America: Still a Puritan Country

An apology that shouldn't be necessary.

Among the many things that disgust me about American culture, such as the spectacle of parents shoving McNuggets down their kids’ throats and of people desperately trying to get famous by releasing moronic YouTube videos or starring on any one of numerous TV shows meant just for this purpose, one thing that always gets me is the image of a politician or athlete standing in front of a microphone in a room full of reporters and apologizing for his (or her, but it’s almost always a man) personal sexual choices.

I don’t understand this about American culture. I’ve lived here for twelve years now, and I still don’t understand it. Why is it that someone we value for his contributions to politics (or sports or acting or whatever) must also be a pinnacle of human achievement and morality in every possible regard? Why can’t we realize that people are never perfect?

I am completely shocked by the fact that people are now calling for Rep. Weiner’s resignation. Does his sex life affect his ability to make laws? No? Then there’s no reason for him to resign.

Cheating is “bad.” But so is, arguably, driving SUVs, yelling at family members, and being a Buckeyes fan, for instance. Granted, these things are less “bad” then cheating. So how do we decide what’s bad enough to warrant asking someone to resign from their position?

One argument that I hear a lot is that prominent figures are “role models” for our nation’s children and should therefore be held responsible for their personal misdeeds. Well, with Weiner, this may not exactly be relevant, but it certainly applies to other notables whose sex life has become a matter of public record, such as Tiger Woods. As much as I doubt that a little kid who loves sports and strives to imitate Tiger’s dedication to his game would also choose to mimic his dalliances with strippers or whatever they were, I do think this can be a teachable moment. A parent could explain to their kid that sometimes people who are really great at some things make mistakes when it comes to other things, or that sometimes being really talented and famous makes people do bad things. Can we move on now?

Another argument I hear is that the problem isn’t necessarily the sexting thing, but the fact that he lied about it. Well, why shouldn’t he? It’s his business. Saying “no comment” amounts to admitting it’s true, so the only option is to lie. If I did something that I know my friends would disapprove of, and they start asking me if I did that thing or not, I would undoubtedly say no. Because it’s my business.

When it comes to apologies, there is only one person that Weiner should apologize to–his wife. The rest of America should not require an apology from him for something that’s none of their business. I don’t need his apology.

If nothing else, the reaction to the Weiner scandal–actually, the fact that it was even a scandal to begin with–shows that the Puritans who founded this country must be smiling down upon us from heaven, because we’ve proudly continued on their legacy. In this country, if you’re a prominent figure and you do one bad thing, you are a Bad Person, and you must apologize to the entire nation, resign from your position, and live out the rest of your days in quiet solitude, pondering your sins.

If Weiner resigns, I know that I personally will be extremely disappointed. Not only because we’ve lost a member of government who might’ve done some good, but because this sets a precedent–a person who broke no laws and committed no crimes can be forced to lose his job just because we don’t consider him “moral” enough.

16 thoughts on “America: Still a Puritan Country

  1. I have also live in North America for 12 years and I’m as perplexed as you are. Whatever he does in his personal life is between him and the people who are part of his personal life. One can be the most faithful spouse in the universe and the parent of the century, but still be a tyrant, a dictator or simply a corrupt, horrible politician.

    This is as weird to me as the endless discussions as to whether Sarah Palin gave birth to her last baby and whether she is a good mother. Why should I care what kind of mother she is? How does it change her abysmally poor record as a politician whether she is an amazing mother and whether she gave birth to every kid in Wasilla?

    Americans are usually flabbergasted when I tell them how puritanical their country is from my point of view as an outsider. They are inured to the spectacle of politicians apologizing for their sex lives. My question is, why have we abandoned the practice of putting the scarlet letter A on them for adultery?

    • Yeah, the first thing my grandma always bitches about when she visits us (first of many, I should point out) is how puritanical the culture here is. Granted, to her this refers to the fact that men at pools and beaches wear trunks rather than speedos here, but still.

      I get the sense that the Palin thing is just stupid people thinking that their case against her would somehow be stronger if they manage to show that she is of poor moral standing. To me this just cheapens the whole debate. Why not just stick to pointing out what an idiot she is in general? Ughhhh American politics.

  2. I think what matters a lot and what is often ignored is to who and for whom something is done.
    Betraying someone is definitvely a reason to leave or shun this very person, and I would not feel bad for him when his wife would do that.

