Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Public Morality And Private Immorality

Don't mess with the sex police.

We have always refrained from speculating about the sex lives of Megan McArdle and her so very close little group of DC think tankers and bloggers. It is none of our business, it is irrelevant to our task of fighting mindless authoritarianism, and the very thought is enough to make us cringe and retch a little. Virtually our only comment policy is "Don't mention McArdle's sex life, because there is just not enough mind bleach in the world and oh God I think I'm going to be sick."

But we are also willing to admit when we are wrong. It seems that it is our duty, nay, our privilege, to be moral scolds and point out public immorality, or rather immorality we happen to run across that includes someone who is a public figure, like a politician or member of the media who crosses the country giving lectures on how we don't really need Social Security because of Freedom!!!!1!

And speaking of public figures who enjoy being moral scolds, let's listen to Megan McArdle.

My colleague makes a persuasive argument for ignoring sex scandals--they have opportunity cost, after all, and what business is it of ours? Does it tell us anything about how they do their job?

Allow me to suggest that maybe it does. My take on the Clinton scandal at the time was that it got about the right result. Clinton lied under oath. And while I might ordinarily have been sympathetic to complaints that he shouldn't have had to answer such questions, my understanding is that Clinton himself signed into law the legislation under which his behavior--with, mind you, a state employee--was illegal. At which point, I thought the only person in the world who should have had to answer those questions was sitting in the dock. We impeached him, sending the message that, no, you don't get to lie under oath just because you're the president, and then we didn't punish him, sending the message that no, we are not crazy enough to remove the leader of the free world from office over a minor sex scandal.

But later I read Jeffrey Toobin's rather sympathetic account. And I was shocked. I'd had no idea how reckless Clinton had been, dragging off this girl he barely new for a little, um, grip-and-grin. It was completely, astonishingly irresponsible. For all he knew, she might have walked out of that office and told the world. He was playing around with her while he was on the phone with major world figures. Does that tell us something about how Clinton did his job? I think it has to.

Poor Monica Lewinsky, dragged off by Clinton and forced to submit to his unwanted advances. Oh, wait--Mrs. McArdle made an error, one that she no doubt deeply regrets even if she does not say so. Lewinsky was a very willing participant, not a helpless victim. Oh, well, we suppose the details don't really matter much, do they? We'll remember that for the future--it's just fine to accuse someone of sexual impropriety that didn't happen. The larger message is more important; a person's sex life tells us something about how they do their job and therefore we, the public, need to be informed.

What [Anthony Weiner] actually did is bad enough: sexting from work? With strangers he met over the internet? As with Clinton, this is strange and reckless behavior for a public figure whose inappropriate behavior could be used to blackmail him. I don't think it's somehow out of bounds to point it out, or how much we're losing by having less available air time to report forgettable sniping between Republicans and Democrats over the debt ceiling.

Blackmail! Is blackmail out of bounds?? Of course not! It's essential for national security that we discuss Weiner's sexting. And the private sex lives of journalists, who might be blackmailed into ignoring crimes.

[yap yap yap]

Maybe it's because I'm older and tireder but these days, the "not our business" school of sex scandal seems to function as a get-out-of-monogamy-free card for powerful men who want to behave badly. If Anthony Weiner were to, say, start randomly swearing at a constituent and calling her terrible names, would anyone argue that we should not report this on the grounds that the behavior's legal? How about if he'd been tricking old ladies out of their pension checks with a shady stockbrockerage? Sure it's legal, but we think it tells us something about his character, and that it's actually useful to know those sorts of things about the people we elect.

Or the people that report the news, and might be blackmailed into supporting a policy that is harmful! For instance, just imagine that a bunch of investment bankers were about to unload some bad loans on unsuspecting buyers while making a massive bet against those loans, and politicians knew about it! They might be blackmailed into letting the bankers get away with their shenanigans!

Of course if investment bankers were to do such a horrible thing McArdle would be the first person to call for their heads. Morality is incredibly important to her, and if bankers were shafting the poor and middle class by buying off politicians, or damaging the environment, or making the poor sick with pollution, McArdle would be the first to fight the immoral bastards.

[yip yip yip]

[...]I can't sign up for this. I don't think that cheating on your wife, or lesser betrayals like sexting, are minor marital pecadillos, [sic] of no more public interest than whether you remembered to pay the gas bill or unload the dishwasher. I don't think it's the government's job to punish infidelity, but that doesn't imply that society has no interest in whether people keep their vows. Marriage is a valuable social institution. There are good reasons that society should buttress it. So I'm not sure it's a waste of time, in the face of these sorts of allegations, to use a few of our precious news hours to say, "Hey, not okay!" Moreover, in the age of the internet, you cannot simply decline to report this as a neutral act. Instead, you send an affirmative message: "We don't really think he did anything wrong."

