It's easy to blow off the dalliances of politicians as personal, private and somehow separate from the public role they play as policy maker.
I've had the opportunity in my private practice to sit down with many powerful men, some of whom have philandered.
In the position of psychotherapist, I've had to look beyond the stereotypes about men and cheating and ask questions. What are they really looking for? What are they expressing?
Their answers consistently challenge commonly held beliefs about men's sexuality. First, cheating is not just how men are. This narrative is offensive to men. Most men do not sleep with women outside of their relationship and the statistics on women's infidelity are not that far off from the numbers of men who stray.
This is not just about men in power. Infidelity happens across social classes.
In fact, infidelity is common. Common across time, place and gender and it's related to a number of cultural and psychological factors. But sex does reveal something about a man: his character, his relationship to power. Sex is kind of like a Rorschach test. We project parts of our selves onto it: longings, trauma, feelings, and hidden parts of self not expressed in our everyday life.
Why should citizens care about the sexuality of their leaders?
Sexual behavior is different from one's private fantasies and proclivities; behavior is the action that he takes. It reveals a great deal about what a man will be like in public office. So when contemplating people such as Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer or Bob Filner, do consider the way he treats his family along with his approach to policy. Here's what to look for:
Personal Qualities to Consider in a Politician
Honesty: Cheating is not just about sex, it's a betrayal of an agreement. The definition of the word refers to fraud and deceit. We can debate all day about monogamy, or the normalcy of the desire to sleep with others, or what other cultures accept, but these aren't the salient factors in evaluating a politician. Plenty of couples negotiate the boundaries of their monogamous relationships. Some people choose open relationships. Or polyamory. And some couples are okay with sexting strangers.
Anthony Weiner was clear in his confession that his behavior was dishonest. It is even possible that he was turned on by the transgression of having a secret sexual identity ("Carlos Danger") or that he thinks he is above telling the truth. Either way, voters should consider the fact that he may not be able to fulfill his campaign promises.
Self-control: Politicians are faced with more temptation than the average person. They are faced with lobbyists and money from special interest groups. Can they maintain their campaign promises or will they cede to temptation? Of course money is going to feel persuasive, but can they control the impulse to take it?
Beware of the label sex addiction as a reason for the behavior of politicians. If they're sick, they should be in rehab. Not the mayor's office. Anybody who struggles with an active addiction is going to have compromised impulse control -- which is correlated with infidelity and other destructive choices. Voters should ask: Can they have fidelity to the people? When tempted to vote against the interests of their constituents, what will they do?
Narcissism: Research on infidelity shows that narcissism is a common trait of those that cheat. Some do it because they feel superior, above the rules and entitled to exploit others. If you're a common citizen, this is likely how the politicians feel about you. By the way, narcissism does not respond well to treatment.
Politicians have many opportunities to choose self-advancement over the greater good of their community. Voters should ask: Will they vote in our best interest?
Low self-esteem: Low self-worth is the more common face of narcissism and is often a less obvious, but likely factor for the illicit acts of political figures. A stable man doesn't need constant reassurance that he is worthy. Low self-esteem is also correlated with high rates of infidelity. This is the constant seeking of validation from the opposite sex in order to compensate for the ubiquitous feeling of being "not good enough." Upon success, it's a common phenomenon for people to feel unworthy. Success can feel vulnerable -- and the ways accomplished people cope often lead to self-sabotage.
How he handles power: I've had men tell me in therapy about their Hollywood-esque fantasies of what a successful, powerful man should look like. Usually, it's James Bond, surrounded by glamorous women. This is an immature idea of what it means to be a powerful man. It reminds me of those Middle East dictators towering over their national highways on giant billboards posed as Tom Cruise from Top Gun, replete with aviators and bomber jackets. Voters should ask: do we want someone with childish notions about power in an actual position of power in your community?
Given the current controversy around the sexual escapes of men running for office, we should all consider what personal traits make a good leader. How about a man of integrity who understands the gravity of the decisions he will make in office? He will have to make tough decisions and have a solid sense of himself and his values. He will have to face difficult conversations and trade-offs, and he would need to put the good of the community ahead of his own personal advancement. These ideals are the same qualities it takes to make a good father, husband and sexual partner. These are difficult characteristics to attain, but politicians are seeking the power to make decisions that impact all of our lives and therefore should be scrutinized for their personal attributes.