Monday, June 5, 2006

When Does Personal Become Political?

When I was writing the post about Gingrich, I began to wonder again about what is fair game in politics and what is not. I think that we can all agree that discussion of the conduct of a candidate's children is out of bounds. What about the candidate's personal finances? Is that fair game? What about infidelity or failed marriages? In bounds or out of bounds? I mean, did the nation have a right to know what Clinton did with an intern? What about personal history of treatment for mental illness or substance abuse? Is that fair game? Certainly criminal charges are legitimate for discussion.

These questions stirred when I read the following bit about Gingrich from the now infamous Wikipedia:

While in high school, Gingrich started to date his geometry teacher, Jackie Battley. On June 19, 1962, they were married. Their first child was born the following year.
In 1980, Gingrich separated from his first wife. Battley developed cancer: while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery, Gingrich tried to discuss the terms of a divorce. It has been reported that Gingrich served Battley divorce papers in the hospital.
[7] In February 1981, the divorce was finalized, and in August 1981, Gingrich married his second wife, Marianne Ginther.
In December 1999, Gingrich divorced his second wife, Marianne, after she discovered that he had been carrying on an affair for the past five years with a House aide twenty-three years his junior, Callista Bisek.
[8] Critics such as David Corn noted that this activity was concurrent with his leadership to impeach Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and ascension to speaker on a family values platform. On August 19, 2000, Gingrich married Bisek as his third wife.

I can't say whether this article is accurate (again, we all know about Wikipedia) but some people in Georgia are more aware of what Newt supposedly did to his wife than about his alleged ethics violations. Whether we are talking about Newt or any of the Georgia candidates this cycle- where's the line? When does your personal life become fair game for political discussion?

Like it or not, fair or not, I think that how someone conducts themselves in their relationships of trust does tell us something about their character, and many voters say that they will vote for the candidate they like and trust. Your thoughts?

(By the way, this is intended as a discussion of this issue, only. Please don't take this opportunity to spin any rumors about any specific candidates.)


DCup said...

Two comments.

First, I wish someone had informed my mother, a former elected official in Indiana, that the conduct of children couldn't be used against her. She drove us crazy reminding us that our behavior reflected on her and could affect her races.

Second, I think that since the Republicans have spent so much time, energy and money establishing themselves as the party of "family values," they've pushed an agenda that focuses on sex more than anything else and they've never hesitated to flog democrats about their private behavior, then it's all fair game. They've exploited this ugly aspect of politics to great advantage and they've distracted voters with nonsense rather than provide good government, so I say beat them with their own stick.

Two wrongs don't make it right, I know. But the Democrats can't win the fight if they keep their weapons put away because of some ridiculous fear that the voting public is "tired of negative politics." Puhleeeze. This is the same public that makes "American Idol" and "The Jerry Springer Show" popular. Highbrow, they're not.

tribalecho said...

Sanctimony invites personal scrutiny.