Commentary: Too much sex, not enough policy

Mar 23, 2012

Consider this. We’ve still got more than a week left of March, and it looks like April and feels like August. Yesterday it was eighty-six in Ann Arbor, and two people think they saw a cougar -- a mountain lion, not the other kind -- on north campus.

We’ve got presidential candidates waving Etch-a-sketch toys instead of talking about Iran and inflation.

In other words, it’s not a normal year, and I want to make a suggestion to further radically change our world.

I want all of us -- the media, the politicians, the culture -- to give up sex. Not entirely; I don’t want the human race dying out.

But we need to get sex out of politics, and this is the perfect time to do it. I’m quite serious. Two days ago, there was a bizarre incident in Lansing. A Tea Party activist sent an e-mail to every single Republican state senator. According to the respected Gongwer news service, the message alleged that a senior member of that caucus had committed adultery. Furthermore, the writer hinted that unless the official stepped down, a woman would send a “personal letter”  to the wives of all the caucus members.

That part sounds like something out of a Victorian novel. I have no idea whether the state senator in question is a womanizer, don’t want to know, and don’t care. But I care about attempted extortion.

The reason for these charges, according to another senator, has really nothing to do with sex or moral outrage. They were motivated by the fact that the senator in question -- like the governor himself -- doesn’t support anti-union "right-to-work" legislation.

The only uplifting thing about all this is that, so far as I can tell, no responsible media outlet has helped the smear artist by repeating these charges with the victim’s name attached.

Which should be a lesson for us all. More than a dozen years ago, the nation wallowed in an orgy of luridly over-the-top descriptions of President Clinton’s alleged behavior. Since then, our politics have been infested by too much sex and not enough policy debate.

The reason for that is simple. There is a fly buzzing around my office as I write this, and though we haven’t been introduced, I know we share something in common. At some point, we have had an interest in sex. If you want to reach the lowest common denominator, titillation is the way to go.

Except that’s not what we should be doing. We are facing a series of crises as or more serious than anything since the Great Depression. That ought to occupy our energies.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t report some dalliance that is legitimately interfering with the public’s business, like an affair that causes government contracts to be diverted.

Nor does it mean that politicians ought not to exercise self-restraint. The lack of virtue can be its own punishment. Bill Clinton balanced the budget, presided over an economic boom, and kept us out of war. But few remember that. They remember the blue dress. What I propose is that we swear off the reporting of things in any candidate’s private life that doesn’t relate to their duties.

That kind of abstinence would truly leave us all better off.