I am fighting a powerful urge to point out that virtually all of the people urging us to move on to something more important are men. But obviously, I'm losing the fight.

Marriage is important and must be bolstered. For instance, when Ross Douthat took Ta-Nehisi Coates to task for having a child out of wedlock Megan McArdle was right there to back him up. It's important for people to police others' marriage vows or people might stop getting married or start getting divorced or some other horrible consequence.

We don't quite understand why McArdle is so concerned with policing marriage only after the couple take vows, however; if one should publicly castigate someone for sexting other women and publicly castigate men for having children outside of wedlock, why is it okay for McArdle to have sex outside of marriage and live with men out of wedlock? Surely it's bad for women to sleep with men before marriage; why get married at all when you can have the cow's milk for free? And indeed, McArdle gave her milk away in the past and the man did not marry her, the poor cow.

It is absolutely essential for the strength of marriage to discuss in detail, preferably with pictures and video, all of these fornicating women who are killing the God-given institute of marriage by sleeping around. Who did Megan McArdle sleep with? Were they fellow bloggers? Are they now married? Which of her DC blogger friends has an open marriage? Who else is living in sin? We need discussion and op-eds, and perhaps a Muckety Map.

That doesn't mean they're wrong, of course. Maybe they're right, and it's pointless. But there's something a little too fifties about the "All men do it, so why should we care?" approach to this. I'd like to think that enforcing the norms which hold that infidelity is really, actually wrong is worth taking a few hours out of a slow news cycle.

Enforcing your tribe's norms, policing it borders and punishing its transgressors, especially when they belong to an enemy political party, is absolutely necessary to preserve morality and our society. Except for bankers, of course. When they do something wrong you must be vewy, vewy careful, for you never know and it's too hard to figure out and there are no villains. Policing Weiner's morals is so important that McArdle writes two more posts discussing how we simply must discuss Weiner's morals, don't you think? But not premarital sex; no matter what the moral police say, that's okay. For certain, better people.

I think we can safely say that premarital sex with more than one person is now normal in our society. That doesn't mean it's okay for a married man to have a girlfriend on the side. If this had happened while Weiner was still single, it would have been embarrassing, but -- aside from the possibility that he used government computers -- not particularly newsworthy. Once he started sexually explicit relationships outside of his marriage, it became an entirely different thing.

Phew! It seems that McArdle's fornication outside of marriage is perfectly acceptable, as long as she isn't Black an unwed parent or married and cheating on her spouse. Some people might disagree, but they are just wrong, as McArdle says at great length.

Society takes a greater interest in marriages than in other relationships because society, as well as the individual, has an interest in strong marriages. Strong marriages support a strong society. And society supports the marriage by encouraging people to do the very hard work of keeping their promises. One of the ways in which society ensures strong marriages is by tut-tutting (or worse) at people who don't keep to their vows: who abandon spouses, treat them badly, or yes, violate their trust by engaging in covert sexual activity. I'm a big fan of sexual privacy. But you cannot have a public institution that rests in part on fidelity, and also complete privacy on those matters.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that social sanction can be very helpful in assisting us in doing important but difficult things. Marriage is stronger if people who find out that their friends are cheating don't say, "Awesome, is he hot?" but "How could you do that to Jason?" Marriage is stronger if people who cheat are viewed with slight revulsion, and so are the (knowing) people who they cheat with. Marriage is stronger when people who decide not to care for seriously ill spouses are met with an incredulous "What the hell is wrong with you?", not "Yeah, I couldn't handle that either." Of course it would be nicer if we didn't need this sort of help. But we are a flawed species.

This is, to be sure, a bit trickier in an era when people like me and Andrew accept that there can be healthy non-monagamous [sic] marriages. Maybe, folks have suggested, she was totally okay with this! This seems possible, but not really very likely. I know a decent number of people in open marriages, but they are very far from the majority of the people I know. Looking at what polls and research we have on this sort of thing, plus an unscientific survey of my friends and the women who have written me, I'm going to go out on a limb here and speak for heterosexual married women as a class: I'm pretty sure that most of us are not okay with our husbands sending racy photos to strangers, or engaging in phone sex with same within weeks of our wedding day. And if she's totally okay with this, how come she hasn't said so?

That's right. Bankers must always be given the benefit of the doubt, but people's private sex lives must be policed by perfect strangers. It's the American way.


Phil Perspective said...

I had a pretty long conversation yesterday via Twitter with McArdle on this. It wasn't pretty.

atat said...