    But true is that he did not betray the people in his district or his voters per se, but his wife. I mean it is not like you have to vow to be chastity or fidelity when you take office (You don’t have to right ? Right ?!).

    Also, found you posting over at clarissas place, awesome blog you have.

    • Thanks, Tim! πŸ™‚

      You raise a good point–nobody takes a vow of fidelity when they accept a position in the government. In my opinion you should never lose your job for doing something that was never even prohibited for someone in your position.

  3. The only time I think that somebody’s personal sexual choices should reflect on their political career is when they’ve built their political career around said sexual choices–i.e. the “family values” movement. I’d like my politicians to put their money where their mouth is (ha, that’ll be the day…) However, as Rep. Weiner is not a part of said movement, this has no bearing on his politics whatsoever.

    The fact of the matter is, however, that this is not about morality or lawmaking ability. This is about politics. The “Bad Person” label you talk about in your post has become a weapon for both parties trying to take down members of the other party as soon as there’s an exploitable weakness. If you look at a recent history of (specifically Republican, at least for this example) responses to extra-marital affairs in politicians, it becomes pretty damn clear what the game is. Mark Sanford, Republican governor of SC? John Ensign, R-NV? The official position was that that though they did a bad thing, their fate should be left to their constituents. (Ensign did eventually resign–as soon as it became clear that the ethics committee was about to kick him out.) But as soon as a Democrat has an affair, suddenly the only appropriate response is for them to resign in shame.

    • But if it’s purely political, why are so many DEMOCRATS calling for his resignation? President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democratic congresswoman, have all stated that Weiner should resign. And those are just the ones I found links for in the five minutes that I spent looking.

      • That’s even more political. They’re terrified of the political fallout. In fact, I was speaking with my mother about this just this morning, and grousing that Weiner has finally caved and announced his intention to resign. “This is what people mean when they say Democrats don’t have spines,” I said. The Republicans want an effective Democratic legislator out of Congress, and the Democrats are giving them their way because they’re afraid that if they don’t, the Republicans will make a big deal out of it in the upcoming elections.

        I would be so cynical as to say that nobody (okay, fine, ALMOST nobody) in D.C. actually cares about ethics and/ore moral values anymore; they’re just wielding them as a weapon. The public certainly does care, of course, which is why it makes such a good wedge issue. So I’d say that your analysis is right on the mark, just that it applies to the public more than to elected officials.

      • @Chenrezi–hmm, I didn’t even think of it that way. That’s definitely a good way to interpret the Democrats’ actions. Unfortunately, they may have made a bad situation worse. From what I’ve heard of Weiner’s supporters and constituents, they don’t seem to have as huge a problem with what he did as Republicans, other politicians, and journalists do…

      • That doesn’t surprise me. Apparently they’re worried that it might end up having some bearing on the presidential election, though, which I think is really stupid. This is all going to blow over after two weeks, let alone a year and a half. That’s how the news cycle works these days.

      • Well, at least now I know never to trust Obama and Pelosi.

        In any case, if I had to choose, I’d trust a guy who lies about his personal sex life than a person who stabs a colleague in the back like they did.

  4. You always make me think just a little deeper.
    I think Americans in general want to believe our leaders are of “good moral fiber.” I think where they get it mixed up is when someone makes a mistake in his private life and they believe it colors his entire life.
    Maybe a man who takes pictures of his private parts and sends them to women is a fabulous politician. I don’t know why it is so hard to separate the two. I just don’t know.
    I would be really disappointed if Obama was found doing these things. I would lose respect. I’m sure I would still want him to be president.
    Someone else said it. If the politician is a big “family values” type, yeah, they’d better practice what they preach. Otherwise, I say, let them keep their job. I’m not sure they get to keep our respect, though.

    • Yeah. I guess I tend to compartmentalize respect for people. For instance, I have many friends that I respect for their activism and ideas, but that I simultaneously don’t respect because they like to get wasted on weekends and I personally look down on that. And I have a friend that I really respect for his intelligence and free spirit, but not for the fact that he often fails to take responsibility for his actions and his wellbeing. Everyone has their faults…

  5. So – in general I tend to agree with your ideas. I have often found myself defending President Bill Clinton’s ability to govern – despite his afinity for cigars. That said – I am not 100% sure that the most sound argument behind what were calling “puritanical” is that these men are role models and therefore they should be chaste. Is there absolutely no corollation between the choices they make in their private lives with regard to honesty and morality – to clarify when I say morality I’m not speaking of sex acts because a person’s sex life is their business. Rather, I find my mind drifiting to Wiener’s recent marriage to Huma Abedin.

