Alabama: Governor's private actions are none of your business

Alabama Gov. Bentley faces impeachment battle
Alabama Gov. Bentley faces impeachment battle

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Alabama Gov. Bentley faces impeachment battle 01:21

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: Alabama lawmakers' attempt to impeach "family values" governor over allegations of affair carries its own hypocrisy
  • She says people revel in judging private behavior of powerful so they can feel powerful, too
  • Drexler: Until we clean up our own acts, Gov. Bentley's private actions are frankly none of our business

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Will the people of Alabama vote to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley in the wake of the latest political sex scandal to consume the media waves?

Seems they will certainly try. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Alabama lawmakers announced impeachment proceedings will begin in response to allegations that the Republican governor, serving his second term, had an adulterous affair with former staffer Rebekah Mason.
    The charges come after the release of audiotapes "of a sexual nature" from a conversation that allegedly took place between Bentley and Mason in 2014. Although Bentley is now divorced, both were married at the time.
    Though Bentley has denied having a physical affair, he does acknowledge it's his voice on the recording, and that the comments were inappropriate, though not illegal. Mason has not commented on the tape, though she has since resigned.
    Will Alabama Gov. heed calls to resign over alleged affair?
    Will Alabama Gov. heed calls to resign over alleged affair?

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    Will Alabama Gov. heed calls to resign over alleged affair? 03:13
    But before we all merrily rush to judgment, let's pause to consider a few things.
    Bentley, as many have pointed out, campaigned on principles of honesty and family values (show me a politician who doesn't). As such, and to no one's surprise, many lawmakers and citizens have pointed out the hypocrisy that the actions he's accused of would represent — asking him to resign from office as well.
    Speaking at a press conference, state Rep. Ed Henry said, "We're looking at this governor who has essentially betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama through actions and lies that have caused us to have some doubt about his leadership."
    But since we're speaking of hypocrisy, it's worth pointing out that Alabamans are hardly unimpeachable models of moral behavior. According to the U.S. Census, Alabama has "higher than average" divorce rates. Meanwhile, a 2015 analysis of the data leaked from extramarital dating website Ashley Madison revealed that Alabama led the charge in states "most likely to be unfaithful."
    Governor denies affair despite explicit recordings
    Governor denies affair despite explicit recordings

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    An extramarital affair may be, as Alabama Republican Assembly President Jennifer Montrose put it Tuesday, "a violation of the values and beliefs of the Alabama voters, and a betrayal of their trust," but it's certainly not beyond their own courses of action.
    Sure, it's long been the case that we hold our elected leaders to higher standards than we do ourselves, or our friends. Lying and cheating is wrong when we do it (though we do it anyway). But when those whom we elect to serve our best interests lie and cheat, well, how dare they?
    How dare they think that just because we live in and perpetuate a sexually charged culture where there's more sex on TV and less monogamy at home they're allowed to join it in their private lives as well?
    Such expectations have set politicians up to fail since the dawn of politics and will continue to do so. This is because people are fallible by nature, and politicians are people. At the same time, there's more to what's happening in Alabama than unrealistic, or hypocritical, expectations:
    Whether it's a politician's affair, a Wall Streeter's greed or the neighbor who builds a fence three inches higher than regulation, we can't help but love to catch, and call out, others in the act of doing wrong. We're a society of self-satisfied judgers: We judge mothers who work too much, fathers who don't work enough, women who dress too "provocatively," men who dress like slobs, the overweight, the mentally ill, the rich, the poor, the list goes on.
    We love being right, and to achieve that, of course, someone else has got to be wrong, and the more wrong the better.
    That's why Bentley was never going to escape public flogging. Exposing and embarrassing and taking down a powerful man -- and if there's a transgressive woman to take down too, all the better -- transfers a little bit of that power to the rest of us while also allowing us to pretend that we're acting to our own highest moral standards, even when we're most likely not.
    Let's consider how news of the affair came to light: described by a man, Spencer Collier, the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, whom Bentley had fired. He told a press conference he'd heard the audio recordings with his boss, who got them from a representative of the Bentley family. The family was apparently trying to find out if Bentley was having an affair. Certainly no self-serving motives there.
    In 2014, Bentley was re-elected to a second term, which would seem to indicate people think he's doing a good job. If he were having an affair at the time, it would seem it did not impact his performance at work. Along with the suggestions of an affair, there have been allegations that Bentley misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to cover up an illicit relationship. If that's the case, that's different — that's your business, Alabama -- and, if found to be true, he should face consequences.
    As far as his dirty talk goes, though: Until we clean up our own acts, it's frankly none of our business.