A number of politicians (male and female) have been scalded in recent weeks and years by their alleged sexual activities. Messrs. Weiner, Spitzer and Milner are only three of a crowded list of office-holders who have been damaged after being caught with their knickers down.
After witnessing the furor over these sexual adventures, I got to wondering: In today’s culture, what other behaviors, traits or beliefs might be equally harmful to a politician’s career? I came up with several possibilities, stated below in no special order.
GROSS TABLE MANNERS. If I were running for mayor or governor and assaulted a plate of spaghetti the way George Costanza of “Seinfeld” does, I wouldn’t have a chance of being elected. Few things can turn off a potential voter faster than to see a candidate shovel food down his or her piehole and then compound the offense by talking with his mouth full.
OBESITY. William Howard Taft, our 27th president, tipped the scales at about 330 pounds. Obviously, his corpulence did not prevent his being elected to high office. But can you name many other really fat political leaders? I can’t. Given their druthers, Americans prefer their politicians to be on the lean and good-looking side. New Jersey governor Chris Christie violates that dictum, but he’s reported willing to shed significant poundage as he explores the path to the White House.
CHEATING AT CHESS. Would you vote for someone who cheats while playing chess with his 12-year-old daughter? I wouldn’t. How could you trust such a person? I don’t know of anyone like that who’s now in politics, but as soon as we get all our hacking, wiretapping and illegal surveillance tools fully in place we’ll be able to smoke out and prosecute such nasty people.
FACE LIFTS. I’ve run into recent reports that Hillary Clinton has undergone some cosmetic surgery. “She’s looking awfully good these days,” said one informant. “It may be because she’s no longer Secretary of State and can get some rest. But my money is on a face lift.” Which indicates she’ll be going for the presidency in 2016, right? If so, would you be biased against her for undergoing some cut-and-paste work? Some folks would, but I believe most voters would not. Cosmetic surgery is so common today it’s almost not worth noting, except when the procedure is botched and the patient (whether male or female) ends up looking like a squint-eyed, frozen-smile kewpie doll. In such cases, pity – not criticism – is usually in order.
HYPER-FLATULENCE. Can you imagine a candidate winning a major election if he or she repeatedly broke wind, without meaning to, while making a speech or shaking hands with a crowd? I’ve never heard of that occurring with a candidate, although I have met a number of ordinary citizens thus afflicted. Would that handicap discourage voters from supporting the candidate? I believe such a delicate question should be widely debated beforehand, just in case a gaseous but otherwise highly qualified public servant one day comes on the scene.
GRAMMATICAL IGNORANCE. I hesitate to list this shortcoming as a possible black mark on a politician’s score sheet, because so many Americans neither know nor care about the basics of good grammar. Also, a significant number of excellent public servants have shown that their employing such linguistic lapses as “between he and I” and “nearly unique” have really not mattered.
ATHEISM. There was a time when a stated belief in God, Christ or some other well-established deity was an absolute requirement for anyone seeking an office more lofty than Animal Control. Americans – even those who themselves lack any well-defined religious faith – have felt more secure with a self-confessed Methodist, Jew, Catholic, or Muslim holding the reins of authority. That day may have passed. Recent surveys have shown that increasing numbers of citizens have no religious affiliation, and don’t especially care whether you or I do. I doubt if many candidates in the next few years will blatantly declare themselves as atheists or agnostics, but a number of them will. And many voters will do themselves proud by viewing such a declaration as irrelevant to a candidate’s overall merit.
SPEAKING THE WHOLE TRUTH. Pile all of the above-listed election risks together and they would not total half of the defeat-guaranteed potential as would total honesty. Someone has said that a completely forthright person in high office, such as the presidency, would be a catastrophe for the nation. He/she would be a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the moment to reveal some scandalous or distasteful fact about himself, his deepest beliefs, his enemies, allies, donors and his previously undisclosed track record. Two weeks of such absolute honesty could tear our country apart.
Bob Driver is a former columnist with the Clearwater Sun. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.