Follow Up On my Accidental Foray into Politics
Monday, 13 June 2011
Over the weekend, I was thinking about the story I told you last Friday about my short, accidental (almost) foray into politics in relation to Representative Anthony Wiener's (D-NY) recent debacle - along with those of the politicians who came before him and those who will be caught out in the future doing icky sexual things.
As I was writing it, that story was getting so long I omitted some salient points I would like to make today, points that contributed to my backing away from those political overtures and that, I think now, may have sunk Mr. Wiener.
When that state senator spoke at our block association meeting – as was true of other politicians who later visited our little group - it was one of several stops he was making that evening at three or four organizations in his district.
Over time with the block association, I learned that these people who held elective office at state, county, city and district levels spend many evenings and weekends glad-handing constituents. It was a constant, in-person outreach, week in and week out, never ending.
For that brief time, I had a small, but up-close window into some of the personal toll involved in being a politician.
Initially, I had been surprised that the state senator would bother to speak to just 120 or 130 people, shake some hands, listen to complaints and make notes about people's concerns.
Actually, their aides did the note taking, but attention was paid and I know from that experience there almost always were followups. (This up close and personal stuff at the local level pays off a bit better than the emails and phone calls we make to Congressional representatives.)
It further surprised me to learn that more often, it was just 25 or 30 people at the gatherings they attended. That is a lot of time-consuming effort from these guys, it seemed to me, for a small return.
And that's just at the lowest political level. Further up the ladder, there are more meetings - with party executives, political colleagues, business leaders, campaign staff, phone calls to potential big donors. There are committee meetings, speeches, study groups etc. - all in addition to doing the actual job the politicians are elected to do. (No wonder so little gets done for we the people.)
They would not be doing all this gallivanting if there were not a payoff in volunteers, donations and votes at election time. But until meeting some of these people due to the block association 20-odd years ago, I'd had no idea how busy the lives of politicians and their support teams are.
Certainly, I was intrigued and flattered when I figured out why I was suddenly so popular with the political types. But in the end, the enormous amount of time I was being pressured to contribute from the get-go made politics, even at that low level, a non-starter for me.
I would pretty much always rather spend evenings with friends or at home reading a good book and, as naïve as I was then about the non-stop effort behind public view in politics, I knew that if I had joined up with that political organization, they would never stop asking me for more time.
Which brings me back to Anthony Wiener and his fellow politicians in high places who get themselves into this kind of trouble.
By the time any of them work their way up to Congressional office, they have been doing all that I described above for many years. The higher they go, the more there is at stake and the more the work expands. They hardly have a moment for their families; less for themselves.
But their psychological makeup is different from mine. I need a lot of time alone; they are needier of attention, acclaim, influence and money and these are powerful drivers. So to fulfill their kind of need, they are highly motivated to forgo personal time – the kind that refreshes and grounds the rest of us.
With their success come sycophants who indulge their whims, large and small. They get their pictures in newspapers and on the internet. They are interviewed on television and their every utterance – even the most inane – is taken seriously. They know too that if, perchance, they should lose their office, someone among all the contacts they nurture at all those meetings will provide a lucrative job.
Their needs are being fed. They become more powerful. More people clamor for their attention.
Soon, except for the ones who manage to remain grounded in the real world, they believe they are entitled. To anything. Plus, power itself it an aphrodisiac but I suspect they are too busy shaking hands to indulge that most basic urge with any regularity.
So when a politician at this level of public stature, who has almost no time to himself, sends dirty emails to young aides or cheats on his wife or tweets lewd photos in off-moments of privacy, he thinks he is invincible. I doubt he even recalls those who have been brought down before him for similar acts.
And here's the not-entirely-silly reason I think so many high-level, male politicians' misdeeds are sexual in nature: anatomy.
The organ in question is a dual-use tool so on the few occasions he is alone for brief periods during the day, the politician is holding it in his hand. The mind wanders then to the other thing he could be doing with the tool and well – coupled with a belief in his entitlement and power, a politician is caught by surprise when someone leaks his own photo of the organ in question.
So given anatomy and the constant, long-term time pressure on politicians, I think there will always be, depending on personal proclivities, a certain number who just can't help themselves. I'm betting on at least two more before the 2012 election.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: A Visit to the Recycling Company.
