Walking through the Bottomland

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischWalking through the Bottomland

by Ursula K. Le Guin

This has been a prime week for unzipping political penises and seeing what they look like in public. In Paris Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with “aggravated pimping,” which is legal French for encouraging, abetting, and exploiting prostitution. In New York Anthony Weiner has been busy sexting again, what a surprise! What a thrill! And — descending from these international heights of public lechery — here in Portland our county chairman and one of his subordinates left an email record of erotico-nepotism that has thoroughly screwed both her career and his.

Strauss-Kahn — I hope the arrogant old man feels his humiliation and understands the reason for it, though I doubt he can. Weiner appears to be far too deeply stupid to know what shame is. As for Jeff Cogen here in Portland, I feel a desolate disappointment, which is what drives me to write this piece.

The most promising local politician we had throws away his personal reputation and his sound career — for what? It doesn’t appear to have been love, but mere self-indulgence encouraged by ambition and a naïve sense of entitlement.

You have to ask, does any degree of power translate in a man’s mind into sexual license? Does giving people responsibility invite them to act irresponsibly?

His playmate, equally promising in her field, apparently felt as entitled to transgression; the tango was definitely a twosome. Women given power don’t often interpret it directly as privilege to fuck where they want — the power is usually less, and they’re likely to pay more, and more immediately, for the privilege. But women do of course use sex as rungs on the ladder of ambition.

Ms Manhas lost her job as soon as the story came out. Mr Cogen, though asked to resign by his fellow commissioners, has not done so. He says he wants to be judged by the law, not by public outcry. As the outcry has been relentlessly amplified by the local newspaper, he has a kind of point there. Portland has just survived a mayor who started out his term by having an affair with an underage intern, lying about it, and getting away with it. At least the county chairman and the health department manager are both adults, and so far, more or less, unperjured.

Maybe he can survive the scandal. Maybe we can have another tainted mayor. And then she, like his honor, will be just a casualty of his career.

But — but — what were they thinking? Did they imagine that emails and textings are secret? That privacy exists?

I guess they’ve been living where Anthony Weiner lives.

I wish the countries where we all live didn’t overlap so largely with that bottomland of imaginary entitlement and sordid, selfish folly.

Sing me a melody, sing me the blues….”



Walking through the Bottomland — 7 Comments

  1. Speaking of entitlement, there’s Rudy Crew. He was supposed to tell teachers making $50,000 a less a year how to do their job (who of course are being paid too much and shouldn’t have any retirement, if you read the Oregonian’s daily rants against PERS), and how to increase their performance while making do with less every year. And yet there he goes, off with all the money he got from the state, from extravagant travel, and from double-dipping giving paid speeches.

    I guess only the little people have to be moral.

  2. I see some distinction in all these behaviors, a distinction that affects my feelings about whether the people in question belong in public office.

    Strauss-Kahn’s appears to have engaged in aggressive sexual harassment and apparent rape, making him a person who shouldn’t be trusted in any position of authority even if he stays out of prison. Weiner’s behavior is downright creepy and seems to be a form of sexual harassment as well. Another person you could have mentioned was the mayor of San Diego, who apparently has gone around harassing women for years.

    But Cogen just had an extra-marital affair, apparently a consensual one. Unless there’s some indication that he did her favors in county government because she was his lover — a reasonable thing to investigate — I don’t think it should be a political consideration.

    Vast numbers of male public officials have engaged in consensual sex with people besides their wives. Some of them have been excellent leaders in spite of that fact. I don’t think extra-marital affairs are a good thing, but unless they affect the public trust in some way, I don’t see them as a public issue in the same way that rape, sexual harassment, and using one’s political power to solicit sexual favors are.

    • She was his subordinate: as far as I’m concerned, that taints it by definition. Even if you think you can be objective about hiring and firing your lover, why should anyone else be warranted in believing such a thing?

      A former boss of mine married his secretary, but not until she was no longer his secretary.

  3. Is the very last sentence a fragment that doesn’t make sense or a fragrance that doesn’t make scents?

  4. Strauss-Kahn: Since when has Europe had a moral obligation to be proper in public for American eyes? Since WW2 that is. Seriously, worrying about French debauchery and public process is like painting more stripes on a tiger to identify it.

    Weiner: Typical douchebag who runs for office. We all know the type. We are stupid enough to permit it. Why let moral insanity and public indiscretion murder our morale for his candidacy?

    Portland: So what? Should we judge these two empowered personalities on their actions or on proper conduct for their stations in the best American hypocritical sense? I’ll wager this: No justice will be had. Jobs lost, futures ruined. The story is never fully told.
    Just another sordid story in an unending series.

  5. “Weiner appears to be far too deeply stupid to know what shame is.”

    What a succinct and accurate characterization.

    However. to your question: “Does giving people responsibility invite them to act irresponsibly?” I think the answer depends on the times. This is an era of irresponsibility; see any number of social, political, or economic phenomena. FDR acted responsibly which much much more power.