A Philosopher's Blog

Scandal & Resignation

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 14, 2011
Anthony Weiner

Image via Wikipedia

After his attempt to have an affair via Craigslist was exposed, Chris Lee apologized and resigned. On the face of it, that was the honorable and right thing to do.

Anthony Weiner’s case is slightly different. Rather than using Craigslist in an attempt to have an affair, he used various means of communication (Twitter, phone, etc.) to send photos and engage in talk about sex. He alleges that he did not have an actual affair and had no intention of doing so. Since his credibility is rather low, it is not a matter of certitude that he did not have an actual affair or that he did not attempt to initiate one. However, his virtual affairs were morally unacceptable and his lying was certainly unethical.

As to whether he is worse or better than Lee is something of a tough call. While Lee intended to have an affair, he apparently did not succeed. Weiner, however, engaged in ongoing virtual affairs and then engaged in a prolonged campaign of deceit. I am inclined to say that Weiner is worse.

As far as whether a politician  should resign after a sex scandal, much depends on the specifics of the case. However, some general comments can be made.

On one hand, if the actions are not illegal and do not violate the specific rules governing the office (such as congressional ethic), then the actions would not seem to warrant resignation. After all, what would justify expecting a person to resign would seem to require that it be actually relevant to the job. So, for example, if a congressman has an affair using his own resources, then he would not seem to have acted in a way that violated the conditions of his job. If a congressman used federal money to pay for his hookers, then that would be a rather different matter. On this view, Lee need not have resigned.

On the other hand, such a scandal can indicate that the politician’s moral character is deeply flawed in ways that render him (or her) untrustworthy. Unlike many jobs, a high level politician is expected to act in ethical ways and not grossly violate community standards. While this seems odd to say, politician’s depend on their reputation and a politician who has been involved in sex scandal often damages this asset to the point were they can no longer effectively function. While we will tolerate all sorts of sneaky dealings and we expect politicians to lie, the public is still very intolerant of sexual straying on the part of politicians. Bill Clinton is, however, an obvious example. As such, there is also the concern that such a politician will damage his party, thus also giving a practical reason to resign.

The worst part of the Weiner case is not the sexual aspect. That made him into a joke. The worst part is the campaign of lies. While we do expect deceit from politicians, that degree of unrelenting deception in this matter showed that Weiner is quite willing to lie in an unrelenting manner. It also shows that he has some rather weak reasoning skills-at least in certain areas. As such, it seems reasonable to question whether or not he is actually capable of representing the people of his district. There is also the question of whether or not they want him-which is something that must be decided by the due process of the next election. Since there are not any real competency requirements for most political offices, the confidence of the voters seems to be the only real test.




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Posted in Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on June 4, 2011
John Edwards official Senate photo portrait.

Image via Wikipedia

John Edwards has certainty fallen from grace. Once he was a shiny presidential hopeful. However, revelations that he had a love child while his wife was dying of cancer shattered his carefully crafted image. Now he is facing indictment for allegedly misusing funds.

The state alleges that Edwards took almost $1 million to hide the affair and thus “protect and advance”  his presidential campaign. Edwards’ defense is that the money was not actually intended to be used in the campaign but was a gift  intended to hide the affair from his cancer stricken wife. This is certainly an interesting defense and can be seen as having some degree of plausibility. Given this defense, the prosecution has to show that the money was used in a way that violated campaign laws. After all, while spending money to hide an affair from his wife is clearly immoral, it need not be illegal.

Naturally, I am inclined to side with the prosecution. The idea that his friends forked over stacks of cash to hide the affair from his wife and not to protect his presidential bid seems rather implausible. However, to make the criminal case stick the prosecution need to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Edwards intentionally violated campaign laws. Unfortunately for the prosecution, it is possible that his friends did in fact put up the money to hide the affair from his wife. While this also protected his campaign, this would be a side effect rather than the direct intent. And that seems to make a rather significant difference. I suspect that the prosecution will have a hard time making its case.

I am, however, glad that the case is being brought against Edwards. While campaign contributions and spending are a swamp of endless corruption, I do approve of attempts (however feeble) to cut away some of the rot. That said, going after Edwards is a rather small thing and leaves the horrific system of campaign financing intact. No one seems willing to take on that beast, mainly because the politicians all grow fat upon its monstrous breast.

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