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Power, Sex & Scandal

Obama, Beyonce

© Christopher Dilts / Public Domain

Carly Andrews - published on 02/13/14

A political leader, a sex scandal and a precarious reputation: just how do the mighty fall?
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The Internet’s alive with the sound of scandal. Speculation this week over damning photos of Obama and Beyoncé, supposedly possessed by the Washington Post, lead to the world’s rumour train taking off at full speed. French media – who were the instigators of the scandal – entered into particular frenzy.

Both the president and the princess of pop have dismissed the rumours as ridiculous and there is in fact no foundation for the whole affair, ignited by paparazzi.

This latest chatter however, reveals much about the precarious reputations of political leaders, particularly ones who have been known to be untruthful with their people. Aleteia has interviewed an expert in communications and politics with regards to the nature of political leaders and scandal. Professor Michele Sorice, from the University of LUISS “Guido Carli”, is director for the “Massimo Balidini” Centre of Media and Communication Studies:

Can the morally dubious actions of a leader result in weakness and susceptiblity to manipulation?

“Naturally, yes, at least in theory, but it’s important to specify that there are many variables at play here; first of all, weakness and manipulation are two different domains. There are leaders that are easily manipulated but nevertheless retain a certain force due to a general consensus or use of media; then there are leaders who are weak, but are absolutely not susceptible to manipulation due to both clarity on their positions and their moral stature.

“Then there are geographical variables. In some countries the moral dimension assumes political values: the sexual sphere in the US, the lack of respect for the common good in Northern Europe. In some countries, some elements can easily be forgiven or even considered as good points: for example, some of the Italian public (luckily not the majority) value ‘misogyny’ as a positive thing. And this changes the logic of social perception.”

Should a leader admit it when he has committed a great error?

“Yes; absolutely. It makes him more human and ultimately makes him stronger. Lying is often the worst mistake; it is perceived as a break in the trust that binds a leader to his/her people. For example, Clinton was criticised more for having hidden his affair with Ms Lewinski, rather than for the affair itself.”

What do you mean when you say that a leader acts upon his/her values?

“He/she constructs the leadership in a horizontal way, with the people: a shared leadership in which the people, through a democratic process, accept their leader’s proposals.

"This, however, is rare. Today’s leader is more often than not like a prince, and the people often confuse strategically defined positions with actual values.”

A good leader must obviously have an open communication towards the people that he/she leads. Does this mean that they should have the highest of moral codes and give an example to the people by always respecting these codes?

“Yes this means respecting a moral code, but one that should apply to everyone. Certainly, we generally expect more from a leader, precisely because he/she incarnates the needs, values and dreams and builds a collective identity. It is similar to having a captain of a football team, from whom we expect the greatest amount of commitment, as well as a strong and exhilarating competitiveness, even if the team is losing.”

How do we define the limits between public and private life?

“For a long time this limit has no longer existed, which is partly the fault of the politician who sensationalizes his private life as a means to achieving his electoral goals. The media feeds on this private domain, which seems to humanise the political leader; the leader finds an effective return for his/her campaign in this visibility.”

Indeed, the blurring of private & public lines mixed with a lack of moral fibre, leads a reputation to be lost as quickly as it is built. The Hollande and Julie Gayet affair is a fine example of this.

Fench President François Hollande is ranking low in the French polls, and it is not just his politics that has been put into question. Since the Gayet affair, 54% of French people are now reported to be against having a First Lady, which seems to reflect the utter indignation of the people towards the president’s behaviour.

Besides already having four children by Segolène Royal without marrying her, he cheated on her during the presidential elections of 2007 – in which Royal was a candidate – with journalist Valérie Trierweiler, who then became First Lady as he himself was voted in. He was then unfaithful to Trierweiler in January 2013, this time with actress Julie Gaye. 

He thus became, in the eyes of many, a man incapable of accepting his own responsibilities, content at repudiating the women who had chosen to share their life with him, with a simple (metaphorical) “slap in the face.”

Both Hollande’s treachery and lack of moral conscience or code, clearly highlights his weakness as a leader of state: if he lies to the women of his life, why should he not do the same to the people of his country? If he is unfaithful to them and abandons one after the other, what is to stop him from compromising morally when it comes to the welfare of his people?

Ms Trierweiler said that if François had “not got to be president then they would still be together.”

It would do well here to remember the words of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Perhaps, then, a true leader would be one who puts himself at the service of the people, valuing the common good over personal power; recognising the need to govern, but also accepting that he is part of a community, in which adherence to moral principles in the political sphere plays an indispensable role.

St Thomas More was testament to this: he insisted upon “the inalienable dignity of the human conscience” and moreover he “refused to compromise, never forsaking the ‘constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions’ which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that ‘man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.’” [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]

The following Journalists contributed to this article: Ary Ramos, Solene Tadie, Corrado Paolucci, Clarissa Oliveira

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