That's the advice I got from a reader from NY who I just got off the phone with. "Come on. It's getting a little eh."
Okay, spice. Here goes.
Last night I went to a public forum prompted by the Sam Adams controversy.
If you're not from Portland, and you don't have time to read the whole article, the basic story is this: It recently came to light that Portland's new Mayor, Sam Adams, was having sex with a teenaged legislative intern in 2005 while Adams was a City Councilman.
When the accusations began back in September, before his election, Adams responded super-righteously and with indignation [see: Clinton]. Then, after he was elected, Adams hired the muckracking writer from the local alt rag - who would've broken the story - to work for his office.
In short, Sam was discovered to be a politician, an old-school, ambitious, lying, manipulating, arrogant, power-abusing politician. Surprise!
Last night's forum, sponsored by the Oregon Council for the Humanities, attempted to be less of a argument about whether or not Sam should stay - that debate continues to rage - but a discussion about the boundaries between public and private space, for public figures and for all of us.
The panelists were Mark Zusman, editor of the Willamette Week, the newspaper that broke the story, Caitlin Baggott, director of the Oregon Bus Project, Robert Eisinger, chair of the Political Science Department at Lewis and Clark University, and Tom Bivins, Chair of Media Ethics at the University of Oregon School of Journalism.
Mark began by stating his two founding principles of privacy: that privacy of the individual is an absolute right, and that there is absolutely no place for privacy in government. Interpreting what falls in which sphere is what his work is about, and what the night's discussion became about.
Mark emphasized that there are no hard rules, but the measuring stick is always whether the personal behavior in question affects the person's job.
There was much talk about character, whether it was immutable or a series of choices or habits. Peter Steinberger, dean of faculty at Reed College, and an excellent moderator, pointed out the different ways a politician's personal failures are interpreted by pragmatists, who see politics as in terms of results, and purists, who see politics as an embodiment of our highest potential as humans.
The pragmatists are able to reconcile effective politicians whose personal lives are a wreck - FDR, JFK, Churchill, etc. Professor Bivins seemed to fall into this second group, and reminded us that if we expect our politicians to be angels, we are guaranteed to be disappointed.
In her many daily conversations about the scandal, Caitlin Baggot noticed a different split, which she described as generational. The older people were more disturbed by the morality of having a sexual relationship with an intern; the younger people were bothered by Adam's attempt to control, manage and cover-up his failure.
"Let's be honest," Mark Zussman said near the end of the evening. "If Sam's initial response had been 'Yes, this happened, but I never broke the law, this is a personal matter, and it never affected my job as public servant,' we wouldn't be here tonight."
"He didn't trust Portlanders enough to tell us the truth," someone in the audience said.
That's what this thing seemed to be about to me, the shift in politics from cover-ups and crisis-management to openness and transparency. Sam's trying to go about business as usual, but I don't think it's over yet.