Next Monday, on Oct. 4, at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Eliot Spitzer, the former New York Democratic governor made famous nationally for soliciting a hot prostitute, will return to the glittering cameras again. This time, rather than offering a chewed frown and a lukewarm apology, Spitzer will be hosting a talk show covering both political and popular issues — his wife and mistress notably absent.
Though we know by now that government representatives, even the most die-hard Republican ones, have wandering hands, each time the CNN news ticker flashes a fresh infidelity many of us are still outraged. How difficult, how disingenuous, to run for office on a conservative ticket, then lick caviar off a well-toned navel!
And even within the most politically cynical social circles, few can feign ambivalence when Tiger Woods is chased down the driveway by his enraged model wife. Even Woods’ most devoted supporters still admit that Elin Nordegren is pretty badass.
I know it is hard to not to blame public figures for their personal, now public, failures, and I feel great sorrow for these wives in their complicated tragedies. But I can’t help but wonder whether there is an alternative to viewing infidelity as evidence of moral erosion. Is there any way to accept unfaithfulness in the public without implicitly encouraging it in our own districts, in our own relationships?
The Native Hawaiians had an unusual policy for dealing with their king’s bedroom needs. Before explorer James Cook unpacked his luggage in Hawaii in 1779 and introduced the monogamous ways of the Western world, the islands accepted — even rewarded — their king’s alternate sexual partners. Cook’s crew members noted in their travel records that specific Polynesian men — the most attractive of the bunch — were employed as “aikane” or professional boy toys. Their duty was to please the king orally and otherwise in exchange for social and cultural power.
Of course, Cook and his crew eyed this practice with disdain, scribbling furious denouncements in their journals. Though the language is antiquated, the criticism sounds familiar: “[The king] and many of his attendants took up quarters on board the ship for the night: among them is a young man of whom he seems very fond, which does not in the least surprise us, as we have had opportunities before of being acquainted with a detestable part of his Character which he is not in the least anxious to conceal.” Clearly, the British are as good at reserving judgment as they are at the culinary arts.
Though much of this radical culture has been forgotten as Western influence in gaining a hold of the islands, Hawaii still retains some of its uncommonly accepting political policies. It enacted the Reciprocal Beneficiaries Law, which allows any two individuals, including partners, relatives or even “just friends” — to access more than 50 spousal rights. As recently as 2008, a transgendered person, Representative Kim Coco Iwamoto, held a seat in the state’s Department of Education.
And, in a totally unrelated note, Hawaii’s citizens boast the longest average lifespan –– three years longer than the rest of us. So who knew the slowpoke 50th state could be so progressive?
Granted, it would be impossible to legalize the Hawaiian mistress model; even if our “aikane” were strictly sultry ladies, our politicians would probably still stand around arguing. But Hawaii’s long-established history — now spanning 300 years — of accepting unconventional arrangements into the fabric of its government can perhaps provide a framework for how we treat today’s flawed politicians.
I’m not suggesting that we hire a bunch of state-sponsored prostitutes (though imagine the infinite clever headlines if we did). I’m just suggesting that responding to a politician’s mistakes with tolerance rather than rebuke may encourage his honest dealings in the future.