The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An unsavoury affair

I have a bit of an icky response to news of affairs amongst politicians. As someone just the other side of the Beltway, I often hear about these things a few days before they become common knowledge.

Several moons ago (at least) I wrote about politically legitimate reasons to leave your partner - in response to the Graham Capill conviction, but also covering affairs. Even longer ago I wrote about Richard Prebble's affair and whether it mattered.

I feel uncomfortable about the cheating, Don Brash's in particular, for two reasons:

1. I'd like politicians, and really anyone in the public eye, to be entitled to a private life. If I were in their shoes (as the target or the partner) I would not want media camped out on the lawn, in amongst the rose bushes, taking pics of my hand pulling the curtains closed against their prying. It wouldn't help resolve your private matters, to be forced to do so in the hot squinting gaze of the public eye, as represented by the relentless cameras and microphones of a frenzied media.

2. But I wonder about the gender politics of this. The stories you hear about cheating politicians (cheating on their spouses, I clarify) are almost always the husbands having affairs, not the wives or same-sex partners. What does it say about a man that he has, possibly repeatedly, shown little regard for the commitment he has made to a woman, for the hurt he will cause her when she finds out? What's the feminist response to news of any serial adulterer whose attitude to women is thus suspect? I don't really know. But it makes me feel uncomfortable, to put it mildly.

It seems an apposite coincidence that all this Brash stuff is going on at the same time that Frankie has found out about Danny's affair on Coro St in NZ. One can imagine the conversations between Brash and his wife being similar to those between the junior Baldwin and the woman he cheated on with his first wife and later married. For those not watching, Danny claims he has a weakness and that it meant nothing, all of the normal mouthings we're all used to seeing on the screen in relation to discovered affairs.

Idiot/Savant is firmly of the opinion that the affair doesn't matter, and the identity of the woman doesn't matter either. I've already detailed above why I'm conflicted over whether the affair matters, but in regard to the Other Woman, I think who she is does matter because, if true, this was a political relationship too.

Red has also pointed out some of the money quotes from Brash about marriage that have resulted in many labelling him a hypocrite in recent days. I would also add that if this allegation is true then we know of two times that Brash has disrespected not only his own marriage but also the commitments of the two other women he has cheated with, as both were also hitched to other men during the affairs. Personally I don't think we need to overly respect the institution of Marriage, but we should respect the individual commitments people make to each other. Brash, and many of his backers and supporters, have gone on and on about the importance of Marriage, not least during the Civil Union flip-flop, and so the yard stick can be applied to them now in turn.

One final point. For all those bloggers who have ever made nasty comments about the fact that Helen Clark preferred not to marry, or has not had children, or have judged any of those MPs who identify as lesbian, gay or transgender (in or out of the closet), you risk the H label too. You cannot criticise some MPs for what happens in their personal lives and yet insist that those on your team are immune to scrutiny. As you sow so shall you reap.


sagenz said...

in labelling Dr Brash a hypocrite you completely miss the point. We may be sympathetic towards equal rights for gays and lesbians without wanting to be gay ourselves. Equally to support the institution of marriage where children have a strong 2 parent role model rather than a system where state funds and state employees substitute for 1 or both parents is a completely rational opinion. Supporting marriage and having an affair is not the least hypocritical.

Make Tea Not War said...

I do feel an ick response to the recent Brash revelations but, on the whole, as I didn't vote for him as a representative of the "sanctity of marriage", it doesn't really effect me. If some people voted for him thinking that is what he stood for I can imagine they might feel cheated but I don't really care. He doesn't owe me anything and I don't feel as a citizen I'm entitled to know all the sordid details of his, or anyones personal life (not that that will necessarily stop me listening if the topic comes at morning tea)

Honestly- I can't imagine any circumstances under which I personally would vote for Brash or the National Party but it does seems to me that in New Zealand an affair isn't necessarily fatal to someones political career or credibility. Lange had one and from all accounts Muldoon was far from faithful too. So I think this is probably all a storm in a tea cup in terms of how the NZ electorate (as opposed to the media and blogosphere & maybe the National Party itself) would actually perceive it.

And I don't know what the feminist response to serial adulterers is but it's my impression that quite a lot of women cheat on their partners. I wonder whether the fact we hear more about men in public life committing adultery is related to the fact that there are simply more men in public life?

Gerrit said...

There is hypocrisy all around parliament. This just being the latest example.

Hypocrisy such as the Act party being a promoter of private enterprise overspending on its taxpayer funded election expenses, or Labour promoting road safety but endorsing a speeding PM motorcade.

I'm sure people will be able to point out hundreds more.

But that is what real life is like.

We can all take the moral high ground but staying there is another matter.

Emma said...

I've been round and round on this one. Initially, I did think it mattered WHO it was, because there are political ramifications there. If he'd had dinner with her regularly people would be talking about conflict of interest.

But. As MTNW said, I didn't vote for him, and I wouldn't have voted for him because of his 'family values'. I don't know how many people would have, given they already knew he'd had one affair. I already thought he was a hypocrit - look at how many times he's contradicted himself. I can't help but wonder, though, how the Brethren feel about all this.

Affairs in general, outside of the political arena... my radio station this last week was full of women saying 'once a cheater always a cheater'. I don't believe that for a second, and with very good reason. I cheated on my husband. With three different men. I then went into a relationship with the third, and we're still together thirteen years later. I've been perfectly faithful all that time.

So, I don't think there's a feminist dimension to affairs in themselves. Where there might be is in ensuring that a woman who has supported her husband and raised his children is financially able to leave him if he cheats on her - not normally something a man has to worry about if his partner sleeps around on him.

stef said...

I'm feeling uncomfortable about this but for different reasons. That somehow this is OK to be dragged into the public areana.

From a feminist prespective I don't think this is a big deal. I've both cheated on partners, and been 'the other woman' during my time. I think the circumstances for cheating (men tend to dominate jobs that require long hours, away from the family) mean that men have more oppourtunity to cheat, however I also think that women are equally capable of it.

Span said...

I'm going to post further about this when I get a chance, thanks for the comments so far.

Clearly women are also capable of cheating - after all Don's known affair (with Je Lan) and alleged affair (with Diane Foreman) have both been conducted with married women. I feel sick though about the treatment of the spouses in this, particular the wives who, as Emma points out, may not have the financial wherewithal to be independent.

The way Je Lan has been singled out for media attention has revolted me, particularly the Fashion Week coverage (don't know if you saw this Stef?).

Anonymous said...

The so-called "affair" is likely overblown. Even if the relationship was completely non-sexual, the real story is Brash's close personal links with the Deputy Chair of the Business Roundtable.

The real story is that the BRT effectively switched from openly funding ACT to National.

The real story is that the BRT effectively appoints a man with no record of party activity or loyalty, and with no direct polictical experience to the leadership of the National Party.

The real story is that National went into the 2005 with very little in the way of explcit policy. They kept their real backers and their real policy agenda secret. The EB thing has largely been a useful distraction.

The real story is that the media in this country (currently in hardball negotiations with at least one major media org over 100's of millions of tax liability) have uniformly swung in behind National, setting the language of the debate with endless repetition of the "corruption" mantra.

The real story is the full-blown arrival of the New Conservative political playbook in NZ. We are being played for sheeple every inch of the way.