JIMMY CARTER famously told Playboy magazine that he had committed adultery in his heart. Not to be outdone, the next Democratic Party President, Bill Clinton, committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky in a little room adjoining the Oval Office.
Seymour Hersh, in The Dark Side of Camelot, reveals that President John F. Kennedy kept two young women on the West Wing payroll whose job descriptions remained curiously imprecise. Their nicknames, “Fiddle” and “Faddle”, do, however, strongly suggest that they weren’t hired to offer the President foreign policy advice!
Clearly, sexual shenanigans in high places are nothing new.
Not even in New Zealand.
The Nineteenth Century financier, politician and castle-builder, Sir William Larnach, upon learning that his beloved young wife was engaged in a passionate affair with his favourite son by an earlier marriage, took a pistol into one of the committee rooms of Parliament and blew his brains out.
According to that left-wing gadfly of the First Labour Government, John A. Lee, there were mornings when the ministerial offices of one notoriously louche colleague positively reeked of cheap perfume.
So notorious was the sex life of the National Party Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon, that Wellington’s infamous pamphleteering collective, The Double Standard, once posted dozens of mock newspaper flyers declaring: “Rooting Pig Shot in Ngaio – PM Safe.” (Ngaio being the alleged suburban home of the PM’s alleged mistress.)
Muldoon’s successor, David Lange, fell in love with and eventually married his speech-writer, Margaret Pope, but not before his aggrieved wife, Naomi, broke the story of her husband’s adultery in the Dominion Sunday Times.
When placed alongside these famous philanderers, the Auckland Mayor’s, Len Brown’s, intermittent affair with his 32-year-old ethnic advisor, Bevan Chuang, doesn’t seem quite so scandalous. Not when you consider that at one point during his presidency JFK was sharing the favours of Los Angeles socialite, Judith Campbell, with the Mafia boss, Sam Giancana. It was a dangerous liaison of which FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, was well aware, yet it continued for two years under the White House roof – even after Hoover made sure that JFK knew that he knew.
Nor is it the case that Ms Chuang is believed by Len Brown’s colleagues to have wielded undue political influence within the Mayor’s Office. In the case of the relationship between David Lange and Margaret Pope, however, it was widely believed by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet colleagues that his mistress had undermined his faith in the policies of Finance Minister, Roger Douglas. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were similarly concerned that Ms Pope’s relationship with the PM was influencing the future direction of New Zealand’s foreign and defence policies.
In none of the cases cited above did the politicians involved consider an adulterous relationship sufficient grounds for resignation – not even when, as happened in the cases of Bill Clinton and David Lange, their adultery became public knowledge. Perhaps it would have worked out differently for JFK if his womanising had been exposed. The early 1960s, in marked contrast to the late-60s, were a pretty straight-laced period of American social history.
It is, however, highly unlikely that the US news media would have co-operated in exposing JFK’s behaviour. Very few, if any, political journalists in Washington DC were unaware of the President’s predilections, it’s just that they didn’t see them as being especially relevant to his political role.
Obviously, the rise of the political blog has allowed those who do think that a politician’s private behaviour cannot – and should not – be separated from his or her public role, to make an end-run around the gatekeepers of the so-called “mainstream” news media. (It was a blog, “The Drudge Report”, which broke the story of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.)
Just as Drudge was able to do, Cameron Slater and his Whaleoil blog have thrust the Brown/Chuang affair into the public’s face in a way the mainstream news media simply cannot ignore. What’s more, in conformity with the early twenty-first century zeitgeist, Slater and Steven Cook – the journalist responsible for breaking the story – have left no detail of the affair to the reader’s imagination. Ms Chuang, as befits a young woman growing up in the age of You-Tube, Facebook and Twitter, has held nothing back. She has told us everything.
In doing so, Ms Chuang is asserting both the reality and the validity of her experiences with Len Brown. Rather than accept the traditional role of the “other” woman: i.e. the essentially inconsequential, entirely sexually defined, adjunct to the “important” and/or “powerful” man who has condescended to couple with her; Ms Chuang is demanding that Aucklanders acknowledge that what happened to her took place in a political context, with a political person, and should, therefore, be seen as every bit as consequential as any of the other happenings involving the Mayor of Auckland over the past three years.
When viewed from this perspective, Mr Brown’s decision not to include what happened with Ms Chuang among all the other things for which he was responsible – and upon which he was inviting us to pass judgement with our ballot papers – takes on a morally dubious character.
If Mr Brown, or his campaign team, had become aware that his affair with Ms Chuang was about to become public knowledge, then, surely, the ethical, the democratic obligation was to come clean not only with his wife and family – but with the electors?
The full acknowledgement of his relationship with Ms Chuang: its effect upon his wife and daughters; and of how he would now explain the affair, both to himself and to Ms Chuang; would have given the voting public a much more complete picture of the Mayor’s first term.
Set against the solid achievements of the past three years, his all-too-human encounter with Ms Chuang would almost certainly not have cost him the election.
His actual confession, delivered after the votes had been cast and counted, and in the face of Ms Chuang’s own detailed revelations, speaks a great deal less of him than the alternative described above would have done.
Will he resign? Probably not.
Should he resign? That depends entirely on who, and what, Len Brown believes himself to be.