Friday, May 11, 2012

Sex, Power, Money, and the Psychological Stupidity of Some Reporters

Not to pick on Jo-Ann Armao, because this is just one in a whole class of similar stories I have been shaking my head over for years. But how can rooms full of self-righteous reporters keep asking, year after year, questions like this one about John Edwards:
Why on earth did this man, who had so much going for him, risk everything — including a shot at the presidency of the United States — to have an affair with a woman best described as unpredictable?
Jo-ann, how can you not know? Have you never known the thrill of wickedness? Has it never occurred to you that the prizes offered by our society for good behavior sometimes seem pale and weak compared to the power of forbidden love? And if you haven't experienced this yourself, haven't you at least read a novel? It's not exactly an obscure idea.

Why, exactly, should anybody want so badly to be President? To do good? Please. I hate the break the news to you, Jo-Ann, but nobody ever sought power from pure motives. And for some men, half the point of seeking power is to have sex with lots of women. This applies even to men famous for their public morality (e.g., Martin Luther King), and others who take real joy in the political process (John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson). For a man like John Edwards or Bill Clinton, power is a pale and useless thing if it doesn't bring sexual thrills; for them, appearing before a cheering crowd is foreplay. We are animals, built to reproduce ourselves, and sexuality is woven into almost everything we do. Such men can do much good in the world, but if you want to feel good about their public achievements you should probably not ask what they were doing in private before and after.

Armao goes on to wonder about DC Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr., who just pleaded guilty to stealing a few hundred thousand dollars from the programs he ran to help the needy:
Much like Edwards (who had looks, smarts, money and a loving family), Thomas had great advantages. Twice elected to the council seat that had been held for years by his father, Thomas was a rising political star much liked for teaching baseball to young people, his easy charm with voters and his advocacy for the downtrodden. Some saw him as a possible mayoral candidate. Why would he jeopardize that promising career for a new Audi, golf at Pebble Beach and a pair of leather chaps?
Well, what good are "advantages" if you don't take advantage of them? Is a "promising career" really such a powerful thing, that a man should sacrifice all else for it? What, again, is the purpose of "success"? In America, we take it almost for granted that success, or the "good life," means money. We expect that hard work will be rewarded. Why did our society offer Thomas in exchange for his renouncing the wealth he could easily have earned in law or business, given his ability and family connections? A seat on the DC council? Oh, goody. One of my favorite subplots in the Sopranos featured two men who had spent twenty years serving the poor of New Jersey, one in politics and one in non-profits, who finally got frustrated with banging their head against the wall of America's pathologies and decided to cash in. It was entirely believable, and it no doubt happens every day. Personally I find nothing more nauseating than when some news anchor who makes $5 million a year acts all disgusted over a politician who takes money for favors. The love of money has corrupted our whole world, so it should hardly surprise us when it corrupts a few councilmen.

Some men enter politics because they want to be at the center of things, to be a star, to wheel and deal and be driven from one high-powered meeting to another while they touch base on their Blackberries with other top people. Without money, it is hard to achieve this lifestyle. Politics is full of millionaires, and to keep up with them takes cash. Such men also want to be big wheels with their families and friends, to give lavish gifts and be able to help out poor relations. So, like generations of politicians before them, the Harry Thomas's of the world take kickbacks. Why is anyone ever surprised by this? Again, such men sometimes do a lot of good; liberals lionize LBJ, who somehow made millions while working in politics his whole life.

I don't write this to excuse anyone -- certainly not John Edwards, whom I have always despised. How did anyone ever vote for such an obvious sleazeball? But please spare me the self-righteous moaning about how could a person who had so much do such bad things. They do it because they are human, and, frankly, because they have more guts than millions of other people who would act the same way if they weren't scared. The real wonder is that everyone doesn't act this way, and that we are somehow able to keep our societies going despite greed, lust, envy, rage, willful ignorance, self-righteous preening, and all the other ugly parts of our evolutionary heritage. When politicians break the law, they should face the same consequences as anyone else. But nobody should be surprised when our leaders turn out to be human.

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