When high-profile scandals break, the first reaction from elected leaders, as well as ordinary voters, is their claim to be “shocked.” Well, yes: we never imagined that Eliot Spitzer would fall from power in just this way. And yes: we were amazed that Bill Clinton would have relations with Monica Lewinski in the White House. But should we have been?
The basic contours of both these leaders’ personalities and character were well known. As John notes, Spitzer was a ruthless seeker of power, a self-aggrandizer. Everything was about him ; rules were merely the means by which he trapped his prey. And Bill Clinton’s lack of personal discipline and history of sexual infidelity were public knowledge. So why are we shocked when these characters live up to their reputations and “disappoint” us? Because political allies and voters look the other way and con themselves into believing that patterns of behavior are really isolated instances.
So as we continue in this presidential election year, we should be wary of discounting evidence and overlooking the obvious. We know that the Clintons are ruthless and will do and say anything. So if Hillary is elected we shouldn’t be shocked by the next financial or personal scandal or the next vindictive crusade against her political opposition. We know that Barack Obama has zero executive experience and virtually no foreign policy expertise. So if he is elected he shouldn’t be shocked by executive incompetence or foreign policy blunders. We know John McCain does not always play well with others. So if he is elected we shouldn’t be shocked if he winds up in shouting matches with Congressional leaders. In short, if we kid ourselves less now, we’ll be less shocked later on.