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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Steven Pearlstein

Steven Pearlstein

Steve Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist for The Washington Post and co-host of washingtonpost.com's "On Leadership" forum.

Mostly About Sex

Whenever one of these scandals breaks, it usually turns out that there are other wrinkles in the story that add to the outrage. The love interest was actually an employee or former employee. He used company money or the state plane to make the tryst possible. He lied about it under oath. He's such a hypocrite, preaching family values in public and screwing around in private.

This inevitably gives way to calls for resignation that are based not on the sex, but on these other infractions. "What people do in their personal lives is their business, but what's inexcusable is....." Fill in the blank.

In most instances, that's really mallarky. If the other infractions had occurred without the sex, very few people would have found out about them and, if discovered, they would not have been firing offenses. That doesn't mean people wouldn't and shouldn't suffer other consequences for their affairs -- political, legal, reputational, professional, personal, whatever. But these would not generally have been reason to disqualify people from leadership positions for the rest of their lives.

We know of lots of great leaders from earlier periods who were tireless philanderers, not just in politics but in all walks of life. (My wife this weekend was reading a memoir about Paul Moore, the crusading Episcopal bishop, written by his daughter, which was all about his heterosexual and homosexual escapades). Would we have been better off if these leaders had been driven from their leadership positions? I don't think so. So then why are we doing it today?

So let's stop the charade that our interest and our outrage isn't really about the sex. It really is mostly about the sex.

By Steven Pearlstein

 |  June 29, 2009; 1:32 PM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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WRONG. It's about the publicity.

Earlier, media kept leaders' secrets. Times have changed. Media today spare us no details and make it front page news.

For that reason alone, officials elected to higher office know better than to risk the dignity of their office and their constituents' trust.

Please don't scapegoat readers for the way the media has changed since Gary Hart invited reporters to follow him.

Posted by: jhbyer | July 7, 2009 10:04 PM
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It is a norm in our Country for politicians to essentially be away from high-level elected positions while they campaign for another high-level job. As we have seen many times, for all practical purposes, this can be for months at a time.

Governor Sanford seems to be on a private journey that we cannot possibly understand without direct conversations with him and perhaps those involved, which of course would be inappropriate. A short time ago, he began telling the nation about his torment. It will take time to work through his issues. I recommend he seek a mental health professional and stop talking to the media about his private journey except for occasional brief announcements.

Mostly, I don’t agree with Gov. Sanford's politics. The government of South Carolina, a federal donee State, needs to take its own journey, which should include proper funding and management of its schools, job creation, and reduction of federal dollars to the State by becoming a doner instead of a donee State in terms of federal money.

Resignation should be and is Gov. Sanford's call. ~ richard allbritton, Miami (former South Carolinian), http://rallbritton.com

Posted by: rigel1 | July 2, 2009 5:47 AM
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What's changed about current sex scandals is that the perpetrators would usually issue either a heated or mealy-mouthed denial, and then quietly resign a few days later. Barney Frank became the modern trend-setter, after refusing to resign when his domestic partner was caught-up in criminal conduct which any reasonable person would have concluded could not have failed to have been noted by Frank. Then came the most famous non-resigner of all, Bill Clinton, who first refused to withdraw from a campaign and then refused to resign from the Presidency after successive sex scandals. Now, it seems that some politicians resign and others stick it out until they lose an election. Frank and Clinton never did, but Craig did, etc. So, it seems to be more about what kind of other misbehavior a given electorate will tolerate in its leaders than it does about the sex itself.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | July 1, 2009 7:48 PM
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Okay, it's somewhat about the sex, but it's also about the cynicism and hypocrisy and total lack of self-discipline and the egotism and self-centeredness all involved in disappearing from the job for a week, telling your staff lies so they can lie for you, and then revealing all your this-is-all-about-my-passion crap on national news. Do you really want someone this distracted making decisions for you? An idle dalliance, making out with hookers - tasteless, stupid, but not so completely job-impairing as this. It's like Monkey Business times ten - which was stupid enough when Hart knew there were scores of journalists just waiting to meet his dare.

Posted by: chowlett1 | July 1, 2009 3:10 PM
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To me, it is not about the sex, although it is to the media. The sex is sensational and titillating and, it sells copy. I believe that the most important point made by the posters is that of Gen. Meigs - Dereliction of duty. Acting in such an irresponsible manner must bring his ability to lead into question; a Governor of a state simply cannot disappear for five days without concern for his office. But I believe that his two press conferences have demonstrated another reason for him to step down; he's just too goofy.

Posted by: ancientdude | July 1, 2009 12:58 PM
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It's not about sex, it's about hypocrisy. When politicians are exposed as hypocrites, it makes it that much more difficult for them to politicize areas which are in fact irrelevant to politics.

I fully agree that many distinguished leaders had private lives that would currently be considered a disgrace. We would lose the services of some of the most intelligent and energetic members of the society if we enforce the bizarre code of conduct advocated by some of the "family values" advocates. The best way to keep these folks from controlling a national agenda is to rip their hypocrisy to shreds on national TV.

Posted by: Vince5 | July 1, 2009 5:39 AM
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No i don't think people should be hounded about sex scandals, that is not why i post.

You and so many others somehow miss the clear point of this protest against hypocrisy, ...Democrats don't impeach for sex scandals, ...its predominantly a republican dirty politics tactic that has been used unfairly to destroy democrats but not republicans.

They ruined Clinton ability to pass the baton to Gore with sex scandal impeachment politics, but now with Sanford and blatant incredulity they let themselves off the hook and think nothing of it. Like a gang of incredulous sex scandal Nazi.

I am offended at all the writers like you who too easily fail to clarify that the politics of impeaching over sex scandals is predominantly an unfair and truly an inhumane republican tactic?

Posted by: ryan_heart | July 1, 2009 2:12 AM
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