Opinion, please: candidates’ families off-limits?

Like many, I was upset by the article announcing that Creigh Deeds’ 20-year-old son, Gus, had been charged with misdemeanor alcohol possession. Perhaps it was because of this characterization in the story:

His legal entanglement was unearthed through the research of political operatives

I was all ready to call out Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and ask him to denounce such tactics – that is, until I looked at my own handling of Sarah Palin’s daughter, which I reported on here. Some may argue that the circumstances are different: in the latter case, the disclosure came from the campaign itself while this story was appears to have been spread by those seeking political advantage.

In either case, though, I found myself in a bit of a quandry, one that, no doubt, others found themselves in. If Palin’s daughter was news, so then was Deeds’ son. But there is a bigger issue here.

Candidates’ families aren’t the ones running for office.

I’m old enough to remember Billy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s brother, who inserted himself into the news whenever and wherever possible. But if I recall correctly, he did that himself. It wasn’t an “outing,” if you will, by the media. And he was an adult. Palin’s daughter was 17, Deeds’ son, although legally an adult, is underage for drinking. (Whether or not the drinking age should be lowered is a topic for another post.)

So my question, dear readers, is should candidates’ families be off-limits?

24 thoughts on “Opinion, please: candidates’ families off-limits?

  1. I agree that candidates families should not be game for their wrong doings.
    The problem is when the candidates put their family out there in advertisements and campaign lit. – the candidates are exposing their families the the same amount of scrutiny as if they were the candidate.
    It shows to others that the absentee parent is too busy campaigning than taking care of family business – I know, I know this can happen to any family at any time but it’s the bad timing during a campaign that shows a cry for help and attention from the family.
    Look at former Gov. Bush from Fl. children one had drug problems and the other once and the other one was in trouble for misdeeds involving a vehicle.
    Families and politics are a tricky balancing act.

      1. The constant attacks on Palin’s children just went under your radar, but this little story about Creigh Deeds’ son (who is an adult, by the way) makes you wonder if families should be off limits?

        1. The “constant attacks” as you call them were not things I posted about on this blog, Brian. I acknowledged that I had written a single post about it.

          If you were so concerned about the attacks, why didn’t you question them?

  2. Why do you presume the anonymous “operatives” the Pilot mentioned are from the McDonnell campaign? Would not the Pilot have said so, if for no other reason than to inflame those of us who agree that families should not be held up to a microscope?

    Is it not just as likely that it was Deed’s own people, who, knowing it would come out at some time, chose to have it surface and be done with early in the campaign?

    Aside from which, how many voters who live in the real world are going to get that worked up over a 20 yr old college student drinking?

      1. Oh, OK, I guess I mistook the statement “this story was appears to have been spread by those seeking political advantage.” to place blame on the McDonnell campaign since there is no one else running against Deeds.

        So, who are the others who might be seeking political advantage?

        1. Notice the qualifier “appears to have been” and that I quoted the newspaper’s characterization.

          I can think of a whole lot of folks that are not the McDonnell campaign that could have placed this story, including the RGA or just a supporter. I intentionally did not lay the blame at the feet of the McDonnell campaign because I have no evidence that his campaign was behind it. (That, plus we Dems just went through a primary in which a campaign was charged with the behavior of its supporters.)

  3. I don’t think there’s a blanket rule here, partly because I think it depends on the candidate-parent’s behavior. (And there’s another example that springs to mind: Jim Webb’s son’s enlistment and deployment to Iraq.) I think it turns on a few different factors:

    (1) Would the item be newsworthy, to the same degree, if the person involved were not related to the public figure? A 20-year-old arrested for misdemeanor underage alcohol possession in Bath County probably would not be news in Richmond, Northern Virginia, or Tidewater. Nor would a pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old girl in Alaska be news nationwide. On the other hand, would a shoplifting conviction in Henrico County be reported in the Times-Dispatch even if the offender were not Chief Justice Hassell’s daughter? Probably, but probably not as prominently as it was.

    If the item is newsworthy on its on–and on the same scale–it clearly is fair game, good or bad. If a relative of either of the candidates for governor went on a statewide ax-murdering spree, it’s going to be news regardless of the candidate. On the other hand, ordinarily private things like their school performance, medical records, credit histories would only ever be in the public view *because* of their relationship to the candidate. So there’s a spectrum here.