Dual purpose, indeed....lol
I know about those syncophants, having dealt with some of them in my business. They are so thrilled to be involved with someone in power that they will go to any lengths to satisfy the politician's needs. It is truly sickening to see.
Posted by: kenju | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 05:56 AM
At least there are some in power who don't succumb sexually (or at least they haven't been discovered).
Along the line of presidents, I'm thinking of Barack Obama, GW Bush, Jimmy Carter (well, he said he lusted in his heart — but haven't we all), and Gerald Ford.
I'd go so far as to say that the majority of people in positions of power don't "fool around." The ones who do are the ones who make the news.
As long as there are "foolers-around" there will be those who'll fool around with them.
All of this foolishness won't ever stop of course. It is, like it or not, part of human nature. Which is to explain it, not condone it.
Posted by: SuzyR | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 07:05 AM
For men/politicians, such as Anthony Wiener, in my opinion, it's also called Narcissism.
Posted by: Donna | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 07:21 AM
Great description of the phenomenon. This is why, when I work with candidates, I want them to believe mono-manically in the world's need to have them in office. Without that drive, people can't stand the demands of an electoral campaign. Unhappily, that drive doesn't correlate much with being able to govern and legislate once in office.
The New York Times had a good discussion of how all this works differently for women pols. They are no less driven, but the rules are different.
Love the dual use tool explanation, Ronni. I may share that with a politician's wife or two ...
Posted by: janinsanfran | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 07:30 AM
You said it well.
And some of the ones who people think always remained true, that they never did anything sexually impure, people just don't know. A long time ago my husband said that he thought people like Kennedy and Clinton get their exceptional energy from breaking the rules most people consider sacrosanct. Basically they drew their energy from others-- energy vampires.
The thing with Weiner is he has shown more a love of himself than anybody else and that led him to this way to get adored for his body but not give anything to those women. Theoretically it probably felt safe at the same time he was walking the edge and felt thrilled by his risks. I think this self-adoration will be the most difficult part of this for him to overcome, and it's what makes him not seem the idealistic politician we once thought he was.
Now they are saying he evidently wasn't registering his vehicle (switched license plates) and paying the cost there. Who knows what other corners he cut. He would have been smart to resign like that other NY politician as once they start looking, anything else is likely to come out too.
I think he will use going in for treatment as a justification for now resigning as it seems to me he cannot work with his colleagues any longer. It's more this perverse sexual interest in himself that has gotten him to this place, I think, than if he had been having actual affairs. The last set of photos taken in Congress's gym (yes, I did look at a few of them) really shows the problem.
Posted by: Rain | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 07:46 AM
The NY Times article about women in politics was interesting. I had been thinking a lot about what causes politicians to act so stupidly. I put them in the same category as the big religious "leaders" who got caught fooling around/preying on others (eg Eddie Long, etc.)
Sexual frustration because of crazy schedules, always being in the limelight plus a feeling of invincibility = trouble.
Extra-marital affairs or sending pictures to adults are in a different category than taking advantage of minors, however.
I do have to comment, though, that many of us are awfully quick to judge others. Many of us probably cringe when we remember some of the things we did in the past! Why is it that we judge sex so differently than stealing, lying and refusing to help those in need? Aren't these things really a lot worse? A bit of the Puritan still in us...
Posted by: Kathleen Noble | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 08:20 AM
I agree that aside from underage kids, anyone's sexual activity should not be the public's business.
However, that's not the zeitgeist in relation to political (and religious) leaders in America, which is not a secret from anyone.
So there is also, when these things happen, the question of their own judgment as applies to their professional lives too.
Which is why I am am not surprised at Rain's revelation above, that I'd not read, about Wiener's cutting other kinds of corners.
Posted by: Ronni Bennett | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 08:33 AM
A feeling of entitlement is part of the psyche of many and not only politicians. It seems to go with the territory of those in power.
I believe that the sleazy sexual peccadilloes of politicians should not be our business unless it affects minors. That said, I also agree with Ronni that it shows a lack of good judgment that can apply to their professional life and, for that reason, it becomes an issue for public knowledge.