    It may be a completely outdated and residually partiarichal concept, but marriage is a commitment to chastity – I think. Although, theoretically I guess that to depands on the constructs of the personal agreements between tht two parties. I guess I am asking why get married? I could speculate – Huma Abedin links Wiener to some very important people – and perhaps this is a marriage of that nature.

    I guess what I am getting to is the idea that we – Americans – are generally too “puritanical” when it comes to our ideas about sex and partners and what is normal sexual behavior – and yes we absolutely hold our politicians and other ‘role models’ to standards of moral behavior that are absurd and quite frankly not normal – if there were such an idea as normal, which there really isn’t – but still isn’t there a link between being a good decent person in your private and public lives – even if that link is tenuous. What I am saying is anyone can get drunk and misbehave every now and then but at some point if your drinking becomes a constant pattern your a really more a drunk than a functioning person – even if your just a weekend alcoholic. Can you really always seperate and compartmentalize people’s deeds and behaviors?

    That said- I am so tired of this bull – it seems all the government does is drown in sexual scandle on both sides. Which leaves me questioning Weiner’s intelligence. As a politician you have to know your whole life is being scrutinized – how can you be so stupid as to tweet images of you wienis? Doesn’t he watch television – the internet leaves tracks – duh!

    • Hm…I agree that you can’t ALWAYS compartmentalize, but I guess what this brings us to is the issue of why we seem to have higher standards for politicians to begin with. Would a successful research scientist be asked to step down from his position if he’s caught having an affair? Would a professor at a university? Would a journalist? These are all professions that require a commitment to ethics, and yet we don’t conflate adultery with an inability to do these jobs properly.

      You’re right, though, that he was stupid in this case… πŸ™‚

  6. Clearly, sex is a very particular issue – one which people righteously disagree about in regards to defining an ethical practice. And some (perghaps myself included) doubt if their is a need to consider sex within the framework of “ethical” practice at all, right? Right and wrong are always complicated and never black and white – determined by cultural standards and theoretical practices.

    That said, University Professors, Journalist, Scientists etc. are not in the public eye the same way a politicians but they do get fired for their “ethical” actions and statements – i.e. lying, or speaking opinions which people clearly view as derogatory all the time. Teachers are often fired for sleeping with students – even if everyone is of legal age. Psycologist Satoshi Kanazawa was just recently fired becasue he wrote a rasict article – and while this is clearly a different issue all together -Obviously Wiener’s photos on twitter are different – but my point is that mass culture/society regularly makes decisions about all people based on their ethical or unethical behavior. So the real issue here comes back to my original point – why are we so obbsessed with sex in terms of its “ethical” nature.

    There is this wonderful book by Nancy Tuana – The Less Nobel Sex – and another by Gerda Lerner – The Creation of Patriarchy – and finally one by Susan Griffin – Silence and Pornography – All three of these books consider how we came to our current cutural state of oppression and each looks at least briefly at the nature of sexual oppression and heteronormativity. They are worth looking at – but I bring them up because they have lead me to know that while a “puritanical” perception of sexuality is slanted, skewed and as far as I am personally concerned completely unhealthy – it IS the understanding of the general population -often including these politicians that “misbehave” sexually. So, my second thought for today is they (politicians) know or believe they’re wrong – and they are intentionally doing something they consider ‘unethical’ – Does that – or should affect our thinking with regard to them in anyway?

    I know I’m playing Devil’s advicate here – like I said earlier I tend to lean twords the idea that the American cultural obsession with other people’s sex lives is ridiculous. The argument that cheating on your wife will lead to cheating politically on the country – uses the same slippery logic as the idea that smoking marijauana will ALWAYS lead to shooting herion but still sometimes that’s worth while to philosophically throw around the idea – and see what sticks – don’t ya think?

  7. Pingback: Apparently, I have some philosophical issues with Wiener’s wiener… « Feminist Cupcake

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