The connection between love and politics—that was the topic of commentary in yesterday’s paper written by Gregory Rodriguez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. The article, Love and politics in a cynical age, got me thinking about the consistency of behavior.
Rodriguez summarized how Americans have come to view the private lives and public lives of the people we elect to represent us. He wrote:
The truth is that we don’t generally associate politics or politicians with happy marriages and deep romance, let alone fidelity. The constant revelation of scandals and peccadilloes in the halls of power have trained us to expect the worst of those—particularly the men—we elect to shepherd and protect the interests of society. Somewhere along the line, Americans have even bought into the notion that a politician’s private life, in particular his love life, has little or nothing to do with his efforts on behalf of the public good.
In other words, people seem to think that just because an elected official cheats on his spouse, it doesn’t mean we can’t trust him with our tax dollars.
Not everyone holds this view. Ross Perot, who ran for president in 1992, famously said that at his company, EDS, lying, cheating, stealing and adultery were all grounds for dismissal. If he were elected, he said, the same standard would apply. Perot said:
“If a man’s own wife cannot trust him, how can the American people?”
This, I think, is a legitimate question.
People often ask me if a sociopath will be “different” with a particular person. For example, can a sociopathic man who hates and harasses his ex-wife love his children? Can a sociopathic woman who takes advantage of her family be true to her new boyfriend?
The short answer is no. Exploitative people exploit anyone who has something that they want.
The long answer is that exploitative people may seem to authentically care for particular individuals, but it’s probably just part of an overall scheme of manipulation. The sociopath is just softening up the target, preparing for the right time to strike.
Here is one of the most dangerous thoughts we can ever have: “Well, yes, he (or she) treated that person badly, but he’ll never do that to me!”
Remember: The best indication of future behavior is past behavior. If you know that a person has behaved in a deceitful or exploitative way towards someone else, sooner or later, the person will behave that way towards you.
So why do we compartmentalize? Why do people seem to believe that how our elected officials conduct their private lives has nothing to do with how they conduct their public lives? Why is it that when we hear of a powerful person who has a solid marriage, we are surprised?
Maybe we’re beaten down. Maybe we’re totally disillusioned. After all, stories of deceit, betrayal and treachery have been around as long as humans have told stories. Maybe we hear of so many scandals—from cheating spouses to tax dollars wasted—that we simply expect the worst of people.
Perhaps public life has simply gotten too easy in America. It’s not like the Revolutionary War, when men risked their lives and fortunes to stand up to the British. No, politics today is all talk and no consequences. That makes it an excellent career choice for sociopaths—all they have to do is be charming, charismatic and deceitful.
Sociopaths, after all, want power, control and sex. By getting elected, they have access to everything they want.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear about people, in this day and age, fighting the good fight from a foundation of love.
In the article that I quoted in the beginning of this post, the author, Gregory Rodriguez, also wrote about Liu Xiaobo. Liu is the Chinese dissident who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. He, of course, was viewed as a subversive criminal by the Chinese government, and was not allowed to go to Norway and accept the prize. Rodriguez explained how his absence was handled in Oslo:
Actress Liv Ullmann read aloud the statement Liu released last December as he was awaiting trial for “inciting subversion of state power.” At the top, he sermonized against hatred (“enmity can poison a nation’s spirit”), but his ending was an exquisite love letter to his wife, Liu Xia.
“I am sentenced to a visible prison,” he wrote, “while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough to hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.”
Rodriguez viewed Liu’s words to his wife as a sign of passion and commitment, and the bad behavior in the private lives of elected officials as the opposite. The point, Rodriguez wrote, is that love begins at home.
How people conduct their private lives is absolutely relevant to whether or not they should be elected. People who cannot be trusted by their most intimate loved ones cannot be trusted by anyone. And people who feel genuine love and compassion for their families can extend their love and compassion for the greater good.