Wow, did she really just use stealing from the elderly as an example of legal behavior?

Susan of Texas said...

Do you remember when she said she didn't discuss torture because it wasn't newsworthy, even if it was illegal?

Susan of Texas said...

Phil Perspective, McArdle wrote a post about how much she enjoys discussing "what's wrong with everyone else." Pretending It's For The Children isn't going to work.

brad said...

Shorter Megan: Peter, I'll cut your balls off if you even think about it.
She's mad because she can conceive of this happening to her, that's all.

Susan of Texas said...

dlgood--too true.

brad--McArdle is almost ten years older than her husband and yes, she really does seem very very concerned that people will accept adultery.

Susan of Texas said...

Changing the subject--I wonder when it will occur to her that Coates just jumped to the big time and she's still peddling Ambien and CDOs at the Atlantic.

Clever pseudonym said...

Society has an interest in the very private matter of marital fidelity, but it shouldn't have an interest in caring for the elderly or the impoverished or properly and fairly compensating the people who educate our young. Gotcha, Megan. Insecure much?

Anonymous said...

i wonder if she'll pick up on young connor's laughable reconciliation of religion and objectivism.

Anonymous said...

they have opportunity cost, after all

She just talked about "opportunity costs" related to all this shit? WTF?

Also, too:
SoT: Changing the subject--I wonder when it will occur to her that Coates just jumped to the big time and she's still peddling Ambien and CDOs at the Atlantic.
Unfortunately, she's also clogging up the radio waves on APM's Marketplace all too often.

So now, McMegalt is K-Lo. Got it.

- aws

Batocchio said...

How about if he'd been tricking old ladies out of their pension checks with a shady stockbrockerage?

It's astounding that she wrote this. It's not necessary legal, and since when has she given a damn about the little people being screwed? She's a cheerleader for exactly that.

Your last paragraph is spot-on, and an instant classic. As always, conservatives and glibertarians aren't arguing for principles, which apply to everybody – they're arguing for their own privilege.

Batocchio said...

Somewhat OT, but I backtracked through the links to read that Douthat column scolding Coates for not getting married – holy crap, that was even worse than his usual. The man cannot make a logical, let alone coherent, argument to save his life. He's such a whiny, sanctimonious concern troll. His thesis, such as it is, is classic Douthat, that he has a moral right to barge into other people's lives, and make important, life-changing decisions for them – because it will make him feel better. And because it makes Douthat feel good, you other lesser beings should recognize the wisdom of his trickle-down sermonizing, thus making society as a whole better. (Gays shouldn't be able to marry, because something essential would be lost – it would pain Douthat.) Implicit in his argument as well is that average people lack the brilliant insight and magnanimous tolerance of Douthat, for while he can divine the value of Coates' living-in-sin relationship, others will not be able to, and thus Coates needs to take one for the team (Douthat's team) and get married. This also embodies the social conservative notion that temptation is irresistible (gay cooties will turn you into a homo, that prostitute's sexy wink forced David Vitter to have diaper sex) and that social conservative parents are powerless; their efforts to indoctrinate their children will utterly fail if the kids are introduced to Coates's happy, sinful relationship. Satan is to blame, not their crappy, domineering parenting when the kids willfully decide to make their own decisions. Holy FSM, Douthat is such a myopic, superficial, culturally narcissistic asshole.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Like. Batocchio, you are my hero for that comment.

cynic said...

"Marriage is stronger when people who decide not to care for seriously ill spouses are met with an incredulous "What the hell is wrong with you?","

I want to see the last article she wrote about Newt.

Mr. Wonderful said...

Megan's concern for "society" is like Captain Renault's concern for legal propriety when confronted with gambling at Rick's--except for the fact that Renault knows we don't take him seriously and neither does he.

In literally every other aspect of human existence, McArdle favors policies and behaviors that deform and weaken "society." Indeed, to be a libertarian is to announce an explicit indifference (or hostility) to every social facet of human life, and to subjugate the social to the individual.

But a Congressman sends semi-lewd tweets to co-eds, and suddenly Megan turns pious about fidelity, bonds, mutual trust, and "strong marriages."

But never mind that. The real point is, where's the office pool around here taking bets on how long her marriage will last? Put me down for six years. Yeah, I know--I'm a sentimental softy. Deal with it.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I'll give it six, with the last two because they miserably hung on due to the stigmatism of divorce. I know it's awful, cheering the demise of a romantic relationship, but those two are such wretched creatures, I don't feel an ounce of guilt.

Susan of Texas said...

