When we consider Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor and attorney general who is running for comptroller of New York City, we’d have to call him shameless.
Mr. Spitzer had to resign as governor to avoid prosecution for patronizing prostitutes. Most normal people would be embarrassed by this and just go away. Politicians are not normal people.
The leading candidate for mayor of New York, Anthony Weiner, resigned as a congressman, also in disgrace. He offense? Sexting. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself fortunate.
The former governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, was driven from office because he went AWOL with his mistress for extended periods. He has just made a comeback and been elected to the U.S. House.
Americans enjoy watching public figures fall. They like forgiveness and redemption even more. You could argue that private sin is easier to forgive than theft or malfeasance in office.
Many Americans prefer the presidency of Bill Clinton, a faithless husband, to that of George W. Bush, a loyal spouse. They seem to say: What do we care about a man’s marriage, or sex life, if he can govern?
In a democracy, voters decide when a politician is washed up — no matter how many or how few scandals. James Michael Curley was re-elected mayor of Boston from in a jail cell.
Maybe the ultimate test for voters is suggested by Mr. Clinton. It is easier to overlook the peccadilloes of a politician who adds substance to the commonwealth and is competent at governance.
Mr. Clinton, the ultimate smooth talker, has been walking back his record on gay marriage. But he is almost beyond discrediting. Not only is he a former president, he is a smart and articulate one. He is something of a rogue, but he has become indispensable.
Ability wipes away many sins. You may be shameless, even borderline sociopathic, but if you are able, the voters may elect to keep you around.
Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner will have to prove their abilities, and perhaps even meet a higher intellectual standard, than their more buttoned-down opponents.