Politicians Deserve No Privacy

Hilzoy:

Imagine yourself in her position: there you are, seventeen years old, pregnant, unmarried. Maybe you understand what happened and why; and maybe your parents and friends do as well. But zillions of bloggers and reporters and pundits are about to make the most personal details of your life into a political issue, and they don't understand it at all. And yet, despite that, they are about to use you and your unborn child to score points on one another, without any regard whatsoever for you and your actual situation.

I will respect a politician's privacy (and the privacy of their family) when they start respecting ours. Politics is all about making the most personal details of our lives into political issues without any regard whatsoever for individual concerns; that's why it's called politics. Politicians don't get to use their families as human shields to deflect media criticism. They shouldn't be trying to run our lives in the first place.

That's a story about whether or not Sarah Palin sticks to her beliefs when they affect her own family, not about her daughter. But it is not fair game to use her daughter, or any of her kids, as pawns in a political argument. To my mind, this extends to using her daughter as evidence that abstinence-only education doesn't work: presumably, no one thinks that it works 100% of the time, and that's the only claim to which this one counterexample could possibly be relevant. (That's why God created large-scale studies.)

What a ridiculous double standard. Political stump speeches are all about colorful use of anecdote, not double-blind, peer-reviewed academic studies. So long as it's fair game for politicians to use little old ladies who must choose between cat food and medicine or people food and no medicine, it is fair game for us to reference their personal lives as a reason they should not be running anyone else's.

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Unfortunately, your argument

Unfortunately, your argument - "they do it to some of us, so we can do it to them" - can also be used to justify anything from confiscation of politicians' property to sentencing them to death. That argument is so extreme that I cannot agree with it.

I don't believe in "they do

I don't believe in "they do it to us we can do it to them" either, not in this form at least. In this case, the person being targeted is also Bristol Palin who (so far) has not tried to intrude in anyone's life.

However, the consequences that you describe (confiscation of politicians property, sentencing to death, etc) follow from much weaker premises, the right to recover stolen property, the right to self-defense, basic justice. It is not morally wrong to recover your taxes from a politician's pocket or to prevent him to pass a new tax.

While the implication of mere justice in a statist society are indeed extreme, I find it disturbing that you do not agree to a conclusion, simply because you find it "extreme".

In this case, the person

In this case, the person being targeted is also Bristol Palin who (so far) has not tried to intrude in anyone's life.

This assumes that people have a right not to have rumors spoken about them in public. I don't assume this. The word "intrusion" is doing all the work here, but that is a vague term, ranging all the way from violent aggression to Brian Macker's "your ugly advertising is hurting my sensitive eyes."

This assumes that people

This assumes that people have a right not to have rumors spoken about them in public.

It doesn't. You have a right to handle tracts in the street asking people not to hire Jews, that doesn't make it respectable or moral. You have all the right in the world to discuss at length the girl's life, but it's not very nice.

I agree that, in general, it

I agree that, in general, it is not very nice to spread unflattering rumors about innocent third parties. But in the specific case of politicians, who should know going in that their entire personal lives will be looked at under a microscope in public, it was the politicians' choice themselves to go into politics, knowing that they are putting their families' privacy in jeopardy. They certainly cannot legitimately use their family as human shields to deflect any criticism they may receive regarding their policy positions on family policy, or regarding their own parenting decisions.

It might be wrong after all

Is it wrong to go after the kids? Well, define "wrong". One of my working definitions involves spontaneous enforcement, and one sort of spontaneous enforcement is reputational enforcement. We can easily find comments like:

As Megan McArdle says on her blog:

On Sarah Palin as a VP I have no particular opinion, except that she doesn't make me any more interested in voting for John McCain. But the people criticizing her are making me considerably less interested in voting for Obama.

Another comment from Michelle Catalano:

If I’m rushing to the defense of a woman whose core ideologies I oppose, then something pretty bad must be going on. And that something smells like a pungent mixture of hypocrisy and desperation.

This looks a bit like spontaneous reputational enforcement.

They just happen to disagree

They just happen to disagree with the tactic, and I just happen to believe that they are wrong in their disagreement.

The stuff morality is built on

That's the stuff morality and even law are built on.

Funding

They shouldn't be trying to run our lives in the first place.

I was curious about this so I googled it up. My first hit:

Palin herself said she opposes funding sexual-education programs in Alaska.

I don't consider opposition to funding of X to be "trying to run our lives."

This is not to say that I oppose prying into the private lives of candidates. I think it's fine. The prying is inevitably going to be tremendously one-sided, but that doesn't make it wrong to pry.

