Politics and Privacy: If the NSA doesn’t deserve to know, neither does the public

February 12, 2015

The GUSA presidential and vice-presidential campaign has begun, which marks the beginning of a long period of badgering from dedicated candidates. I can’t watch a minute of The Walking Dead in peace without having another candidate knock at my door. Not everyone shared my stance towards the campaign: I was surprised to find that some people outside of the Georgetown community took interest in this year’s GUSA race. Unfortunately, their motives were less than commendable.

I was disgusted by the way a Catholic news website called “PewSitter” recently preached against GUSA candidate Tim Rosenberger. Calling him a “militant gay republican,” they advocated for a “real Catholic” alternative. They then provided the letter written by a female Georgetown student which described the situation. To briefly summarize it, she made a case against this “militant homosexual activist” in favor of a “Catholic who is committed to protecting Georgetown’s traditions.”

What frustrates me the most about this isn’t the existence of such bigots in this country, or the realization that one of their number is in our very university. What infuriates me is the importance given to people’s private lives in politics even when there is no proof that it affects their performance in the public sector. Unfortunately, this isn’t just an issue on campus—it’s also prevalent in national politics.

It’s no surprise that there have never been any openly homosexual presidents in the United States (although apparently Buchanan may have been a closeted homosexual), nor have there been any no non-Christian presidents. JFK was the only Catholic president this country has had, and only one president, Ronald Reagan, was ever divorced.

Our desire to know everything about the lives of politicians is enabling a large part of the population to consciously or unconsciously judge them, and has hurt the diversity in this country’s government. When has it become imperative to be identical to the majority of the population to get elected? To ask them to be exactly like you is only asking to be lied to: atheists will call themselves deists and homosexuals will stay in the closet.

I am tired of the hypocrisy surrounding the living standards of politicians. No politician can seem upper class without it hurting his or her campaign, so they all sugarcoat reality by calling themselves “middle class” and talking about their times of hardship to placate the electorate. The public has no place in knowing how wealthy candidates are, and while inequalities remain high, electing a “middle class” candidate isn’t necessarily the way we reduce it—only by electing a dynamic candidate will we get anything done.

However, politicians aren’t always victims of the intrusions into their private lives. Practically all of them have attempted to appear as “all-American” during campaigns, using well-staged family photos to boost their image. Because they’re dragging their families into the limelight, they can’t reasonably attack journalists for reporting on their family dealings. Politicians’ sense of what is and isn’t private is warped by the public’s demands, and journalists can’t ignore their duty to report—so it’s up to us to set a standard of privacy since we decide to make it relevant.

By pushing politicians to open up every aspect of their lives to the public, we have moved from a politics of ideology and action to a politics of identity. What you stand for should be the main determinant in who you vote for, not who you are. The public can’t ignore the content of a candidate’s character, but a clear line has to be drawn. Sure, gross indecencies like criminality can’t be a private matter in a campaign, because they show a candidate’s true colors, but, aside from acts that shock the conscience (what exactly that means is something we as a society need to figure out), a candidate’s private life is his or hers and must be respected as such.

It’s too easy to be affected by the identity of the candidate, which is why we should simply stop asking questions. It’s a sad truth that some things cannot be ignored: we can’t, for instance, ignore that Hillary Clinton is a woman, and the dream of having a female president will be a factor at the polling station. However, whenever we can, we should simply avert our eyes.

When you vote in the GUSA election, I hope most of you will ignore as much as you can of who the candidates are, and instead look at their ideas and what they can do for us. Whether they are black, gay, or Catholic shouldn’t matter. Part of our Jesuit heritage is a dedication to tolerance and diversity, and what better way to respect it than by electing a candidate based on merit no matter their identity?

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