The Way it Should Be

Published: September 3, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“Let me be as clear as possible.  I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off-limits, and people’s children are especially off-limits.  This shouldn’t be part of our politics.” 


That’s what Senator Barack Obama said to a group of reporters when asked for his reaction to the news that the 17-year-old, unmarried daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was five-months pregnant.

Amid the surprise and frenzy that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was tapped as Senator John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, the Palins released a statement about their underage daughter’s condition.  While the internet bloggers played up countless gossipy stories on the subject, Obama made clear, in no uncertain terms, that the families of candidates should not be a campaign issue.

“It has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as a governor, or potential performance as a vice-president,” Obama said.  “I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.”

By “people,” Mr. Obama was referring to us, the voting population, as much as the media.

Intellectually, we know gossip is not relevant to any political campaign, but we all lap it up when it’s in front of us.

But what draws us to gossip in the first place?

“Gossip informs and entertains by providing information which is often true about people you know and celebrities you don’t know,” so says writer Richard Weiner who’s been working on a book examining the history and motives of gossip.

“Inspite of religious and ethical prohibitions; inspite of centuries of punishment and legal restrictions, gossip is more prevalent today than ever and the primary reason is the internet,” Weiner says.

“The greatest amount of gossip is by ordinary folks, by men as well as women, though these men and women feel that they are both ethical and religious.  Women are better at friendships than men, and the bonding mechanism for many women is gossip.  They gossip on their blogs, Facebook and MySpace.  Gossip enhances their self esteem.”

According to the research, all of us stand ready, willing and very able to participate in gossiping about most anyone…except when the critical or unkind, words are directed at us or someone we care about.  Only then do we recognize gossip’s unethical affects.

Can we eliminate gossip?  Not in my lifetime.

But ethics is not about the way things are.  It’s about the way things should be.

And that’s the way it should be in politics, as well.

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