Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Pence Rules Considered

Writing about the a number of Mississippi gubernatorial candidates' adherence to the "Pence Rules" (generally, avoiding being alone with any women other than their wives), Irina Manta writes:

So how are we to understand these men's attitudes? Here are some possibilities:

  • While they would deny this as the reason, these men don't trust themselves not to misbehave around women. This should make them look bad to voters.

I do not intend to compromise the moral prohibition against adultery when I say that viewing it as a function of "self-control" is a rather naive model of how adultery happens.

Let's consider a man possessed of politician-levels of charisma and charm. His marriage is secure and happy but subject to normal levels of stress. He begins to take long car rides with a female journalist who is herself attractive and who, likewise, responds favorably to his charisma. Their conversations, as they naturally would, move from formal to playful to intimate, the subjects from politics to shared interests to personal. Perhaps they become aware of the mutual attraction.

I don't actually know what happens at this point, but it's not like adultery is a novel concept. Presumably an offer somewhere gets made. Our politician may indeed resist such an offer, and refrain making his own. But . . . he thinks about her.

And maybe he doesn't want that. Maybe he would prefer to avoid the temptation altogether. Perhaps he knows that the "self" making decisions in these circumstances will not be the same "self" making decisions about who gets to be his riding companion. Maybe he doesn't want the distraction or self-consciousness that arises from spending long stretches in intimate circumstances with an attractive woman-not-his-wife, irrespective of her availability.

  • Their wives don't trust these guys around women. Voters may want to inquire why that is, and the reasons may well end up looking bad to voters.

My employer has a long-running program called "Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR)". It's content has evolved over the years, moving from the "rape culture" paradigm to something called Green Dot, which is about teaching bystander intervention. While considerably less alienating, this new iteration still leaves me cold. The scenarios they present for our consideration usually start in one of two ways:

  • "You're at a bar and . . . ." No, I'm not. I'm literally never at a bar. And even when I was a weekend regular at our club when I was living in the Far East, I never involved myself in anyone else's business sufficiently to apprehend if anything the scenario describes was happening.

  • "A friend from work confides in you that her boyfriend . . . ." Female friends are also not a thing. Even were my friendship actually sought by a female coworker (a 'hole 'nuther issue), I'm pretty sure Mrs. Phi would frown on the practice.

Anyway, after this year's training session, I shared my reaction with a couple of people at work and Mrs. Phi. Nobody contradicted me. Notably, Mrs. Phi did not rush to assure me that I was totally allowed female friends. Irina to the contrary, I don't think this is because she "doesn't trust" me. Rather I think she trusts me precisely because I'm not the kind of married man who keeps a "female friend" or two in the kitty.

  • These men don't trust women not to behave inappropriately toward them. Any women. This should make said men look bad to voters.

Remember Kathy Lee Gifford? She once cohosted a morning talk show with Regis Philbin called "Regis & Kathy Lee". Kathy Lee publicly identified as Christian, and she also would occasionally talk about how wonderful her marriage to sportscaster Frank Gifford was. That combination was too juicy a target for the tabloid newspaper Globe, which paid $120K (estimates of the amount varies, and to be fair the Globe has its own side to this story) to a former model to spend a couple of months seducing Frank, finally succeeding in a New York City hotel where they were secretly filmed together. I note here that the target of this little sting operation wasn't even Frank Gifford. Nobody gave a d@mn what Frank did. This was all an effort to embarrass his wife for the temerity of being a Christian in a mainstream setting.

And that was just to sell some magazines. Do you believe the media has gotten (a) more ethical and less partisan in the last 20 years or (b) less ethical and more partisan? Yeah, that's what I think too. I further think there is no shortage of female journalists for whom boning a Republican would be an acceptable price to pay if it helped elect a Democrat in Mississippi.

  • These men don't trust how journalists would present such interactions and/or they don't trust the public in how it would view Important Men spending any time alone with women. In other words, these candidates don't trust voters with something fairly basic. Why should voters trust them with much more important things?

I have a colleague I've known for the last dozen or so years. He has considerable stature in our professional field, directing one of the research centers at the institute where I obtained my PhD. He also is, as near as I can assess these things, good looking for his age, and in possession of abundant personal charisma.

When we first met I was one of his students, and in that capacity had occasion to visit his office. I noted (because I'm a guy) the attractive blond assistant stationed at the desk outside his office. Then again, a couple of years later on the cusp of graduation, I dropped by his office again, and there was another, different though equally attractive, blond parked at the same desk.

How did he manage that?

A couple of years after that, this professor visited my own work center (with which the institute has a collaborative relationship), bringing along with him yet another research assistant . . . a hot strawberry blond!

I mean . . . d@mn.

Seriously, though, I'd like to think I know this man pretty well after a decade of our association, and based on that I would be surprised and disappointed were I to learn of any inappropriate relationships. But . . . I thought about it.

Now let's picture Mr. Republican, tooling up to a campaign picnic in his (I assume) F-150 King Ranch Supercab. The local Republican event coordinator runs up to greet him and the woman climbing out of the truck with him: "Hello, Mr. & Mrs. Republican!"

Mr. Republican: "Er . . . thanks, but no, Mrs. Republican is home raising my kids without me. This young woman is Miss Hot Journalist, with whom I have a totally professional, non-sexual relationship."

Event Coordinator: "Oops, that was really awkward, but now that you've explained everything, I totally won't say another word about it."

And maybe he won't. But he thought about it.

Now I am (or was) an early Trump supporter. I stopped caring about his messy personal history the moment he made immigration the keystone of his campaign and didn't back down. But I personally know people for whom that history was a deal-breaker in a crowded primary, and I expect there are a lot of such people among Mississippi Republican primary voters. They have a lot of candidates to pick from this cycle, and I kind of get how they might not want to be embarassed by throwing early support to a candidate around whom gossip of impropriety might grow to a full-blown scandal. Which means I also get how the candidates would want to avoid running afoul of those concerns.