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Who Cares About Adultery?

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By Harriet Fraad. Cross posted from Tikkun Daily.

Tiger Woods’ scripted apology for cheating on his wife has been a riveting topic for the US media. On the newsstands on February 20, 2010, every US newspaper carried stories of Tiger Woods’ confession. It was a bold full-page headline in the Post, and Daily News. It appeared on the cover of The Wall Street Journal that carried three stories and front-page photos. The New York Times alone did not post the confession as front-page news but carried two stories and photos on the cover of their Sports Section. Why is this so riveting? In many ways this post continues the theme of my last post, “ Morality- It’s Strictly Personal.” Hopefully, this provides new insights.

Americans seem to be fascinated when their idols have feet of clay, their own clay feet not withstanding. Data on infidelity is not reliable. Many women lie to deny infidelity to make themselves look better and some men exaggerate it for the same reason. However statistics that seem to take this into account report that about 50% of men and 30-40% of women have affairs when married. Why are we surprised by Tiger Woods? I believe that we are not at all surprised. Rather, we have displaced our right to judge behavior from the political and social arenas to the personal one. After all, JFK was reputed to have the ideal of sex with a different woman every night. He may not have lived up to that ideal but it appears that he tried. Eisenhower and FDR had mistresses. That fact was not newsworthy. The sex lives of our great athletes similarly did not used to make the news. Indiscretions were not reported. Confessions were not necessary.

What has changed? We now hold our leaders responsible for their sexuality. Only sexual transgressions merit the transparency that other nations demand from their political and social leaders. Actually, on what other occasion than being caught sexually “cheating” does a leader or a hero for the US population stare straight into the camera and hold himself accountable. Woods’ confession sounded like the fourth step in a twelve-step plan to recovery, a fearless moral inventory accompanied by apologies to those we wronged.

In the words off Tiger Woods “Every one of you has reason to be critical of me.” He confessed that he has “betrayed our trust” in him. Did Bush consider that when he lied and caused death and destruction? Does Obama when he betrays his promises to end the Iraq war, protect the environment, provide universal, single payer health care, and bring lasting change to address America’s increasing injustice and inequality? Of course not.

At President Mitterand’s funeral in France that both his wife and his mistress attended with their children, the press asked for statements from the wife and mistress. Both women refused comment saying, “We are not in the United States. We are here to honor a great leader.” Perhaps they could manage that dignity because they can and do hold their politicians accountable for the impact of their policies on the lives of the French people and the world. Perhaps they still believe they can have an effect on their leaders’ policies because they actually have a democracy.

They, like the Germans and most other Europeans, have stringent laws prohibiting any private money in elections. They have a choice of many parties including several non-capitalist parties. If 12% percent of the electorate votes for an anti-capitalist party like they voted for the Linke party in Germany, that party has 12 % of the seats in the governing body. They can and do influence their government. They are in a democracy. America is now, in Greg Palast’s words, “The best democracy money can buy.”

It is tragic that we, as a nation are reduced to holding our leaders to sexual standards while giving up on holding them to their promises for social justice. So many of us feel helpless. Only money seems to talk. Those who have no money and at the moment have no organized mass voice are effectively silenced. When people are or feel that they are helpless, they may save themselves the pain of consciousness and create escapes. Those escapes provide a kind of freedom that is its own prison. Perhaps our national investment in our hero’s sexual fidelity to the promise of marriage absolves us of the very difficult struggle to hold our leaders accountable for fidelity to campaign promises and stated human values. Maybe we need to have a national fearless moral inventory of our war crimes and our criminal economic system and its impact on America and the world. Maybe the fascination with Tiger Woods’ transgression and confession is a sad symptom of weakness and a fear of the road to recovery which begins with the truth?

A note about Harriet's blog at http://rdwolff.com:

Economy and Psychology Podcast and Blog Series: Join Dr.s Harriet Fraad (psychotherapist) and Richard Wolff (economist), in a series of ongoing podcasts and blog posts, as they explore the interdependency between the economy and psychology. How is our emotional well-being impacted by our economic system, our ways of producing and distributing the goods and services that sustain us? Likewise, how do psychological realities — our feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams — influence the economic dimensions of our lives? How do the changes and instabilities of our economy and psychology find political expression and alter our society? These questions animate this discussion series. Click here to learn more.

Photo: Flickr/rogue3w