capable of making strong, mature decisions about politics, business, etc., and then insist that they're delicate flowers who must be shielded from (gasp!) the horrors of a cell phone pic of a penis WHEN All of the recipients of the AW texts were consensually engaged in flirting with a man they knew to be married. And yet they are defenseless victims! Huh?

Jun. 10 2011 12:26 PM
JIm W. from NYC

I was very taken with the word "disinhibition" as an explanation for the randy behavior of the many high profile politicos mentioned.

It suggests that there is a base level of desire that is more or less controlled (see Freud-Civilization and its Discontents) according to prevailing social standards.

I think a frank discussion and acknowledgement of sexual desire as fundamental to our personhood is profoundly lacking in American culture, despite the ubiquity of sexual "signs" in all media.

(and, no, the above does not exonerate AW, who is a fool at best).

Jun. 10 2011 12:11 PM
John from New York City

This scandal exposes a culture of hypocrisy we have in this country. The media bombards men with sexuality and we accept this as a society, but when a man falls for the behaviors it provokes in them, then the same media now working as advocates for the public wants to crush these men. In terms of being a human being, how is a politician different than any other man. His behavior is not correct for sure, but what responsibility does it have the media that is drilling this behavior out of this person, or by the least allowing him to behave this way. The porn industry makes millions of dollars and not by the expense of a few politicians. What accountability do they have?

Jun. 10 2011 12:08 PM

Robert echoes Rick Hertzberg in The New Yorker in pointing out that politicians are no different - merely more intensely scrutinized.

The fallacy is in pretending that bus drivers and sanitation workers never cheat on their wives, watch porn, or sext. They do. We just don't notice.

Jun. 10 2011 11:52 AM
mgduke from nyc

This segment seems to have been constructed as part of Lehrer's continuing efforts to try to whitewash Weiner, to take the sharp focus off him by losing him in a distracting rogues’ gallery, to try to sell the misimpression that the reckless exploitation of political power for personal sexual gratification is normal.

All the discussion of disinhibition, personality types, the corruptions of power, etc., said nothing that was not obvious from the jump, and was used to distract from the crucial issue that Weiner’s behavior went far beyond the pale of respectable and responsible conduct for a member of our Congress.

Lehrer’s elaborate framing of this segment as a response to a caller, who was herself trying to take the focus off Weiner’s particular wrongdoings, shows how much effort he is putting in to slant WNYC coverage in order to help Weiner and to conceal that he is doing so.

Jun. 10 2011 11:17 AM
John A.

Just on Weiner:
This looks so much like Spitzer that I'd like to see more journalists ask: 'Was there something AW was about uncover that would create a large (warranted) upset in the power elite?' For Spitzer it was the abuses of WallStreet pre-sep-2008.

Jun. 10 2011 11:17 AM
Sugar Hill Sean

A politician with poor judgement and discretion aside, I've recently heard the question posed of who is more likely to be elected president - a muslim, an atheist, a woman, a homosexual? Will we soon throw a swinger and an un-married person in an open relationship to these categories of lifestyle? Will the biological make-up of those who are inclined to multiple partners be considered within the lineage of discussions regarding inter-race marriage, same-sex marriage...?

Jun. 10 2011 11:17 AM
Michael from The Bronx

Politics is an intense, stressful, hard-ball arena. It takes a certain personality to even go near it, let alone be at the center of it. You have to be very aggressive with a big ego and a lot of mojo. Mild mannered poets usually don't become politicians. I think one of the things that a lot of people overlook is that for men sex is a stress relief. I have a feeling that women really don't get that part. Most men have enough privacy to take care of this stress relief in a way that no one notices. Be it from a quick wank in the office bathroom to a long masturbation session at home on the couch with a stack of porn videos. Women don't seem to have this need. But most men will agree that after orgasm, however quickly achieved, they usually feel much better -- like having taking a nap or eaten -- and they are ready to go back and work much more efficiently. Kind of like a computer reboot. Very simply, the more powerful and important, the more you will be surrounded by people ALL the time, including snooping reporters with cameras. As a consequence, this simple pressure relief valve is more difficult if not impossible to fall back on. However, the pressure does not go away. And if wives are also very busy and unavailable....what's a man gonna do? To highly sexed men this need is as important as food and a basic instinct comes over them, the same way it comes over people who are starving. Starving people don't ask for if it's right or not to take a loaf of bread, they pounce on it and devour it. Our denial society wants to pretend this is not so.