Posted by: Darlene | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 09:03 AM
Interesting -- I'm very much more judgmental about politician's sexual peccadilloes, even with consenting adults, than many here. In any normal context I wouldn't care what they do. But I think people who ask us to give them leadership commit a grave offense against their constituents when they squander the power we give them on personal play. That is, I ask pols not to throw away all the work the citizens do to get them in office by bringing themselves into (even unwarranted) disrepute. We invest in these jerks; they should behave.
Posted by: janinsanfran | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 09:55 AM
Lots of good insights in both Ronni's blog and the comments.
Having been in the advertising business for 50 years, I have seen some of the most amazing manifestations of massive ego, narcissism, and over exuberant hormones in males that you can imagine. It has been a personal struggle to deal with this all these years -- never mind trying to dodge groping hands and very pointed innuendoes.
It's the same problem in every high-powered situation, I'm sure. It's just a great deal more obvious to the general public the farther up the ladder an executive or a politician climbs.
Posted by: Miki Davis | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 10:09 AM
Back in the 70s, I worked for the leadership at the New York State Senate. It was all as you described and as it still is. Sad, realy.
Posted by: Elaine of Kalilily | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 10:54 AM
Great post and great comments! In my view our entire electoral system is broken. It is driven by massive sums of (largely special-interest) money which, in turn, take massive amounts of time to raise and come with some kind of quid-pro-quo. Throw in outsize egos, narcissistic tendencies and a sense of invincibility and what do you get? Politicians and other powerful people who act out in unacceptable ways. Why do we seem to be surprised every time?
Mega-millions almost ensure unfairness in the electoral process and undue influence by superrich contributors. On state and national levels, I believe campaigns should be publicly financed. All candidates for the same office would get approximately the same amount (with some extra allocation for new or unknown candidates with little name familiarity).
Just think of how much more time, energy and attention our elected officials could direct towards solving real problems and how much less they would owe the special interests that, under today's rules, bankroll so many campaigns! Just think. . .
Posted by: Elizabeth R | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 11:01 AM
I was stuck by janinsanfran's observation that the traits necessary to get elected nowadays are not necessarily the traits that would make one a good elected official. I wish there were some way to put people into office who were wise, thoughtful, just, selfless, and able to exercise self-restraint, analysis, and compassion. Too often those kinds of people would simply not be able (or willing) to do the kinds of things required to be elected.
Posted by: Darla | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 11:04 AM
Too many men and some women always have, and still are exercising their power through poor sexual judgement. They are not limited to the famous people we know about from the media. People with objective public power do it, as well as those who feel powerful in their schools, homes, neighborhoods, large and small work places, etc. No group is better or worse than the other when it comes to sexual abuse, just more or less public.
Posted by: Judith | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 11:05 AM
The NYT article was spot-on from my personal experience. Female candidates look to do something by being in office, male candidates look to be something.
I am not sure that totally explains the difference in the levels of inappropriate sexual behaviors being exposed in male vs. female legislators. Women who are in office are more likely also maintaining a large responsibility in their home life, while my suspicion is that most males are reliant on their spouse to provide that support. Maybe the women are just more exhausted.
Posted by: chlost | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 12:38 PM
"The organ in question is a dual-use tool so on the few occasions he is alone for brief periods during the day, the politician is holding it in his hand."
I would have said there was not much I could be taught about human sexuality (theoretical human sexuality that is!), but you just handed me something I've never seen before. (Oh, dear, will the puns never stop?!)
Posted by: Nance | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 02:05 PM
I agree it's a perfect concoction of narcissism, power, and opportunity. I'm wondering if, because we now have the means to find out about it, will it happen less or will we just get used to it and no longer care.
Posted by: Marcia Mayo | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 02:45 PM
This somewhat cynical and jaded male long ago concluded that most men -- not all, but most -- are only as faithful as their opportunities. And men in certain professions (movie and rock stars, pro athletes, powerful politicians, etc.) have lots of opportunities.
On an unrelated topic, when I opened TGB this evening, I got a popup from something called "OpinionSurvey" which invited me to participate in a "survey about this site." I agreed, thinking it might assist my favorite elderblogger in some way. The first question was "Your age" and I entered 72. The immediate response was a thank you for helping, good-bye, and I was out the door. (Back in the day we used to call this "the bum's rush.") I don't know exactly what they were looking for, but if it was the opinions of 20 or 30-somethings, TGB would seem an unlikely place to find it.
Posted by: Deejay | Monday, 13 June 2011 at 03:50 PM