Infidelity and Politics

sacramento-state-capitolI have long since ceased to care about people’s personal infidelity as it comes to politics.  I understand people like to relate character to elected officials.  Certainly when it comes to issues of public trust, like corruption in politics, character matters.

But I am less than convinced that character as a whole makes any difference as to whether a person is capable of carrying out faithfully the obligations of office.  And so, if I have to choose between two people I agree with on the issues, I may choose the better person for the purposes of breaking a tie.

A conservative friend of mine noted that when Mark Leno defeated incumbent Senator Carole Migden, it was an easy choice.  They disagreed with both, the policy difference was likely non-existent, so why not put the person into office who was nicer and easier to deal with.

But when it comes down to it, few people would put into office someone they oppose just because of the character flaws of the person they support.

And yes, there are sometimes policy implications, as a politician like Mark Foley, who opposes gay rights policies and then turns out himself to be gay.  Or the politician preaching for abstinence whose children or themselves carry on extra-marital or pre-marital affairs.

But in the end, for me at least, I remember the lessons of my history teacher from college, probably nearly 20 years ago now.  We were talking about Oskar Schindler.  Mr. Schindler was no saint.  In fact, he was a pretty despicable human being by most accounts.  He was a womanizer.  A drinker.  A gambler.  And a war profiteer.

That perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that he just happened to sacrifice a huge fortune he obtained entirely during the war to save the lives of a couple thousand Jews.  It was not a turning point for him as an individual either.  He failed before and after the war.

I remember the remarks of the Professor very well as we read the book Schindler’s List, and the movie would not come out for another year or two.  Mr. Schindler was a hero because he was able to overcome his personal shortcomings and rise to the moment of history.

The lesson I took from this is that if we are looking for saints to lead us to salvation, we are going to be waiting for a long time.  Instead, it is human beings that we seek and we should judge them by their public role rather than their private shortcomings.

Indeed, if we had a spotlight on historical figures, we might find them all lacking as well.

And so it is in that light I look at Arnold Schwarzenegger and it is that understanding under which we should judge him.

It is for that reason I look at the column that George Skelton wrote this week where he writes, “Arnold Schwarzenegger  soiled his marriage and smeared his image, but he did it on his own time. What he did as governor was mess up the state, and that was while working for us.”

He continues, “Out of office, Schwarzenegger harmed his family and himself. His philandering may be entertaining to people, but it’s not their problem.”

Where we should judge the governor, Mr. Skelton writes, is by his policies in Sacramento.  It is there that we should judge the governor not by his personal misdeeds that have cost him his marriage and his family.

Writes Mr. Skelton, “Schwarzenegger’s missteps as California’s top elected official badly screwed up the state’s finances. It affects us all — school kids, the needy, ordinary taxpayers. And that is very much our problem.”

I agree with Mr. Skelton, “Keep the man’s sins in perspective: Some merely are injurious to those he purports to love. Many are damaging to the state he was entrusted to lead.”

“Gov. Jerry Brown  now is tackling one of the toughest political jobs imaginable: trying to clean up the clutter of borrowing left behind by Schwarzenegger,” George Skelton writes.  “Brown called it ‘a wall of debt’ Monday in unveiling his revised budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1.”

Indeed, Governor Brown hit the nail on the head on Monday when he said that he did not want to continue the game and gimmicks of the past.

And they were gimmicks, sliding money around that made the budget balance on the books but not in reality because the assumptions were so far off.

“When I say ‘gimmick,’ it’s a form of borrowing from the future,” Governor Brown continued. “And you keep piling that up and you weaken our finances. You take money away from solid programs because you don’t face the music….

“There’s something infantile about the idea that we spend and then we borrow.”

George Skelton acknowledges that the former governor had help with this process, in fact he puts a lot on Gray Davis, his predecessor, as well as the legislature and the voters.

Writes Mr. Skelton, “Led by Schwarzenegger, legislators took the easy way out. The governor complained about them just ‘kicking the can down the road’ without taking the hard steps to solve the long-term budget deficit. But he was the most powerful kicker.”

The results of these policies are that our education system, both K-12 and higher education, is a shell of its former self.  We have strained our resources for social services to their breaking point.

So I agree, whatever the former governor did to his wife and family is their business.  I will not judge him for that.  He can answer to them and them alone.  I will judge him on the public’s business and for that, he deserves whatever ridicule that can come down on him.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 thoughts on “Infidelity and Politics”

  1. rusty49

    “I will judge him on the public’s business and for that, he deserves whatever ridicule that can come down on him.”

    Democrats have controlled the state legislature for 15 years, they also deserve all the ridicule that can come down on them.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Writes Mr. Skelton, “Led by Schwarzenegger, legislators took the easy way out. The governor complained about them just ‘kicking the can down the road’ without taking the hard steps to solve the long-term budget deficit. But he was the most powerful kicker.”

