Tags: When | the | Personal | Becomes | Political

When the Personal Becomes Political

Friday, 11 March 2005 12:00 AM

The pain of losing by a little is that you can point to almost anything as the reason for losing. The Estrich Poll, which is highly unscientific, found almost that many would-be Hertzberg voters discussing his divorce and child support payments in markets, dressing rooms, schoolyards and other spots where parents and especially women of a certain age congregate.

In a newspaper profile a few weeks before the election, we all read about how Hertzberg had proposed to his ex-wife that, because he was running for mayor, their two sons switch from private school to public school and from a Blue Cross plan to an HMO. His reason was that he would be making substantially less money.

She objected, saying that his ambitions should not come at the expense of the children, and they shouldn't have to face these adjustments. Two lawyers, need I add. They couldn't agree. They ended up in court, where the family judge ruled for the ex-wife that the boys could stay in school and keep their health insurance for a year and reduced Hertzberg's support from some $9,000 that he was paying while in a big law firm to $7,200 a month.

And just to top it off, the same profile reported on a lawsuit Hertzberg had filed against his father upon their dissolution of a joint practice that Bob wanted to steer toward business and his father toward civil rights – a claim for $3 million in punitive damages against his father was still pending at his father's death.

It just wasn't what you might have expected from the man known for his affectionate bear-hugs, his compassion, his ability to work with everybody.

So does it matter?

The idea of wanting your kids to switch schools and change all their doctors right when they have to go through the agony of a parent's campaign struck many of my friends – a group disproportionately comprising mothers, I'll admit – as the ultimate selfishness. In that sense, it tells you something about a person that goes to character. But not much: Most politicians are selfish, really selfish. You can't succeed in politics without being willing to put your family through living hell (watching a parent get beat up, I have been told by many candidates' children, is a horrible experience for a kid that takes years to deal with; candidates are used to it).

It's very difficult to run for office and be a decent parent, or to serve in Sacramento, rooming with another legislator, and be a good husband (neither Bob nor Antonio were).

It wasn't so many years ago that the issue was whether a candidate for a top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission should be disqualified when it became known that he beat his wife. After all, it didn't affect his judgment about securities matters, and in those days, calling it a crime was just engaging in a law school hypothetical. So what disqualified him from doing his job?

Bad fathers have been running for office for years, and no one says a word. I wouldn't want to be the one to do the book on children of the Senate, but the mothers used to be a fierce bunch to make up for fathers who were never there. Yet when Arianna Huffington ran for governor of California last year and her ex-husband declined to do so, citing their children's desire that neither of them run, she was criticized by some, myself included, who worried about the children in a way we never do when fathers say, "I'll take your views into account," and run anyway.

Divorce records knocked Jack Ryan of Illinois out of the Senate race last year when they revealed his penchant for taking his then-wife to racy sex clubs, the rule there being that if you are going to go to racy sex clubs, don't get divorced – or get your records sealed.

But this is all the tip of the iceberg. In a world in which there is no protection, there must be respect. Since everything can be found, what will you print? Since each of us has access to more information, what will we look for, and what will we take into account?

In the days following the initial profile of Hertzberg, nobody I know was talking about his ideas on education, or what he'd accomplished as speaker, or anything like that. It was all about the ex-wife, and whether it was a Jewish day school, and which HMO did he think was as good as the doctors they had had?

I asked a mutual friend what the real story was, and she said he was a good guy stuck with a very, very difficult ex-wife (I just erased what I initially typed), which is not something you can exactly explain in a 30-second ad. Might be. I was later told by many people that Arianna's ex-husband was the one telling tales in the press about what the children wanted, to get even with her.

How do you know? The problem when the personal is political is that it can prove way too much – and because by its nature, it cannot be verified from the outside, it's often difficult to know whether it really should be relied on to prove anything at all.

COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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The pain of losing by a little is that you can point to almost anything as the reason for losing. The Estrich Poll, which is highly unscientific, found almost that many would-be Hertzberg voters discussing his divorce and child support payments in markets, dressing rooms,...
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2005-00-11
Friday, 11 March 2005 12:00 AM
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