Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Breedlove Affair

Desire and Delusion

Philosophy Talk, an educational and entertaining program aired on National Public Radio (8 p.m. Thursdays on OPB) will be taping two shows in Portland this Friday and Saturday. The first program will be on the subject of “desire” and the second will explore “shams, lies and delusions.”

Whether Mayor Sam Adams will appear on either show is not known at this time. Evidently the topics were picked well in advance of the Breedlove Affair revelations. It’s very possible, if audience members get to ask questions, that the scandal will come up.

Political sex scandals are nothing new and these sideshows will always be a part of politics as long as we keep electing guys like Adams. And we will, because politics attracts that kind of hard-charging, surprisingly charming, smarter-than-everyone-else alpha male. Most such men (they almost always are men) go into private enterprise and rise up the corporate ladder; their private lives never become public. But some develop a strong idealism and enter politics to change the world.

These men carry big egos and big libidos. Hence, you get Neil Goldschmidt, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and now Adams, to name just a few. These four men were political rock stars and thus had throngs of fans. Instead of prancing around a stage with an electric guitar, they put their energy and intellect into solving society’s problems. Their passion for change inspired their constituents, particularly the younger ones.

When you are quantum leaps ahead of most everyone else, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that rules binding ordinary people don’t apply to you. You think that your can handle this particular situation because your heart is in the right place and, besides, you have better judgment than most.

Basically, you start using all your persuasive abilities on yourself. And when it comes to sex, it doesn’t take much to talk yourself into a foolish and potentially destructive affair. It can be tragic. The Goldschmidt case certainly was grist for a Shakespearian tragedy. His statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl and the subsequent cover up corrupted his life. I watched him decay over the decades from the golden boy of liberal politics during his terms as Portland’s mayor in the 1970s to sellout corporate fixer of the 1990s.

Thus it’s a good thing for Adams and the rest of us that his bad judgment came to light early on. I didn’t vote for Adams because I saw a lot of Goldschmidt in him. I was sure he’d get his way with the City Council on almost all of his legacy projects—and there are several, with a total price tag that our citizens can’t afford. The man behind the aerial tram fiasco also wants to spend gazillions on a convention center hotel, the nonsensical Burnside couplet, hundreds of miles of more streetcar track, a new minor league baseball park in Lents, and such crazy notions as installing the old Sauvie Island bridge across the 405 freeway as a bike bridge (as a bike commuter, I generally support improvements to bicycle infrastructure, but that last plan was truly a bridge to nowhere).

If Adams stays in office, the revelations will put a governor on his high-octane engine, slowing down his extravagant ambitions and possibly keeping Portland affordable for the average working class family. Maybe he will have learned something. It’s instructive to once again bring up the words of wisdom of former Sen. Bob Packwood, himself a victim of his own libido: “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

There likely will be a messy recall election hanging over his head. The law states he has to be in office for six months before a recall can be initiated. I suggest he pre-empt the recall by resigning as mayor, which would prompt a special election to replace him, and then run in that election. This would be similar to what frequently happens in parliamentary systems, wherein the party in power seeks a vote of confidence. It may seem to be an odd way to go about resolving the issue, but if Adams wants to get on with the city’s business, and if he thinks Portland’s citizens will forgive him, then he should put the matter up for a vote as soon as possible.


  1. If he thinks they'll forgive him, why go through the charade of resigning in the first place? Why not just wait until six months have passed, and see if a recall is merited? At this point the chances seem low that one will qualify, assuming nothing illegal about the relationship develops.

    Further, if you believe Adams' ambitions will be slowed to the city's benefit, why replace him with a non-humbled alpha male? I see it as ultimately a boon that a freewheeling Adams is thus restrained.

  2. You make a good point. Adams in shackles, so long as his energy and vision aren't too demoralized, could be an overall plus for Portland. But why assume he would be replaced by another rampant alpha male? For one thing, there are a fair number of women who could qualify for the job.

    I'm hoping the job doesn't get thrown to Randy Leonard, who is fine as one of five council members but has a little too much Huey Long in him to be a decent mayor.