  3. GreenandGolden

    The Swartz served his people well. A few quotes from the California Budget Project illustrate what a good job he did.

    “California’s lowest-income families pay the most in taxes.

    A number of research reports have documented the rise in corporate profits and decline in the share of national income accounted for by wages and salaries. While comparable data are not available for California, the data that are available show that the recent growth in corporate profits reported for California tax purposes far exceeds that of income reported
    by individual taxpayers.

    Over the past three decades, the cost of funding state services has shifted from corporations to personal income tax filers….”

  4. medwoman


    ” I have long ceased to care about people’s personal infidelity….when it comes to issues of public trust, like corruption in politics, character matters.”

    While I understand, and at times have acted similarly as in voting for someone whose morals I abhorred because I believed in their policies, I feel this is viewpoint is fundamentally flawed and is deleterious to our society.

    For me the issue of infidelity is not a matter of “who is sleeping with whom”. it is a matter of lying and and fundamentally poor judgement.
    if someone is capable of lying in one presumably vital area of their life ( marriage and family) can I believe that they will act honestly and honorably in other areas of their life ( public service) ? For me the answer is “no”.

    Probably the larger issue is their judgement. Infidelity implies an impulsivity,sense of personal entitlement, hubris and invincibility that I think are very poor characteristics for leadership. it seems to me that our willingness as a society to give these poor role models “a pass”sends entirely the wrong message to our children. Finally, I disagree that holding our leaders to a higher.standard in their personal as well as public lives is impossible. We currently have many leaders who are not involved in these types of duplicitous activities. Why not make them the standard instead of looking the other way and ignoring the transgressions of these patently dishonest individuals regardless of their political affiliation ?

  5. JayTee

    For the most part, I agree with Mr. Skelton but I can’t help thinking that if this had come to light before the election, we wouldn’t have been stuck with that tool in office for 7 years. Maybe we wouldn’t be in quite such a bad shape. I don’t really care who is sleeping with whom either as long as the person can do the job he/she is elected to do. Schwarzenegger couldn’t.

  6. Gunrock

    I am happy that his screwing was some woman rather than the state the way Gray Davis did… Governor LapDancer set us up for a decade of financial disaster, and while Schwarzenegger failed to adequately address the situation, at least he wasn’t a creep for sale the way Davis was.

    Jerry Brown can have three wives and a boyfriend if he can fix the budget problem and I won’t judge him!

  7. Rifkin

    I don’t recall all of the details, but before Vic Fazio replaced him as our member of the House, we had a Congressman representing Davis named Bob Leggett. I don’t recall if he was a religious guy, but I know Leggett was a Vietnam Vet and he played himself off as a hero to get elected.

    My recollection of the scandal is that Leggett had a wife and children living in this area, plus he had another wife in DC and had some kids with her, and on top of that he was having an affair with an aide to the Speaker of the House. (That aide was a Korean woman and somehow was involved in another scandal known as Koreagate.)

    When Leggett’s Solano County wife found out about his DC family, he quit the Congress, dumped both of his wives, and got hitched to the Speaker’s aide.

  8. Tecnichick

    Infidelity and politics will most likely always occur. For whatever reason the lustful desires take over. Some do it as a power trip or to walk on the wild side as if they were a rockstar. For me, I could care less because it’s that person’s personal business. Who they sleep with is none of my business.

    What is wrong is the media coverage and attention that infidelity gets especially if someone is still in office. Take the Clinton scandal for example. For almost the entire time that he was in office, you heard nothing from the media about the president’s work, only the infidelity. The media coverage was so extreme that it drew his attention from running the country. I think that Clinton could have done remarkable things in office if the media would have just let it go.

  9. medwoman

    It would seem that I am alone in this position, but I do believe that intrinsic dishonesty and contract breaking are legitimate traits and behaviors to consider in deciding whether an individual I’d fit to govern. If a candidate had embezzled from a company, cheated on his taxes, or broken another type of contract, I think most would agree that these behaviors would warrant investigation and disclosure. In my opinion, marriage is a contract and while it is not illegal to break this contract, it certainly does not demonstrate the honesty, integrity, and self control I expect in a leader.

  10. Don Shor

    I agree, medwoman, and it’s one of the reasons I would have trouble voting for Gavin Newsom. Those aren’t the only traits I consider as I vote, but they are certainly a factor.

  11. Fight Against Injustice

    Medwoman: I also agree with you. I really don’t want to hear about things from the media about people’s personal lives, but I think a person’s character tells you a lot about their decision making ability.

    We vote people into office to make decisions for us. If a person has difficulty making good decisions in their personal life, than how do we know that they will make good decisions in their political life.

    Saying this, I do believe that people make mistakes. If a person can rise above his/her mistakes and learn from those mistakes, then there is hope that he/she could become a good politician. Unfortunately, there will be a period of time where that person will have to rebuild the trust people have in them due to their bad decision making–a consequence.

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