I just want to note that I'm very glad people are discussing the possible failure of McArdle's marriage, and that we need to know many more details to determine if they are undermining marriage through their actions. Has P. Suderman ever flirted with a young Reason intern, on-line or off? Mild flirting is very common and we can't be too vigilant, or else marriage will die and civilization will crumble.

In fact, it is well-known that men don't like it when their wives make more than they do, according to conservatives, so McArdle should quit and take a lower-paying job. Social cohesion requires it. It's for the children.

I think that their biggest problem will be a constant power struggle, where McArdle's issues with money=power=money will drive her to control P. Suderman's economic activity and therefore his life. He will try to balance the power level by petty acts of revenge such as flirting with pretty young women at parties. They will not divorce however because P. Suderman will not want a reduction in his living standards and purchasing power.

atat said...

More importantly, has Megan ever twittered unsolicited pictures of her boner to anyone?

Did I cross the line yet?

Susan of Texas said...

As long as we are concerned for the preservation of our nation's moral standards, there is no line.

Lurking Canadian said...

Doesn't Megan get to leave him if she finds an even more virile Randian hero? Trading Reardon for Galt, so to speak?

A is still A, right?

Anonymous said...

1. Did McMegan get this exercised about David Vitter? Or John Ensign? Or gov. Sanford? Or Mark Foley? Or Helen Chenoweth? Or.....

....Or is it only Democratic hards which get Ms. Galt hard-up?

2. Judging by Megan's turgid prose, I don't think she gets that much sex in or out of marriage. Five minutes of listening to her ponderous blard would make a man go limp and beg for sleep--or death...

Morbo said...

I think Megan is a beard; there, I said it.

Dillon said...

I'll give it six, with the last two because they miserably hung on due to the stigmatism of divorce.

Yep. Even if Peter sees Megan as his ideological soulmate, six years is a long time to eat McArdle's shitty cooking on a regular basis.

Mr. Wonderful said...

I Googled Suderman to confirm Susan's statement about the disparity in their ages (she's right), and learned that last Sun. was the happy couple's first anniversary. Also, from the NY Times, this fun fact regarding the libertarian groom and his presumed disdain for the public sphere:

He is a son of Barbara L. Suderman and James D. Suderman of Niceville, Fla. His father is a professor of English at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville.

A state college. In NICEVILLE, FLORIDA. You can't beat that.

(I also think the age difference will lead to iffiness, marital discord, and mid-life hijinx sooner or later.)

atat said...

More Weiner from McArdle: Now she's defending herself against Dan Savage, and in the process manages to contradict her earlier position. Shocking, I know. Her commented Ben does a great job of exposing the illogic of her position(s).

atat said...

Er, commenter.

Ben said...


Thanks! I actually realized what was wrong about McArdle's logical pretzel twists after I read Susan's post. Let's see if McArdle replies.

By the way, Susan, I just found your blog a few weeks ago and I've been meaning to comment how good it is. It's like mainlining snark heroin. And not that Slate snark that's cut with pretension and eiltism; no, it's the good stuff, pure, right off the boat.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it but we've been 100 percent right from the get go on Megan's topic-of-the-year choices. So, just as we had to hear ad nauseum about the wedding, and the gifts, and the new house we will start to hear, very soon, grotesquely intimate details of their struggle to get pregnant and then the sad story of how they can't afford all the things that Megan knows are important but can't buy for little Extravaganza like two full time nannies and etc...

The only thing worse than hearing about a natural pregnancy and birth is going to hear the wails of disgruntled privilige if she has to go the infertility treatment or adoption route. The ex post rationalizations of every prejudice a very stupid person could have will be either torrential or seismic depending on your metaphor of choice.


brad said...

If we're going to go there, I have to say I have a hard time believing there's much sex in that marriage at all. Maybe Peter's submissive and Megan keeps him in a cage at night, but I don't see her having the courage, or intelligence, required to find and unleash her inner bitch*. If she had that means to vent she'd be a lot less prissy and unnecessarily verbose in general. Or maybe I just don't want to think about them having sex, but I can't help but see faux 50s style neither of us really understands the other's body trapped in an unending adolescence fumbling.
As for divorce, it'll all depend on how discretely Peter takes advantage of barely legal interns. If Megan is as asexual as I hope, and the forced attempt at yelling "I'm liberated" in the second post gives me mental relief on that front, then she'll be glad to be rid of the "wifely duty". But insofar as the main purpose of marriage to Megan is as social accessory to help display her superiority and achievements if he gets caught or is too public about his playing around she'll be truly wrathful for the diminishment of standing.
The wildcard is if she discovers that women play videogames too, and thus starts to wonder about/become jealous of all the time Peter spends with a headset on.
6 years seems a good place for the over/under, depending on how soon Peter gets a wingnut welfare position that gives him power to abuse.

