May 24, 2011
It has been quite a month for philandering.
One would be mistaken for thinking Senator John Ensign‘s abrupt resignation was the scandal of the moment.
Instead, with news of one illegitimate child and reports of similar siblings, Arnold Schwarzenegger is providing America its exhibition in base political performance. This routine is demonstrated not in the unseemliness of Arnold’s assignation with a member of his household staff, but in the all-atwitter glee with which one side of the spectrum uses such a spectacle to berate the other.
Such reactions are juvenile in the extreme. Though common, infidelity is still a failure. And to celebrate Man’s, or a man’s, failures is itself repugnant. Beyond this, experience ought to make it eminently obvious that no political party has the market cornered on monogamy. There are no party badges between the sheets.
Moreover, all of this sordid business ought to have remained personal. The press is largely responsible for making it public. Back when there was no chance of such carryings-on being made pertinent, there was no plausible possibility of blackmail and thus little reason to ruin otherwise capable men’s careers. If politics and physicality are kept separate, policy is always the better for it.
There have been political scandal sheets and prurient pamphlets throughout history. In the United States these reach back to Jefferson, through Jackson, unto Lincoln and beyond, though they never made much impact beyond general gossip-mongering.
With the understanding that private matters are private, the responsible parties and those in authority politely overlooked such allegations, even if accompanied by outright proof. Only recently has such reportage been elevated into the atmosphere of “legitimate news.”
With a voracious appetite for the lascivious and a wider market thereby created for it, modern media opened a Pandora’s box which has seriously eroded the public square’s foundations.
At least as far back as the Regency era it was reasonable to assume that almost anyone within the upper classes, socially and politically, could very well be one’s own literal cousin (or perhaps closer) by blood, though less frequently by marriage.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not restricted to royalty but often encompassed both the aristocracy and commoners who had become notable through deed or talent.
One keen example is Lord Nelson and his much maligned Lady Hamilton. Although lampooned by the aforementioned scandal sheets, Sir William Hamilton had no misapprehensions as to the true father of “his” child by Emma. Neither had he any qualms, it seems.
And why should he? The septuagenarian and his much younger wife lived in agreeable circumstances in a home shared with the national hero, whom Sir William greatly admired. It provided William with a child he never expected to have, and historians agree that this situation was congenial for all concerned.
Back then if a man’s wife found herself pregnant and her husband recognized the child as his own, it was no one else’s affair. Literally.