The Chris Lee affair exemplifies the weird results obtained from the mixture of politics and private life. Lee is the married-with-lovely-children Congressman who just resigned from office because a photo he had emailed to a woman he had met through a Craigslist ad showed him naked from the waist up. He was outed when a third party recognized the photograph and it was posted on Gawker.com. We don’t know what extramarital adventures this upstate New York Republican had in the past, but he never even met the woman. All he really did was go hunting for an extramarital affair.
Why should the act of sniffing around for an affair lead to immediate resignation? The problem, of course, is that he’s part of the party of high morality, the party ready to condemn the sinner even when the sin has nothing to do with his job.
We’ll never know the entire story of his personal and family life, so we’ll never know what prompted his action.
Whose business is it anyhow?
The immediate response to the argument that we shouldn’t care about the private lives of our leaders, as long as it doesn’t relate to job performance will say, yes, but he (or she) lied about it. That’s why they said they impeached President Clinton: not for what he did but because he lied about it.
But Lee never lied to the public. As soon as Gawker.com published the photo, he came clean. Of course, he had no choice because the truth was semi-nakedly staring at him from a computer screen.
I think Lee wanted to get caught, perhaps out of guilt or maybe to end a long and painful charade. He must have known that if he put it on the Internet there was a much greater chance of getting caught than if he sent someone a photo in the mail. He must have known that someone would recognize a Congressman. There are ways to mask the origin of words but few ways to disclaim your own image.
I have found no record of Lee taking the overly moralistic stands of some other recent offenders against the morality police, such as Governor Elliot Spitzer or Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig did. So unless some dirt starts emerging, we have to assume that he made himself a victim of the overall moral head-hunting tone of his party and especially its recent adherents from the far right. He did not have to resign. He could have said it’s a private matter. That he decided to do so as soon as it hit the fan may make some suspicious, but to me it merely looks as if he made himself a victim of the righteousness that his party is now professing. And that’s too bad, because I really do think we should judge people’s job performance on what they do in the job and not what they do with their private parts in their private lives.
In Western Europe outside perhaps Great Britain, no one would give a damn about Lee’s trolling for partners as long as the taxpayers weren’t paying for it and the paramour was of age. Like universal healthcare, cheap public colleges, wonderful vocational school education and extensive inter-city mass transit, it’s another way in which the “socialist” countries of Western Europe offer a superior model to ours.