Posts Tagged ‘American Elections’


Image result for the front runnerThe Front Runner (2018) is based on the true story of Senator Gary Hart’s second attempt to become President of the United States of America in 1988 (watch trailer here).

Gary Hart was an intuitive and well thought out politician, and political thinker. He had been a senator for almost 20 years, and had placed second in the 1984 Democratic Primaries. At this point I have to admit I was unfamiliar with this story, but honestly I do not follow American politics as closely as I do Canadian, and dudes I was 6-10 years old at that time.

It was the Cold War, in 1988 the closing days. The Berlin Wall had come down, Communism had been bankrupted in the arms race. It was time for America to dream a new way. Gary Hart was seen as the person to do that by the Democrats. Literally they joked his hair was worth 12 points in the polls. He was late 40’s in age. The heir apparent in the Republican Party was George H.W. Bush, former head of the CIA, and President Reagan’s Vice President.

On policy and charisma, even as the primaries were set to begin it was looking like a change in the White House was imminent. Now remember in the 1980’s infotainment was not a thing, 24 news networks were on baby legs, and certain things like sex scandals and celebrity gossip was still firmly tabloid territory. Old school journalists spoke later in memoirs of the gentlemen agreements between them and politicians to not report of family or their philandering.

Then Gary Hart’s campaign and the walls would come down. A mistress. A battle line is drawn between the old way and the new emergence. Hart holding to the facts of life as he had been raised with that his family and personal life was none of the public’s business when it came to serving them. There is truth to that. It was amazing how rabid the news media became chasing the story, harassing his wife and daughter. How quickly, the mainstream became paparazzi with this story. Watching it play out (Hugh Jackman is a great actor) and seeing the literal light switch go on for a whole new world. Where the debate of ideas and vision began to crumble away for gotcha bedroom politics (which I am sure anyone can look to any recent elections to see the outcome 30 years on).

Hart almost got a head of the scandal, until a Washington Post reported asked him if he believed adultery was morally wrong. It is a loaded question, for it first insinuates that everyone’s concept of marriage is a traditional 20th century construct of 1 man, 1 woman with 1.2 kids. For even the word traditional (or Biblical) is loaded as there are many different variations of genders involved, levels of spousalhood, concubines and mistresses, what of a tradition of taking on another relatives spouse when they are widowed as your own?  So what is a moral marriage? What is adultery? It does raise some ethical questions to be answered that religion does not give an easy answer to, nor does politics. Adultery is a rationale for dissolution of a marriage under civil law, yet it is not illegal in of itself. It does harm to many, yet it does not come with a fine or jail time. Yet in the era of the supreme Religious Right, and those in the public eye regardless of profession coming to understand they are never off camera it led to a decent candidate for Presidency to step aside. Two key points: a mysterious envelope anonymously arrived at media outlets showing another affair, that one editor commented it is suspicious that the competition used to head the CIA and this happens, and the other being that harassment of his daughter is presented as the true tipping point for his decision to step down.

I raise this, as we move 30 years on, and look at those who have run for office. Who are under criminal investigations, who bully-mock those who are different, who brag of rape or side wink sexual assault of interns, and they are celebrated and elected (sometimes for more than one term). Yet in 1988, this ended a run, not because the general public thought it was wrong (at the time 64% of Americans polled believed the media had gone to far into his private life), but because the media had found they could. Not a bad thing to investigate for actual criminal activity, for character, assessing policy, and reporting factually on behaviours, but what should have been a footnote stopped someone. Now I am not condoning extra-marital affairs, but that is between those married how their house functions.

For me, it is the ethical question on what standard we hold our media and politicians to?

What standard of privacy do we expect of our private lives, to get the best possible candidates to step forward and run to serve and represent us the people? What is the line in the sand drawn? How much information is too much, and actually distracts from that which matters (i.e. the actual vigorous debate and dissection of platforms and policies)?