    (2) To what degree does the candidate place the family member in the public view? Surrounding oneself with pictures of one’s family in a political ad or on the stage at a political event is pretty standard: it signals nothing more than that they exist. But I think it’s a step farther when, for example, a candidate describes one of his children as “an honor roll student at X University.” That puts the student’s grades in issue and possibly fairly invites scrutiny into the academic record.

    (3) I think that the age of the relative instinctively is a factor, but I don’t know that it bears up to analysis. On one hand, the younger the person is the more leeway they should have to make mistakes and escape scrutiny. On the other hand, the older the person is the less likely they are to operate under the control of the candidate. A parent can’t do much about his 32-year-old child’s behavior anymore, can he? But a 5-year-old who steals a pack of gum from a convenience store while his parent is gassing up the minivan between campaign stops might be so young he deserves a free pass.

    So, in the end, there are too many subjective considerations to make a firm rule–and that room for subjectivity is always going to allow one side to accuse the other of being unfair whenever it criticizes a candidate’s family member. I think the only firm rule is that when a public figure completely separates his family from his public role, the issue truly has to be completely newsworthy on its own–like the ax-murder example.

  4. I think the story is legitimate IF, as the Pilot did, the source of the information is pointed out. The fact that the opposition party is peddling dirt is the more important part of the story than the relatively minor offense, committed by a member of the candidate’s family. I think the story should have been taken further by directly questioning the McDonnell campaign and asking them if they were behind it and did they endorse that sort of thing.

  5. They are public figures. This, in my mind, is a cost of that role. It is the Tao of fame, if you will.

    As far as the nature of this, on one hand, it humanizes these figures. And in many cases, these incidents unearth topics that are general problems that many families face and, in some cases, that we as a society face (like teen pregnancy and underage drinking). On the other, the relations never chose to be public figures and may not want to be. So, having their missteps out there for public consumption seems unfair. And as a whole, maybe this serves to influence people not to run for public office.

      1. The drinking age, yes. That the son is an adult, no. Minors (<18 y.o.) should be off-limits, period. The actions of adult children, OTOH, are irrelevant. Thus, children in general are off-limits.

    1. Mouse,
      I completely agree. The drinking age was 18 when I came of age. Seems to me it makes sense to have ONE age where you become an adult and come into all adult rights and responsibilities.

  6. Actually, Brian, it wasn’t the Deeds story. It was something that is going on locally that I’ve been aware of for some time. And while this post appeared on my blog today, it has been sitting in my drafts for a while as I figured out how to talk about the bigger issue of candidates’ families as opposed to a specific case.

  7. I think the petty sniping by Kirwin at Vivian says it all! This is what the republublithugs do! They run dirty, nasty smear campaigns, then sit on the sidelines playing pious! Its obvious, except to the legally dull, that McDonnell, based on his actions in office, will do anything to get elected. ANYTHING! You are just getting a peek at October, when they will no longer use facts, and just start making up lies! Its what they do. Its also why they are the minority party in the Congress, White House, Virginia Senate, Governor’s Mansion and soon to be the House of Delegates. They have done this to themselves, yet, here we see a prime example of why.

    Just as a factual point of reference, Palin pushed her kids into the limelight, the media didn’t go “after” them, she ran them out, to make herself look good. Big difference, but then why am I pointing out a factual difference to a professional smear artist? Won’t make a bit of difference.

    I’m just glad to see that they are still using the same playbook, that cost them the congress, WH, VA Senate, Governor’s Mansion and soon to be HOD. Clearly the republithugs are slow learners. Try as they might, slither under the rocks, twist, spin and opine, they are destroying themselves and will blame everyone else, but themselves for their humiliating losses. So please, keep posting BK, so we can see the entire 2009 playbook on campaign tactics! Lets see that manufactured indignation and pompous bellyaching!

    Keep it up Vivian, you’ve drawn them out, in a most professional and accurate manner. Lets watch them huff-n-puff-n-pound-their-little-hairless-chests!

    1. Complaining about smears in a comment full of smears?

      I’m amazed you squeezed so many insults and namecalling into one comment. Surely you are to be commended. I only knew one other person who could do that so well.

      1. He is a true Democrat — accuse the opposition of doing exactly what you are doing. (Then act shocked, shocked, I say, when someone accuses you.)

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