Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Weiner and company

The matter of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s naughty tweets is still developing. However, the cases of the love children of ex-Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger and ex-Senator John Edwards, together with the problems of Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who had an affair with the wife of an assistant, suggest a more general pattern.

Two of the above named individuals are Democrats and two are Republicans. So we can dismiss the special pleading of partisans of either group who try to portray the failings as the special province of their adversaries. In truth, everybody does it.

Once when I was being questioned at a voir dire in the Supreme Court of Manhattan about my qualifications as a juror, I was asked if I had any children. Since I was under oath, I responded, “Not to my knowledge.”

Why then are politicians under such special scrutiny? One answer is that they have such enormous power that they should expect that some renunciation be practiced on their part. Another point is that the rules have changed. Because of modern means of communication and surveillance, all sorts of things come to light that might not have before.

A curious cross-light on the problems of US politicians is cast by a case from Canada.

Svend Robinson (born 1952) is a former Canadian politician. A stalwart of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), he served in the Canadian House of Commons from 1979 to 2004. He represented a district in British Columbia.

To his credit, Robinson was openly gay. However, many Canadians were turned off by his rude and self-righteous interventions from far-left positions in Parliament and at public meetings. He made many enemies.

In the year 2004 temptation overcame him at an auction sale when he pocketed a $50,000 diamond ring that did not belong to him. The theft was recorded on a video camera, and the evidence was forwarded to the police. Once arraigned, Robinson plead guilty. In a familiar, meaningless assertion Robinson stated “I will not seek to in any way avoid full responsibility for my actions should charges be laid in these circumstances.” 

In circumstances that are not altogether clear, Robinson escaped prosecution. His attempt to resume a political career failed. Yet politicians tend to protect their own. Following his retirement from politics in 2004, Robinson was employed by the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union as an advocate on behalf of public sector workers. He also served on the NDP's federal executive and as co-chair of the party's LGBT Committee. Robinson took a position in 2007 with the Public Services International based in Ferney-Voltaire, near Geneva in the French Alps, where he moved with his partner Max Riveron.

The lesson seems to be that if politicians wish to become involved in edgy issues, they must be squeaky clean in their personal lives. Some seem slow to learn this lesson.

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