General Question

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Do we have a right to know everything about the private lives of our politicians?

Asked by Dr_Lawrence (19649points) May 6th, 2010

Since so much of the public and media discourse about politics seems to delve deeply into the private lives of politicians’ families and their relationships with others outside of their public life as political representatives, how much do we, the public, really need to know beyond their political beliefs and actions related to their jobs representing us?
Do politicians have the right to have their private lives respected and kept out of the public discussion in the media?
Do public servants forfeit all their privacy when they enter politics?
If those who enter politics forfeit their right to privacy, does this keep many high quality potential candidates from entering public service?
Does this undermine the best interests of the public?

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31 Answers

primigravida's avatar

I think if it somehow has an impact on their service to their job TODAY, sure, why not? But if someone had a drug problem 30 years ago, I could really care less. As for the families, I’d say no, unless it again, somehow relates to the politician today. Like if the politician pulled some strings to get a family member out of paying for a crime they omitted. Otherwise, what does it have to do with the way in which the politician does their job?

Seaofclouds's avatar

I think beyond legal and ethical concerns, they should be entitled to their privacy. We don’t need to know everything about them and their families. As long as it doesn’t affect the job they are doing or put them in a possible bad position (like being black mailed to vote a certain way), we don’t need to know about it.

Kraigmo's avatar

Any time a major hypocrisy is exposed by detailing a politician’s private life… then the disclosure is for the public good.

If it’s something that does not expose any hypocrisy… then it should be kept quiet.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

They don’t need to know about mine and I don’t need to know about theirs.

roundsquare's avatar

Playing Devil’s Advocate: But some people would believe that the way someone acts in their private life reflects on how they would act in politics. E.g. if someone is a honest husband/wife they are more like to be honest in other things.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think it is relatively useful to find out how they conduct their personal life, which would be a reflection on their public responsibilities.

primigravida's avatar

@roundsquare oh, ho, tricky tricky business. In some cases I do agree. Take Clinton for example. I really did not need to know the sordid details about his affairs, but it always bothered me, he lied about being involved with that Lewinsky… what else might have he been lying about? Or was he just lying about that because it was, in fact, personal and private? Would he, or anyone else for that matter, bother to make the distinction?

Zaku's avatar

They should have their privacy, and we should stop being childish media pawns.

Aside from the obvious effects of media and political abuse of what should be private irrelevant details, consider too that:

* What sane, balanced leaders will want to subject themselves and their families to the kind of abuse that goes on here? What kind of leaders are we going to get instead of them, who ARE willing to put up with this?

* What effects does it have on our leaders in government that they have to deal with all this harassment and abuse?

* Many foreigners hold our government, media, and culture in contempt for such ridiculous nonsense.

primigravida's avatar

@Zaku Really good points. I do wonder how in the world a potential political, especially a president, could ever willingly do that to their kids. I think Obama’s kids are pretty lucky, because maybe they are too young to really be bothered by the scrutiny (at least I hope), and Bush’s kid’s were probably old enough that they didn’t care as much (yeah Jenna was a little wild, who cares. She was young, who HASN’T had a drink before they were 21, and I don’t think her behavior reflected him as a politician or even a father), but I always felt so bad for Chelsea Clinton. She was growing up in front of the world at the WORST age for people… and she wasn’t exactly a pleasant looking teen at the time, poor girl. On top of that, having to face schoolmates, friends, or anyone at all, knowing they know that her dad got a bj in the Oval Office. Must have been a terrible time for her, and for them to do that to a person of that age, shameful.

DarkScribe's avatar

It is pointless. Just like media and rock stars, they use spin doctors to “adjust” public perception – we don’t see their real private lives unless they become involved in a scandal that they can’t cover up. It is all make-believe – smoke and mirrors.

YARNLADY's avatar

@DarkScribe we call it a dog and pony show

roundsquare's avatar

Even as Devil’s advocate, there is no way to excuse the degree to which things happen. One could argue that if we could find a more balanced way to go about it, then we could get real useful information.

DarkScribe's avatar

@YARNLADY DarkScribe we call it a dog and pony show

That was a much used expression of favourite Uncle of mine when I was a child. Usually used with disdain when watching political news on Television.

netgrrl's avatar

I definately don’t need to know every sordid detail – but when a politician’s private life is the reverse of what they claim to believe, we have a right to know.

Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

slick44's avatar

Im with @Seaofclouds on this one. Who cares if they had an affair 20 years ago or if they take their coffee black. As long as they do their job and do it well, that is all we should care about.

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deni's avatar

no, we really dont. if its affecting their job performance, yes. but otherwise, why do i need to know about their sex lives, what they had for dinner, or what game they played with their kids. who cares?

CaptainHarley's avatar

Do I want to know everything I can about men and women who hold the lives of my grandchildren in their hands? You’re damned straight I do!

reverie's avatar

No. If someone is a politician, it is their job. Whilst they might serve an electorate, they don’t belong to them, and are still entitled to their own personal boundaries and freedoms, just like any other citizen of a civilised, modern society.

Further, there are many other jobs that entail large amounts of social responsibility, and I think it would be ludicrous that we would expect to know about the personal private lives of our doctors, lawyers, teachers, and so on. It simply wouldn’t be fair to apply one standard to a socially influential group and not another.

As far as I’m aware, there isn’t an evidence base, or easy way to objectively calculate how much a person’s personal life influences their work. To say that someone told a lie to a partner, and therefore might lie at their job, involves a huge leap of judgement, and it would be irresponsible and unfair to make any judgements based on such flimsy and subjective views. Speculation as to how someone’s personal life may affect their work is nothing but that – speculation. Moreover, what reason do we have to want to jump the gun? If someone’s personal life is impairing their ability to do their job properly, let’s take action if or when they actually screw up at work, rather than making pre-emptive assumptions about problems that might (or might not) arise.

Would you think your employer had the right to know everything about you, in order to judge your suitability for work? Proving someone is fulfilling the terms of their employment contract, I see no reason, let alone a “right”, for the public to have any business knowing about their personal lives.

Silhouette's avatar

Yes. I think it does undermine the best interests of the public. Many people argue it’s a glimpse into their character, I say phooey. We all know of very good people who make very bad relationship choices. I would gladly pay extra taxes so I wouldn’t have to hear about the many adventures of my Senators willy.

CaptainHarley's avatar

You don’t “hire” a suit. You “hiure” a complete individual, warts and all. How a man or woman handles adversity, whether they cheat on their significan other, whether they have used drugs or alcohol, how they handled themselves in various jobs they may have held, etc., all give insight into their character. A man or woman of weak or questionable character has no business anywhere near the nuclear “football.”

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roundsquare's avatar

Wow, the moderators have been having some fun here.

Anyway, here’s a question. Lets say you are about to hire someone as a babysitter. Wouldn’t you want to know a bit about their personal history? E.g. a history of child molestation should definitely disqualify them.

As for a doctor, aside from their medical expertise, the way they treat their patients is important. If you were about to go to a doctor, and you found out he beat his wife, would you necessarily trust him to do his job?

Its a bit absurd to say that someone’s personal life does not reflect on their ability to do their job. As much as we would like to separate people’s personal and professional lives, its not entirely possible to do so.

That aside, we need to draw limits on what we look for. I don’t care what someone did 30 years ago as long as their recent lives show them to have a good character. Even with someone who cheats on their wife/husband, that alone doesn’t mean much to me in terms of their ability to represent the people. But, if someone is constantly engaging in shady activity, I wouldn’t want to risk giving them power.

What we need to do as a society is figure out what aspects of someone’s personal life really indicate how well they will be able to do their job and what stuff is unimportant. Eventually then the media will catch on, and we’ll get real useful information. Oh well, end of dream.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Whoa! LMAO! First time I’ve ever been “modded!” Heh!

Silhouette's avatar

@CaptainHarley You get used to it. :o)

CaptainHarley's avatar

God, I HOPE not! Heh!

mattbrowne's avatar

No, of course not. As an example: we have no right to know how often Barack and Michelle Obama have sex. That’s private.

HungryGuy's avatar

Yes. They put themselves in charge of our lives, regulating and prohibiting our personal beahavior, even when it occurs in private between consenting adults. I’d say that gives us the right to know the personal details of their private lives.

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