Jun. 10 2011 10:52 AM

@Fuva from Harlemworld

"For me, what an individual does in his/her sex life is none of my business (as long as it is between consenting adults)."

Totally agree.

Jun. 10 2011 10:49 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

dboy --- Are you really referencing the French handling of sex and power, post DSK? They're even thinking twice about that now...Agreed, people's sex lives are their own business. Accordingly, they must make sure it stays their business. And they must take responsibility when their recklessness turns it into any kind of public violation.

Jun. 10 2011 10:46 AM
Carla from Astoria

I think it is tremendously important to make the distinction between DSK and the other folks talked about in this segment. Sex "scandals" such as having affairs, having children with someone other than one's spouse, consensual phone sex, etc are A VERY DIFFERENT THING than the alleged sexual assault that DSK is charged with. These are very different types of transgression. DSK's alleged acts are criminal violence. I love the BL show but have been quite dissapointed that you haven't discussed this distinction. Putting all these acts into the same category without discussing this distinction implies that rape is not worse an act of transgression than haivng an affair.

Jun. 10 2011 10:39 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Thanks, Adam Holland, for that background info on Weiner.
Seems he also once adamantly, belligerently DENIED distributing race-baiting flyers defaming an opponent until it was later revealed that he was in fact behind it all along.
...Folks, if we don't nip these kinds of things in the bud (1) they will continue with impunity and (2) it (is) will be our own fault.

Jun. 10 2011 10:39 AM

The question that is more pertinent is; given the hypocritical eye of the puritanical public and the rabid hunger of the opposition for a nugget of scandal in order to unseat you, do you really want someone stupid enough to indulge in his or her urges (especially over the internet!) to be your representative?!?!?!??

It's an TRUE indication of diminished capacity.

Jun. 10 2011 10:35 AM
Andrea from brooklyn

Really you are taking about politicians who get caught for some sexual act that in this country is thought of as deviant. I think perhaps a more interesting question, (or subject for another show) might be "why are Americans so judgemental of people, public figures, or not, spicing up their sexual lives in ways that- this needs to be noted- are consensual and adult?"
In my opinion Americans need to grow up and realize that both men and women sometimes need to break out of their routines and have a sexual adventure. As long as it between 2 consenting adults whats the big deal? Get in step with other developed western cultures America- people have sex, nipples are ok, and being pure is not only dull its not human.

Jun. 10 2011 10:29 AM
MP from Brooklyn

Maybe this is just what we might call a "crime of opportunity"? Men in power get women throwing themselves at them. How many men would resist? Would more men act this way if they had the chance?

Jun. 10 2011 10:29 AM

Talk to the French or Italians about the sex lives of their politicians.

If you can find someone awake after hearing the question.

They don't care!

Jun. 10 2011 10:28 AM
tash from manhattan

Just a thought-
What does it say about western society that we elect people more likely to be sexual predators as our leaders?

transversely- what is it about our society that encourages leaders to sexual exploit?

Jun. 10 2011 10:28 AM
Judge Not from New Jersey

Brian, I disagree totally with your guest in respect to her assertion that power makes men and women equally more sexually aggressive or less sexually inhibited.

As an older man I must admit that I understand my younger sexual self better looking back from this age perspective.

All people come to the table with different appetites for sex, food, love, power and other human desires.

If there were an equal commonality of all these human drives, then there would be less judgement. If all women desired power the same as all men, there would be a common ground of understanding. If all people, men and women had the same sexual appetite, then this would not be a topic of conversation.

The reality is that men desire sex more than women and because of that men think and act in ways that are not necessarily very intelligent because they are thinking with their other head.

Jun. 10 2011 10:27 AM
The Truth from Becky

"Public responsibility" my eyeball! You are either a perv or not!

Jun. 10 2011 10:27 AM

It's segments like this for which I heart the BL Show. Thank you for the fascinating discussion.

Re: risk of getting caught --> there's a real exhilaration to the possibility of losing it all. Euphoric l'appel du vide.

