Commentary: Male politicians, judgment and morality

The Miami HeraldJune 14, 2011 


Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.


Let’s roll out the list.

It includes, in no particular order of “sluttishness:” Kwame Kilpatrick; Jesse Jackson; James McGreevey; Ted Haggard; Gary Condit; Mark Sanford; John Edwards; Bill Clinton; Newt Gingrich; Rudy Giuliani; Eliot Spitzer; Antonio Villaraigosa; Arnold Schwarzenegger; James West; Larry Craig; David Vitter; John Ensign. And now, Anthony Weiner, Democratic representative from New York.

The thing these individuals have in common is as obvious as, well…the erect penis in Weiner’s underwear in that risqué picture he claimed he never tweeted to a young woman and wasn’t even sure was really him, only to confess last week that he was lying on both counts. In case the commonality eludes you: they are all political or social leaders who got caught in sex scandals, having gotten busy, hiked the Appalachian trail, taken a wide stance, or otherwise behaved inappropriately with women, men, and a prostitute or two to whom they were not married. And they are all men.

Can anyone name the last female leader caught in a sex scandal? Me neither.

It is not that women are of a higher moral order than men. Studies confirm that women cheat, too. And yet, you never see that fact reflected in a Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin biting their bottom lip in the glare of TV lights while making some teary-eyed confession of infidelity and “mistakes.”

We must conclude that women are possessed of something rare among men. It is called a “brain.”

Evidently, that organ tells them that when your private life is public record, when you live in a news cycle that is all intrusive, all the time, it might be wise to keep that other organ zipped.

Some may say this is not our business, that while infidelity is awful, it is also between a man — even a public man — and his wife. But see, this is not about marital morality. It is, rather, about judgment.

The ability to weigh one’s options and make the right call is the basis of leadership. Consider that, and then consider: Bill Clinton thought he could get away with being serviced by an intern in the Oval Office. Kwame Kilpatrick thought he could get away with paying $8 million from the city treasury to keep his affair secret. Anthony Weiner thought he could get away with putting suggestive photos of himself online. Repeat: online.

Yet we depend on men like these to make decisions about our money, our health care, our children. Not to mention war and peace. What faith can we have that men who show such poor judgment in their marriages will show better judgment in other areas?

Or might not the thrill-seeking, testosterone-fueled alpha male recklessness that makes a public man think he can get away with a private affair not also impair his thinking when debating the debt ceiling or teacher salaries? And we wonder why things don’t get done.

No, your humble correspondent does not hate his own gender. There is a place in public life for boldness and risk-taking.

But at the same time, as female leaders attempt to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling on bases of fairness and representative government, a case can be made that they are missing the most persuasive argument of all for why we need more women in public life:



Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service