New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner acknowledged sending explicit text messages to a woman as recently as last summer.
Political comeback stories can make for great movie scripts, but some college students aren’t quite so enthralled by post-scandal political success.
New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is by no means the first politician to attempt to regain office after a widely publicized personal scandal. While American voters have often chosen to forgive and forget, students are likely to question the decision-making skills of scandal-marred candidates, says Lisa Burns, Quinnipiac University communications professor and media studies chairwoman.
Burns finds that her students’ reactions to sex scandals differ from those of older generations. Instead of emphasizing that Weiner disrespected his wife and child, Burns says students more often point out, “Shouldn’t he know better?”
Students know that “if it’s online, it lives forever,” Burns says. “Young people aren’t as worried about the marriage side of it; they’re wondering: ‘If he’s that reckless with his personal life, will he be reckless in office?’”
Extramarital exploits don’t stop most politicians from being re-elected, according to data gathered by political scientist Scott Basinger.
Of the publicly disgraced leaders who returned to politics, 73% successfully campaigned through to their next general election, and of those, 81% ultimately won, Basinger found.
“It’s hard to view a candidate without having the sex scandal color my impression because it raises questions about his or her responsibility, reliability and maturity,” University of Pittsburgh sophomore Taia Pandolfi says.
University of Central Florida sophomore Eric Chen believes extramarital affairs are fair grounds for questioning how much faith constituents should put in their representatives.
“It shows a lack of integrity,” Chen says. “If they can’t stay faithful to a spouse, how will they be faithful to the country?”
If Weiner is able to be re-elected, he’ll join the likes of Mark Sanford, R-S.C., elected three years after infamously disappearing to rendezvous with his mistress and consequently resigning as governor.
There’s also former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who enjoyed a strong campaign for the 2012 presidency despite several alleged affairs, including one while his first wife was battling cancer.
“It’s an issue of character,” Burns says. “If a politician who’s been given a second chance does anything that’s out of line, the scandal is always going to resurface. It comes back to the idea of decision-making: He got a second chance, look what he did with it.”
It’s “embarrassing” that there is such a media circus around the personal lives of politicians, University of Central Florida sophomore Claire Parsons says. “Yes, we want them to be spirited and good-hearted, but politics isn’t always like that.”
Several students identified former president Bill Clinton as a politician who effectively redeemed himself by proving that his leadership skills far exceeded the importance of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Controversies “don’t negate (a politician’s) good qualities,” Pandolfi says.
Despite the skepticism of candidates marred by controversy, some students say they are uninterested in the personal affairs of politicians, arguing instead that such discretions aren’t indicative of the candidate’s strengths.
“Who someone bangs has no relation to how good or bad they’ll run a country,” University of Central Florida sophomore Chris Chambers says. “Just because someone is a hedonist doesn’t mean they can’t be a damn good leader.”
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