Monday, December 20, 2010

More Mistaken Articles

Because I don’t quite have enough of making fun of articles I see as silly, here’s an effort from the LA Times’s Gregory Rodriguez which argues that we should be looking for politicians who are more faithful to their spouses:
Last week, after reading about the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, I started to wonder whether we're too quick to discount a connection between good spouses and good politics. This year's prizewinner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was in jail in China rather than in Oslo accepting his award. In his absence, actress Liv Ullmann read aloud the statement Liu released last December as he was awaiting trial for "inciting subversion of state power." At the top, he sermonized against hatred ("enmity can poison a nation's spirit"), but his ending was an exquisite love letter to his wife, Liu Xia.

"I am sentenced to a visible prison," he wrote, "while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough to hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes."

Wow. I don't expect to find words like that in the autobiography of any American political figure.

To which my response is: so?

Politicians who have been unfaithful to their spouses: Bill Clinton, LBJ, JFK, FDR; politicians who have been faithful (as far as we/I know): Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Lincoln. As far as I can tell, there’s little to no correlation between good political skills and good marriage skills; nor, for that matter, is there much of a correlation between good political skills and bad marriage skills.

This should make perfect sense. Substitute politician with “plumber” and no one would bother to argue the point. Being a politician is just having a job; a very important job with public significance, but just a job, ultimately. People shouldn’t invest the role with epic moral significance; maybe we’d all be a bit more satisfied and reasonable were we to do that.

(By the by—another example of the love Rodriguez celebrates:
When love comes up in politics, it's about brotherhood and sisterhood, the kind of emotion the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr. called for in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: "all-embracing and unconditional love for all men" as "the key to the solution of the problems of the world."King cheated on his wife frequently. He’s also one of the great Americans ever, which should prove the point to everyone’s satisfaction. The logic of justifying an interest—in terms of evaluating fitness for a job—with someone’s married life is that it somehow connects with job performance; Rodriguez writes that it’s easy to see Liu’s passion for his wife nourishing his passion to reform to China, which may be so. On the other hand, it might not be so. People like Rodriguez are obsessed with character, but they’re obsessed to the point of losing individuals to a theory. While it’s easy to assume someone who is bad to a spouse will be bad to everyone else, character is unpredictable and nonlinear, making predictions based on it unreliable. People should mind their own business, which means very narrowly assessing how someone does the job to which they’ve been assigned.)

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