I don't consider opposition

I don't consider opposition to funding of X to be "trying to run our lives."

It depends on the motivation behind this position. If the motivation is that the government shouldn't be funding any education programs, period, then I would agree. But if the motivation is simply to object to something because it offends her insane fundamentalist religious beliefs, but she wants to keep the rest of the state monopoly education system in tact, then this is no different than left-statists who object to funding creation-education programs in public schools, not because they object to public schools, but because they want the state monopoly to be catering to their whims instead of their opponents' whims.

So what ? Both the

So what ? Both the right-wing arguing not to fund sex-education and the left-wing arguing not to fund creation are right. The right thing to do is not to fund anything of course. I'd rather see politicians with conflicting world views battle by un-funding what they don't like than funding what they like.

So what? So what is we must

So what? So what is we must decide the policy of second best in a world where the first best policy is unavailable. The second best policy, under a system of state monopoly provision of education, is that we teach the correct scientific theories in science classrooms and the correct sex education theories in sex education classrooms. Creationism and abstinence-only education fail in both of their respective cases.

No, the second best is a

No, the second best is a situation where neither science nor sex are taught in public schools.

No, that is first best.

No, that is first best. Second best is: granted that schools will be provided by state monopolies with a one-size-fits-all curriculum, they should teach science over nonscience and effective sex education over ineffective sex education.

Not teaching science at all, but keeping the rest of the state monopoly education system in tact is third best, first worst. Parents are forced to pay for a product that everyone agrees is missing essential parts.

So who is trying to run our lives?

Who is trying most to run our lives:

1) The advocate of teaching nonscience as science.

2) The advocate of teaching science.

3) The advocate of teaching neither (without a reduction in taxes).

Seems to me there is a tie between (1) and (2), i.e., that in this respect your position is no better than the worst possible interpretation of Palin's position. The way you want our lives run may be better than the way Palin may want our lives to be run. But you're not in a position to level the specific charge against Palin that she wants to run our lives. You are, instead, in a position to accuse her of sabotaging efforts to run our lives well. She is (on the worst interpretation) tossing a monkey wrench into the machinery by which the government runs our lives, and you are upset with her for doing that - you are upset that she is damaging the government's machinery for running our lives. Every big-government liberal is getting whiplash from nodding their heads vigorously.

In what universe is Bristol

In what universe is Bristol Palin a politician?

In the universe where I said

In the universe where I said she was one, which is not the universe you and I are currently living in. What I did say was that her mother, as a politician, deserves no privacy, and her daughter is collateral damage; the choice to expose her daughter to public scrutiny was made by her mother when she accepted the nomination.

and her daughter is

and her daughter is collateral damage;

Since when is that acceptable to a libertarian ?

the choice to expose her daughter to public scrutiny was made by her mother when she accepted the nomination.

Did Bristol accept the exposure ?

Since when is that

Since when is that acceptable to a libertarian?

Since forever? A terrorist with a baby strapped to its chest needs to be shot and killed, along with the baby, in order to prevent an even greater number of deaths. What do you do, Jack Bauer? You shoot the baby, that's what. The blame for the baby's death - for bringing the baby into a situation of inevitable harm - lies with the terrorist, not with good ol' Jack. So too, the blame for the daughter's embarrassment lies with her mother's choice to accept the nomination, and not with media critics.

Of course, the response must be proportionate and appropriate. If the same objective can be achieved without harm, then harm isn't justified. And only certain sorts of facts about the Palin's family are relevant for public discourse. But certainly comparing her family's personal choices to her policy positions is fair game and relevant.

Jack Bauer is hardly a

Jack Bauer is hardly a libertarian hero. The mother of the baby has a legitimate claim against Jack Bauer for killing her child.

Of course it's a public policy issue!

"Politics is all about making the most personal details of our lives into political issues without any regard whatsoever for individual concerns; that's why it's called politics."

No, it's called politics because it's the art of how life is lived in a polis.

And I don't understand what's supposed to be inconsistent here at all from Palin. I presume she's talking about teaching, say, non-abstinence in public schools. So of course those issues will be a matter of public policy. How could they possibly not be so? I think the real problem is you don't like the policies!

Of course it's a public policy issue!

"Politics is all about making the most personal details of our lives into political issues without any regard whatsoever for individual concerns; that's why it's called politics."

No, it's called politics because it's the art of how life is lived in a polis.

And I don't understand what's supposed to be inconsistent here at all from Palin. I presume she's talking about teaching, say, non-abstinence in public schools. So of course those issues will be a matter of public policy. How could they possibly not be so? I think the real problem is you don't like the policies!