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: