James West – the Republican mayor of Spokane, Wash. – is gay. He meets men online and has sex with them in person.
Should we care?
He is only caught in a scandal because he is gay.
If he had sex with a woman he met online and later gave her an unpaid internship, the story would be noted somewhere in the back of the paper, with an investigation pending. If the FBI found any evidence of a crime committed, only then would the story break into a full-fledged "scandal."
But the Jim West story has prematurely blossomed into a scandal because of the nature of his offense: gayness.
None of the men West had sex with were under the age of 18. He offered internships to some of them, but granting an unpaid position in return for sex is not, to my knowledge, a crime.
The FBI is currently considering opening an investigation. Should they? Sure. There is definitely enough evidence to warrant suspicion of wrongdoing. But this story has erupted into scandal before wrongdoing has even been proven.
Similarly, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, if a politician cheated on his wife, it could mean the end of his career if he was caught.
But West is divorced, so he cannot even by accused of adultery.
And we have moved on from adultery, anyway. Cheating on your wife is no longer enough to make a mayor step aside. Earlier this year it was publicly revealed that Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley had cheated on his wife – with a woman – and he is still in office.
Maybe we have Ms. Lewinsky to thank for that new cultural numbness.
Maybe it’s because this last election cycle the Republicans succeeded in preserving the sanctity of marriage, eh?
Now, the only career-breaking scandals involve homosexuality. If you’re gay, you’re open game for the press. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned not because he had an extramarital affair but because his affair was with a man.
So even though we have become numb to accusations of infidelity in our politicians, it is still a scandal if it involves male-male sexual encounters.
That is the only reason West is being fried in the press right now.
What is so heinously wrong about a single man having sex with another man? Why is the fact of gay male sexual activity enough to unmake someone’s career?
In some places it is not. Sam Adams is an openly gay member of Portland City Council. The mayors of Lawrence, Kan., and Paris are openly gay. They still have their careers. Why is Mayor West’s sexuality a scandal?
A scandal is defined as "a publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society."
In the absence of any child abuse, adultery or breaking of laws, the only thing left I can see that is even mildly disgraceful or offensive about the Jim West case is his hypocritical opposition to gay rights.
West is not a member of the Log Cabin Republicans. He is a traditional, bigoted kind of Republican. During his career he has done everything he could to limit gay rights.
Now that he is openly gay his rights to live as a gay man are stunted, due in part to his own efforts.
This hypocrisy alone, however, is not enough to call the story a "scandal."
But this story is on the front pages. Why? It is just another example of run-of-the-mill hypocrisy of politicians, which should not be the cause of West’s indefinite leave of absence or the impetus of the many calls for his resignation.
Miring him in scandal doesn’t hurt him any more than he has hurt himself. All it does is keep "gayness" an unspeakable sin that could end a career. Sexual orientation is an attribute, like skin color or scotch preference. If the media keep portraying it as a moral flaw, our culture will continue to think it is one.
Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]