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KPBS Commentaries

When Politicians Misbehave

There are few things the press and the American people love more than a scandal. Sometimes I wonder whether people would pay any attention to politics at all if it werent for its ability to feed our appetite for scandal.

Of course, were not really interested in serious scandals. Most of us think its par for the course when politicians lie about important facts or pursue one policy while they espouse another. Even financial misconduct is seen as part of the game. As much as political rivals try to make hay of that stuff, it just causes most people to yawn and turn the channel.

The scandals we really enjoy seem to involve sex and racism. Its hard to resist a good sex scandal. A few weeks ago we learned that Gavin Newsome, the Mayor of San Francisco, admitted to having an affair with his campaign managers wife. Gavin is divorced, and its no secret that hes had an active social life ever since he got his marital walking papers. But I guess having sex with your buddys wife, behind his back, is going a little too far even in San Francisco.

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Perhaps more than sex scandals, we love racism scandals. When actor/comedian Michael Richards unleashed a racist tirade at a black heckler in a comedy club a moment that was captured on video and broadcast on YouTube the press and the public couldnt get enough of it. Richards apologies turned into a traveling circus that encompassed David Letterman, Jesse Jackson, and all manner of hustlers trying to get in on the act.

More recently, though less dramatically, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden stepped in a very large cow pie with his comment about Barack Obama. Biden called his U.S. Senate colleague the first mainstream African-American who is articulate, bright and clean.

At some point, of course, we have to take these things seriously, at least when they involve politicians we may vote for. But does a tawdry personal life have an impact on your work performance? Is a President who cheats on his wife more likely to lie to voters about important public affairs? Im not convinced the two are connected.

Furthermore, Im willing to bet that Joe Biden is actually a decent guy who does not think that black people are dirty. The big difference between him and the rest of us is that his stupid comments make headlines and are broadcast from coast to coast. God knows what people would think of me if I were judged by the dumbest thing I ever said.

In the end, voters seem to have a large capacity for keeping scandals in perspective. Plausible accusations that Arnold Schwarzenegger had a habit of groping women didnt prevent him from becoming governor. Bill Clintons alleged philandering (remember Jennifer Flowers?) didnt prevent him from being elected president.

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Keeping things in perspective means keeping in mind that nobody is perfect. We should judge people by all that they are, not by just one thing theyve done or said. Yes, some people do harbor racist thoughts. Some people violate their marriage vows and a lot of people have broken the law. This doesnt necessarily mean they should be banished from polite society, and it doesnt mean theyre not good at what they do for a living.

On the other hand, lets not feel too sorry for the Bidens and the Newsomes of the world. Nobody forced them to live in the limelight. And if they want the glory, they also have suffer the humiliation that comes with screwing up when everyones paying attention. Gregory Duch
February 13, 2007 at 04:02 AM
Why have "scandal-sheets" such as the National Enquirer, et al had such a mesmerizing attraction for a large segment of the public? Why do some folks actually entertain themselves by "news" such as the recent rumor that Abe Lincoln slept with other men more than he slept with Mary. Sorry, Abe, today is your 198th birthday, besides-- (12 February 1809). I can only guess that drookling over the faults of others is one way to salve and nourish one's own ego. "If Jo-Blo did something THAT BAD; I MUST BE A PRETTY DECENT PERSON, in comparison. OR--- to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we say in French, " La plume est tres forte que l'epee!" The Tidy Bowl Times-Gazette opposes Marge Sucret for City Council because of her conservative platform. Despite the editorial opposition of the only paper in Town ( The TBTG ) she wins a seat on Council;--- but within two weeks, the DA, Flora Fleece, indicts Marge for taking the key to the executive toilet in City Hall, selling it to a lobbyist, and covering up her crime, by lies, lies, lies. Jim Dandy, the editor of the Tidy-Bowl Gazette, goes after Marge, tooth and claw, time and again, on the editorial page to demonstrate what a poor choice Marge Sucret was for City Council. Marge has to resign her seat on City Council in shame, to the great glee of the editor of the T.B. Gazette. Jim Dandy writes on the editorial page: " See, I told you that Marge was a low-life!" Jim Dandy now feels on top of the world.... -----

NIGER1.COM
March 04, 2007 at 08:45 PM
Please forward this email to TOM FUDGE concerning the interview he did on the Niger peace corps returned as listed below his interview he did to returned peace corps in Niger here is the link http://www.kpbs.org/radio/these_days?id=7531 I am the webmaster for niger1.com and http://www.niger1.com/niger.html i would like to get in contact with the returned peace corps please ask tom fudge to contact me at niger1.com@gmail.com