It was sometime after the season of Bill Clinton’s adulterous presidency that I first heard these words: “I don’t care who he’s fucking in private, I care who he is fucking in public.”
While Bill Clinton is now (often humorously) remembered for his extramarital deeds, he is still regarded as one of the best modern presidents to ever serve in the Oval Office. But why is he still met with such public warmth after besmirching (and initially lying about) his affair meanwhile married to his feminist wife, Hillary Clinton?
In more recent memory, former governor of New York Eliot Spitzer also found himself in this limelight in 2005 after being exposed for his patronage to an elite escort service. However, he is a self-proclaimed “feminist” and actually has a long-standing history advocating for women’s rights throughout his career. Spitzer recently announced his candidacy for New York City comptroller, and is leading in the polls.
What does this say about the higher ranks of our society? And what does it say about the public, who seemingly accepts these men in spite of their infidelity and salaciousness? Is it possible to be feminist while still soliciting prostitutes and mistresses in secret?
The short answer is yes, it is. Generally? Being a feminist means defending and advocating for female equality socially, economically, and politically. Where these offending men are involved, many have actually supported the elevation of women through their political careers. But with such contradictory activities in their private lives, and decisions they are made to live with forever, it is easy to feel conflicted about their motives. Even more difficult to distinguish is the more menacing underlying issue: corruptive power.
After the dust of their respective scandals have settled, the Spitzers and Sanfords of the country typically attempt to return to office and national TV airwaves through chipper, well-rehearsed soliloquies of their personal growth and change. “I made some big mistakes” and “I’ve learned my lesson” are stock-quote apologies for each. But what this does indicate, and what women specifically should take note of, is that this behavior tilts to power-acquisition complexes that are potentially embarrassing for themselves (and already have been for their wives) but also dangerous to public interest.
Acknowledging that the root of seemingly-misogynistic propensities that might actually be recklessness and power hunger puts voters in a position to actually determine whether or not these men are worthy of such power. Observing how politicians handle themselves in light of their miscreant behavior (but also how they handle the embarrassment dealt to their wives!) offers meaningful leverage in forming an opinion when public cheating occurs, and a way to reason whether or not specific individuals are worthy of the honor to serve in any official capacity.
It is possible to be at once a philanderer and a public supporter of women’s rights issues, but if you’re both those things and a public official, you’re probably a little megalomaniacal. That, frankly, is a separate characteristic to judge, and frankly, one that does not reflect well on a politician's character.