Jun. 10 2011 10:27 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

The "notice it more" theory misses the point. The POINT is that regular people don't have as much public responsibility. We need people in positions of power who can properly handle that responsibility.
A minority of politicians pursue office out of civic duty. Most, apparently and unfortunately, seem to be seeking celebrity, power, money, privilege.
Too many politicians slack, profiteer, exploit their power and condescend to their constituents. This compromises their effectiveness and the political system, and fails us all. We really must nip this behavior in the bud, ANYTIME we see it (in addition to maintaining a healthy skepticism of all people in power).

Jun. 10 2011 10:26 AM
Alice from bronx

Did the professor ever look at a control group of men in non powerful positions? I know an HR lawyer at a large corporation and she quickly noted that this behavior is not only found in the powerful at all. It's just a male thing-i.e. disinhibition of sexual behaviors including looking at porn on the internet ( a clearly male dominated activity).

Jun. 10 2011 10:26 AM


We have a tendency to hold men (people in general) IN POSITIONS OF POWER to higher standards of conduct.

Jun. 10 2011 10:25 AM
dorian from manhattan

Aren't politicians in constant search of affirmation? And isn't sex, or the proof of one's desirability (which could explain the Weiner images) the ultimate affirmation?

Jun. 10 2011 10:25 AM
Artrhur Aptowiz from Forest Hills, NY

Having worked for a high elected City official and met many others, they share the characteristic of being able to put themselves before the public with all the risks that entails. They are often, but not always, very narcissistic. That said, all the sexting is NOT being done by politicans, just as most crime is not.l When they are caught, however, it becomes a public scandal, often because its OUR money they're sealing or our faith they've taken.

Jun. 10 2011 10:24 AM
Jim from Crown Heights

It's very simple. Give the average man the same opportunities that powerful men have, and he will exhibit the same behavior.

Jun. 10 2011 10:24 AM
David from SoHo

Look at the problem from the gay perspective. Wiener's behavior here would be seen to be just par for the course. In gay circles sexting and the exchange of racy pictures is an extremely common practice, power doesn't seem to be an issue at all. It IS all about the love (or sex).

Jun. 10 2011 10:23 AM
mgduke from nyc

Weiner is following the footsteps of his hero Moshe Katsav, the recent President of Israel, who had long history of abusing political offices for sexual predation and then refused to resign for years despite charges going up to rape, and who was just sentenced a couple weeks ago to 7 years in prison--after refusing a plea bargain get-out-of-jail-free deal.

Katsav just could not get his head around the thought that someone as politically connected as he is would ever be imprisoned just for raping women.

Similarly, Weiner seems to be unable to get his head around the thought that he will become ever more of a political pariah the longer he tries to hold on to his congressional seat.

Jun. 10 2011 10:23 AM

I would argue that men do as men do, in positions of power or not.

We have a tendency to hold men (people in general) to higher standards of conduct.

For me, what an individual does in his/her sex life is none of my business (as long as it is between consenting adults).

Unless it violates the law or impacts the performance of their jobs... WHO CARES???

In the same way, I don't want anyone or more importantly anyone in the government poking around in my sex life.

Jun. 10 2011 10:23 AM
Lucille Gordon from NYC

While I recognize that you are examining only the last 30 years, I would like to remind listeners that an anti Grover Cleveland jingle was a jibe at his womanizing

a child asks: "Ma, Ma where's my Pa?"

a woman answers:
"Settin' in the white House, ha, ha, ha!"

Jun. 10 2011 10:23 AM
Merrill Clark from Summit, NJ

As was written in 1839: "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

Jun. 10 2011 10:20 AM

Why is it always men??

Jun. 10 2011 10:18 AM

The real story is that it's very hard to get good people to run for any elected office. Unless you are willing to run, you have little right to complain.

Jun. 10 2011 10:18 AM
Moira Meltzer-Cohen from Bed-Stuy

Politicians may or may not engage in this kind of behavior any more than other people who feel entitled or socially dominant, but inasmuch as they are expected to publicly *justify* their dominance, this behavior is even less acceptable. The real question is why our culture accepts relations of such dominance and subordination in the first place, let alone why anyone believes that they can be justified.

