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Politically Safe Sex?

Editorial

It is often amusing — and vexing — to see how people, especially ideologues and opinion leaders, react when the tawdry sex lives, real or alleged, of public figures make the news. Usually it’s the liberals who go into weird contortions on this matter — this continuing storm — but they aren’t the only ones.

The usual refrain among knee-jerk liberals in the media is, “What business is it of any­one’s what a public figure does in his or her private life? It won’t affect his performance in office. It’s a trifling matter.” Of course, media people are not famous for stable family living, and if surveys of media people are reliable, their attitudes toward sex and family tend to veer sharply toward the libertine, with the most liberal media people being, let’s be frank, the most unprincipled. Not surprisingly, when it comes to the sexual variety of muck, the liberal muckrakers, so admirably probing and persistent in other areas, become uncharacteris­tically timid and excusing.

Then there are those liberal media types who are a bit more discerning. But only a bit. While the “character issue” is still put in quotation marks, and puritanism (not in quote marks) is still ritualistically decried, they pro­fess concern only if the sexual behavior in question has certain menacing possibilities (such as JFK’s with a woman connected with the Mob) or if it is “reckless” and “obsessive” (as with Gary Hart). Otherwise, the public figure may do whatever he likes with whom­ever he wishes. The idea is to be “discreet” and “prudent” about it. Call it Politically Safe Sex. Don’t be up front about it; don’t (know­ingly) do it with a Mob gal; don’t invite any­one to track you; and be sure to do it with a condom (because you might get AIDS and die, though if you’re lucky we might be able, using our Magic Johnson playbook, to transform you into a National Hero and Martyr). In other words, just play it safe and be a hypocrite.

But one doesn’t have to be a liberal media type to cultivate hypocrisy and make excuses. It pains us to note that in the Catholic Church some chancery offices seem to deal with a priest who has been found violating his vow of celibacy by sweeping the matter under the rug. The one called to act in the person of Christ at the altar is merely given a slap on the wrist and reassigned to another post, where — who knows — he may continue to act in the person of Wilt Chamberlain, but now safely in the sacristy. We’d prefer not to believe it, but apparently the operating princi­ple is: “Be discreet about it; don’t create a public scandal; and, for heaven’s sake, don’t be so clumsy as to get a lawsuit filed against the diocese.” Shall we call this Ecclesiastically Safe Sex?

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