*- Used in a context specific and non-hateful of women way.

atat said...

I was going to write that it would be unlikely that she would respond, since you didn't leave her any wiggle room. Not to mention that "heedless" had already provided the non sequitur that she would have relied on anyway. But then I went back to check and I see that you tried to engage heedless, while Megan chimed in with more gibberish.

Now I'm hoping she'll keep going and just start spewing a torrent of more gibberish to distract from your's and Susan's comments. It's always hilarious when she does that.

Downpuppy said...

Nice to see Zosima still around, taking her apart efficiently:

This is classic McArdle. Say something for a whole post, add a few caveats. Pretend that a disclaimer immunizes her from criticism. If we were to take Megan's disclaimers at face value, she never actually says anything. She just posts 1000+ word rambles that are always thoroughly contradicted by a trailing sentence.

Anonymous said...

Can people link to their comments in Megan's threads? Its too horrifying to go over there and try to scroll and read through everything. I find myself getting distracted with the awfulness, like someone who is heading to the grocery store to get some food and finds themselves sinking into the slough of despond.

Also, I don't know if you ever wound up commenting on this one, but a few days ago Megan seems to have been horrified to discover that nursing homes are understaffed and their staff are underpaid. Since, she explained to us without explanation, "state finances are a zero sum game" there is simply no way that we could ever pay people what it is worth to get a better class of nursing home attendant. We are limited to religious nuts who get some kind of sick pleasure from sacrificing in order to help others (not many of those, apparently) and criminals who can't get any other kind of job (lots of those). If we wanted to increase payments to nursing homes to take care of our most vulnerable old people we'd just *have* to be stealing from schools and from other public needs. Because we can never, ever, raise taxes and because we never, ever, cut defense spending.


Susan of Texas said...

Ben, you did a good job pointing out the problems with McArdle's reasoning; too bad she doesn't care about anything but enjoying a good round of "what's wrong with everyone else." She can't admit that she's just another witchfinder, however, and has to dress up her prurience in moral clothing.

Susan of Texas said...


Ben's first comment

My first comment

atat said...

The most absurd part of the entire conversation is when she accuses Ben of using "terrible statistics and terrible logic." Got a good chuckle out of that.

fish said...

but that doesn't imply that society has no interest in whether people keep their vows. Marriage is a valuable social institution. There are good reasons that society should buttress it.

Spoken like a true libertarian.

Batocchio said...

Nice job over there in her comments thread, you two. McMegan will go to endless contortions to pretend that she isn't wrong or hasn't contradicted herself.

Susan of Texas said...


It's nice to know that mouse is perfectly willing to reveal McArdle's friends' open marriage to the public so strangers can judge and deliver a thumbs up or thumbs down.

It's amazing how many people would fit right in 17th century Salem.

Anonymous said...

Susan, thanks for the direct links. That really made for some fun reading.

People like McCArdle and all the other public scolds have really forgotten, if they ever knew, that public inquisitions are bad things--whether they investigate religious practices or sexual practices. I also am simply agog that people who, generally speaking, imagine that big government work's projects and public schooling are the moral equivalent of the GRU and the KGB torturing poets for crimes against the state are totally on board with a 24/7 salacious expose of one man's private life.

I wish Weiner had'nt been such a weird, stupid, asshole but no one deserves to have his private life dissected this way for the delectation of people who get their rocks off on the demise of political opponents. Its just another sexual perversion, really, on their part and now we know that all such perversions should be investigated. We need the revival of a job title like "witch finder."


Susan of Texas said...

I could tolerate the moralizing if it weren't so selective. We have to police marriage but not bankers? Which degeneration is harming society more?

Kathy said...

I remember the Craig & Vitter scandals, where the senator's gave a press conference (uninterrupted by BliteFart) with their Poor Wives standing beside and slightly behind them. The look on Mrs. Craig's face was... pitiful, awful. She was realizing her whole marriage was a sham, that she was just a Beard. Mrs. Vitter actually looked angry- probably she was imagining her fellow Senator's wives, or Bridge Club members, asking her if She diapered her husband too?

Did Megan scold these Senators for their lapses of fidelity, tell them they were Injuring Society As A Whole? Did she say anything?

I think "Clever pseudonym"
says it best: Society has an interest in the very private matter of marital fidelity, but it shouldn't have an interest in caring for the elderly or the impoverished or properly and fairly compensating the people who educate our young...

Anonymous said...

It's in society's interest that married couples procreate.

We should be encouraging Peter Suderman not to spill his seed in any location outside the immediate vicinity of Megan McArdle.