Eight political sex scandals, scored by how much they matter

When a scandal breaks, several questions invariably arise: “Should this scandal matter? Should the media focus on it? Should voters be concerned about it? Should there be resignations, terminations, censure, prosecution, incarceration?” And what better way to address such questions than with a numerical scoring system? Rachel Maddow made an invaluable contribution to this field in her “post-Bill Clinton modern American political sex-scandal consequence-o-meter” (2011) during the first Weiner scandal. In said chart, Maddow based her scandal evaluation on two factors: the “creepy” factor and the “prosecutability” factor. The creepy factor, however, is dangerously subjective, as Maddow herself was the first to acknowledge — what’s creepy to one person may be acceptable to another.

It is this subjectivity which my system attempts to minimize. To achieve this end, I eliminate the creepiness factor, replacing it with the political hypocrisy factor. To determine the hypocrisy, one must look at rhetoric as well as policy. Do the politician’s actions violate principles he has espoused? Do they violate principles he has put into law or attempted to put into law? Note that this is different from personal hypocrisy, something perhaps distasteful, but not, I would argue, politically relevant.

Instead of “prosecutability” we opt for “lawsuit/prison potential” as a category, since sexual harassment, for example, is not always criminally prosecutable but can give rise to a civil suit.

Another departure from the Maddovian method is the scoring. Maddow uses a primarily visual assessment, placing scandals relative to each other. My approach uses a more precise and quantitative method. The scandal receives 1 point for illegal non-criminal conduct, 1 point for misdemeanors, 2 points for felonies, 1 point for rhetorical hypocrisy, 1 point for policy-based hypocrisy. Points are removed for a statements or policies that mitigate said hypocrisy. Negative scores are not allowed.

As you will see, views on LGBT issues come up frequently in this sample. It is arguably hypocritical to cheat on a spouse while opposing people who you claim violate the sanctity of marriage. Whatever moral or religious basis you have for opposing same-sex marriage almost certainly applies to adultery.

Let’s take a look at some recent scandals through this lens:

Anthony Weiner: sexting

lawsuit/prison potential: 0
rhetorical hypocrisy: 1 (never said anything about sexting, is socially liberal, received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. But initially told the public he had been set up and had not tweeted the photo. And then told the public he was done sexting.)
policy-based hypocrisy: 0 (never supported legislation on texting, has a consistently liberal voting record, when it comes to social issues, never sought to legislate people’s sexuality or morality.)

Total score: 1

David Vitter: solicitation of prostitutes

lawsuit/prison potential: 1 (soliciting a prostitute is a misdemeanor.)
rhetorical hypocrisy: 1 (campaigned as a family values, socially conservative and Christian candidate. Compared same-sex marriage to natural disasters.)
policy-based hypocrisy: 1 (was one of the chief sponsors of the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.)

Total score: 3

Elliot Spitzer: solicitation of prostitutes

lawsuit/prison potential: 1 (soliciting a prostitute is a misdemeanor.)
rhetorical hypocrisy: .5 (condemned prostitution, but as an element of human trafficking.)
policy-based hypocrisy: .5 (cracked down on prostitution. Spitzer himself said it was fair to be labeled as a “hypocrite.” Though, to be fair, he really cracked down on human trafficking, not prostitution, per se.)

Total score: 2

Read the rest at Salon

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