Former Senator Pete Domenici’s (R-N.M.) recent revelation that he fathered a son outside of his marriage isn’t anything unheard of.
After all, powerful men have time and again shown a knack for extramarital affairs and less-than-stellar life choices despite being in the public eye (President Bill Clinton, ex-CIA director David Petraeus, Congressman of my home district, David Wu (D-OR), and former Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford to get you going). Thirty years in the making, Senator Domenici’s confession of personal transgressions leads to another revisit of the issue of how much of an effect should politicians’ personal lives have on our opinion of them as leaders and public figures, and whether or not we should forgive them for their private mishaps.
These personal indiscretions and lapses in judgment are commonplace occurrences in our society, but when it comes to political figures the stakes are infinitely higher — as they should be. Politicians have the ability to greatly influence our society and are figureheads of our country. They represent entire regions and communities, and are entrusted to make judgment calls for the rest of us. They are rarely technocrats or experts in the various fields they deal with, and largely decide matters in accordance with their personal beliefs and moral reasoning. It’s certainly harder to trust our elected officials and heed the rules of lawmakers when they fail our standard tests of right and wrong, especially when they legislate along “family values” and moral codes while seemingly lacking the most basic ones. After all, how could we expect politicians to make wise choices for their constituents when they cannot make them even for themselves? Without moral authority, politicians have lost their most potent asset.
That being sad, despite contrary belief, politicians are simply human. As humans, we all make mistakes that are not representative of our overall characters. Surely there is room in our hearts for sympathy and forgiveness? Peter Domenici and Michelle Laxalt made “one night’s mistake” thirty years ago. It was hidden so as not to damage the political careers of both Domenici and Michelle Laxalt’s father and former U.S. Senator and Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt.
In general, I believe America is a forgiving society, woven into the fabric of our country, large in part motivated by Christian values. Public celebrities Bill Clinton, Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jackson all benefited from second chances. Ultimately, society is willing to move on from a bad event, so long as a person hones up to their wrongdoings and repent for their actions. The timing of the acknowledgement of an extra-martial affair is an effort to control the story before others could break it. In a involuntary way, Senator Domenici’s admittance of an affair is honing up to the fact, sparing his wife and his eight children of further embarrassment. There is seemingly no harm in forgiving someone who is now retired and no longer a representative of the U.S. government — one of the most well known, publicly exposed institutions in the world — and this story will most likely sink into the limitless pool political scandals.
But should we let it? In a case eerily similar in details, the retired football legend Dan Marino also admitted last month to fathering a child in 2005 (at that time retired from NFL) outside of his marriage to his wife of 20 years and mother of six, paying hush money ever since to the mother of his illegitimate child. In sports, athletes’ off-field misbehavior is not usually career-killing, and largely viewed as irrelevant to their jobs capability on the field. The same usually goes for artists and musicians producing sex tapes and committing affairs, as it does not affect their performance and work. However, even if a politician is capable of performing their jobs well despite their personal transgressions (a la John F. Kennedy and his many mistresses), they should not be let off the hook.
Our public faces, whether they accept it or not, are role models and idols to many. They should be a reflection of what we want our society to represent, and the ideals and character we want to showcase to the world. We should always allow room in our hearts for forgiveness, for living with contempt and hatred is a taxing proposition. But we should not be so easily accepting of our most powerful figures follies and poor actions — for even if it is a “mistake,” it was voluntary, avoidable, and not an “accident” of random chance. We must push for our leaders to take responsibilities for their actions, both public and private. In a profession of public transparency and scrutiny, we should expect our politicians to be smarter, wiser, and to practice what they preach. Domenici is a lawyer. He and his colleagues must know that the rules don’t bend for just any one; they apply to everyone, especially to the most powerful of us all.