Friday, August 08, 2008

On Not Discussing John Edwards

Since John Edwards and his antsy pants are being treated, God help us as a news story to rival the war that the Russians started today, let me just point out one of the great things about living in a democracy.

Living in a democracy means not having to care who your political leaders sleep with.

This is one of the chief pleasures of democratic republics, as far as I am concerned. Seriously, would you want to picture George III in bed? If you natter and blatter about former senators tomcatting on their wives, then you refuse to take advantage of one America's greatest public luxuries. It's like living next to the Grand Canyon and staying in your basement all day, or having a lifetime subscription to the Met but deliberately listening to Muzak instead. A little appreciation, please.

It is one of our system's great achievements is to make it entirely irrelevant that our leaders are sexual nitwits. God forbid it be otherwise. Think about the monarchies in which the king or queen's erotic lives have had real political consequences. Think about changing England's national religion (and its foreign alliances) because of who got Henry VIII hot and bothered. Think about worrying if those things would change back because of, say, George IV's taste in women. Think about worrying about who the King of France took as his official mistress, and his unofficial mistress, and what that meant for government policies. And thank the Founders we never have to worry about that. Political happiness is not having to worry about whether the king can perform in bed, or about who coaches his the best performances. Amen.

But of course, we all know Edwards's sex life is supremely unimportant. We know it's not important because we can talk about it so freely.

In systems where the leaders sex lives' actually matter, no one is allowed to discuss their sex lives. This has always been true.

Let's just say there was no public polling about who Henry VIII married next, or who Louis XIV moved to better rooms at Versailles. If you had a complaint about who the king or queen was shtupping or trying to shtup or holding involved negotiations about the possibility of shtupping, your choices were either to keep your tongue in your mouth or have it permanently removed. An English subject named John Stubbs once wrote a pamphlet about how the Queen, Elizabeth I, should absolutely positively not not not marry a foreigner, and above all not that perfumed Frenchman who was courting her. Her Majesty's government listened to his feedback, reflected upon his views, and decided to cut off his right hand.

In a representative democracy, of course, we are free to talk about our leaders' sexual misadventures and follies all we like. But it absolutely pointless, and not a hell of a lot of fun.

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