Jun. 10 2011 10:18 AM
Zen Sutherland

This discussion is absurd. Absurd because of the blindness to reality. Truth is , Surround a man with hot women, and eventualy you will get a sex scandal. Surround a man with unatractive women, not likely . Yes its true ladies the Penis has a large degree of influence in a mans behaviour

Jun. 10 2011 10:18 AM
Gary from Upper Left Side

Why are politicians so immoral, you ask? Well, it’s the media’s fault. Before Watergate, journalists were anonymous. After Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein became superstars because of “gotcha” journalism. Other journalists followed the strategy and they became famous (and rich). As a result, the media’s aggressiveness with “gotcha” journalism drove out good people who might have served in government, but chose not to go through the agony of being scrutiny. As a result, only corrupt politicians are left.

Jun. 10 2011 10:17 AM
Henry from Brooklyn

Do people lose their inhibitions because they are in powerful positions or do uninhibited people naturally seek power?

Jun. 10 2011 10:17 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

We notice it more, because modern journalism and media are always looking for sex scandals to publish...unlike in the era of Ike and JFK.

As always, sex sells!

Jun. 10 2011 10:16 AM

I think its a statement of the lack of quality people who are successful as politicians. Their actions are deplorable and in no way mirror my or my friends actions or choices.

Jun. 10 2011 10:15 AM
Susan from NYC

Congress regularly passes laws from which they exempt themselves--basically, that says it all. The default mode is self-serving, arrogant entitlement.

Jun. 10 2011 10:12 AM

I think you are asking the wrong question - it doesn't seem to be "politicians" but men who behave so badly. Has there ever been a major sex scandal with any female politician?

Jun. 10 2011 10:10 AM
Adam Holland from Bay Ridge

Some act from a sense of entitlement and privilege with elements of narcissism. Many seem addicted to risk-taking as well, to the point of taking unnecessary risks to get a thrill.

I would find it easier to forgive Weiner's arrogant behavior had he not attacked as a fraud a journalist who reported about it in Vanity Fair in 2001. Remember, she reported truthfully about Weiner's sexual harassment of congressional pages. Weiner called her editors to tell them in no uncertain terms that the story was fraudulent. He essentially slandered her to get back at her for reporting the truth about him.

Weiner has a problem with arrogance that goes far beyond his issues with his weiner.

Jun. 10 2011 10:04 AM
Robert from NYC

First I want to say I'm sick of this story line already let's get off it. Secondly, no, politicians aren't more sleazy than the rest of us they're just under scrutiny more. No journalists follow me around so you don't know how sleazy I may be!!! Nor do we know how sleazy you, Brian, and Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer and the rest of your colleagues may be! You have as much sleaze in your crowd as we to in ours and politicians do in theirs. Let's get off it, grow up as a nation and unless it's really harmful and detrimental and illegal like Louseyanna Senator Vitter--who is still in office BTW--let's keep it alive and let's handle the situation lawfully and maturely!!

Jun. 10 2011 10:01 AM
Gary from queens

Rep. Weiner used his power and influence to flirt with 18 year-olds. ("Flirtation" is all we know so far.) Some pols use their power to leverage other advantages. Some forms of influence peddling is illegal. But let's examine the sexual exploitation aspect of power which is the category Weiner has fallen into.

Congress is an institution in which a member's (no pun) stature, seriousness of purpose, reputation, integrity, honor, etc. is the only capital they possess.

The respect your earn is the respect you get in that institution. It translates into political effectiveness. The ability to lead and influence policy and the public is a function of a politician's moral character and the respect he/she commands. It is an integral part of their job requirements. Clinton's effectiveness fell following the Lewinsky affair. Same thing happens with any politician. We want them to be role models.

The voters Weiner represents should be concerned. Anthony Weiner clearly had competing priorities. One which consumed a fair amount of his time, knowing how texting on these social neworks operate. But beyond that, he was given power, which the public expects to be used responsibly. Weiner clearly didn't. What other benchmarks more important than that do we reserve for our elected representatives?

Paris Hilton taught us something. She showed that a frivolous celebrity can thrive, following the graphic exposure of her frivolous behavior. Good or bad, that was a new benchmark in our social mores.

Rep. Weiner, a newlywed, felt no qualms in transmitting photos of his erect penis to flirt with young females. Apparently, that is what an ordinary sleazy, tacky fellows do today. But that is not how we want our Presidents, or Supreme Court Justices, or Congressmembers to behave.

If Rep. Weiner survives politically, that too will become a new benchmark in our social mores. One of greater concern than what Paris Hilton established.

Jun. 10 2011 09:31 AM

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