Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Puritans Arise!

This Spitzer business would be funny if it weren't so stupid and sad. Once again, the country is being thrown into hysterics over other people's sex lives. Once againg, the only thing that matters to nearly everyone who opines on the matter is that Mr. Spitzer's sex life be denounced and that Mr. Spitzer be forced from office therefore.

It's Clinton's Cock on steroids, again.

Now I've been in New Mexico the last few days, where I don't have any teevee at all, and my only news is over the radio (generally NPR) or over the internets on those few occasions when the wireless works. So my perception of Hysteria in this latest Sex Scandal du jour is based on what I've heard and briefly read.

Americans' tendency to Puritanism and Hysteria, often at the same time, is well-known but rarely discussed. We take it for granted that other people's sex lives are the appropriate venue for discovering and declaring Morality Most Pure, and that Public Figures who violate the Puritan's Moral (Sex) Code can be (depending) subject to hysterical calls for denunciation and removal from office.

These denunciations and calls for removal can sometimes be most shrill from the target's own friends and/or colleagues.

While this particular outbreak of Puritan Moralist Hysteria is centered on Eliot Spitzer's sex life (which prurience is "justified" by the fact that He Broke The Law), the tendency to moralize and denounce can be much broader based than that.

For example, my local newspaper ran a big front page story about the mayor a while back. She was "accused" of spending money on travel. The whole point of the story was to make it appear that there was something corrupt and unethical about the mayor's trips to various countries and to various conferences. Over five years, she'd spent over $150,000 in taxpayers' money for these trips. Outrageous!

A close friend, who follows these things carefully, started calling and at first questioning the mayor's ethics then denouncing her for her profligracy. I said, "You know you're repeating the smears that were in the paper? Have you looked into the issue beyond what was in the paper? Her travel expenses are relatively modest, and her destinations have been completely in line with the obligations of her job. The only reason it's an issue at all is because it's in the paper."

Yet he could not be dissuaded initially. It "looked wrong" -- therefore the paper was doing a "service" and we should be grateful. But there was nothing wrong at all, it just something to stir the pot, and he was falling into that trap. It took weeks for him to realize that the paper had an agenda -- get rid of the mayor. By then, though, the damage had been done, and even now, he's suspicious of her.

So it goes. If a politician is targeted by Powers That Be, for any reason, doubts can be sewn, traps set, violations of this or that law or Moral Code can be found, and smears and denunciations can be generated. This can often lead to pressure to leave office, either by resignation in disgrace or through impeachment, which is sometimes followed through on. It's like pushing a button.


In the case of Spitzer, many of the commenters yesterday were pointing out how much he is "loathed" in New York by just about everyone. Therefore he "deserves" it.


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