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Public Office And Private Lives Social Policy Essay

The development of the media and high speed information exchange brings private lives of public officials to public discussion. Transgress moral “boundaries” may damage public officials’ career, especially elected ones, severely. The growing attention to private lives among the population makes the topic more important for the social sciences. On one hand politicians use certain aspects of their “ideal” private lives in their election campaigns in order to gain popularity, on the other hand they require the right for privacy in the things that will affect their lives negatively. Interestingly, the level of public interest in private life varies in modern democracies. While USA citizens are interested in every aspects of public officials (mostly elected ones), and try to find relationship between official’s job performance with his private life, Greek people seems to be less caring about private lives and prefer to focus on officials job performance only. The purpose of this paper is to explain level of public interest for private lives of politicians, its reasons, affect on politics the Greece and the USA comparatively. In the first section I will focus on the USA case, in the second on the Greece, in the third section I will give comparison of these two countries. The final section

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Privacy in USA

In past three decades borders between private and public life of public figures in USA became more invisible; their private lives are brought to public discussion more often. Privacy in general considered as “freedom from unauthorized intrusion: state of being let alone and able to keep certain esp. personal matters to oneself.”( Merriam-Webster’s). Freedom from unauthorized intrusion may include media, police, and government and so on. Although to define hat is public is not that easy. According to Frederick Schauer in public issue “individual preferences is not indulged, including a preference that information not to be disclosed”(Frederick Schauer 2000, 294 ). In this case elector’s right to whether decision making public official is suitable for the job, and how his/her policies affect their lives. Having normal childhood, family, and friends seems indicator of good personality as well. Through the history there are several cases showing that public leaders having abused childhood, leaders who treated their families in abusive ways used alike policies in their job. For example Hitler’s abused childhood caused disaster for the world as Alise Millen said “Hitler did not invent fascism; he found it, like so many of his contemporaries, prefigured in the totalitarian regime of his family” (The Natural Child Project). Or another dictator, Joseph Stalin, also had abusive childhood, problems with his family. Stalins wife “Nadejda Alilulayeva wife committed suicide in 1982 after he spoke her mind about Communist Party purges and the famine and was met by a flood of vulgar abuse from Stalin” (Nyu York Times, April 14, 1988) and another member of his family, his son Joseph committed suicide in 1943. Today family images of politicians play very important in their career path and their successful marriages brings moral and softer image to them. Perhaps its not coincidence that British Prime Minister Gordon Browns workaholic, lonely man changed before becoming prime minister. He is not mentioned as lonely man but family man who loves his family.

In USA situation is not that much different than most of the world, even politicians private lives are more exposed than other countries. While most of the politicians complain about insufficiency of privacy in their private lives, they use their private lives as a means of advertisement. Since USA presidential election of 1992 politicians started to publicize their private lives more and more. Public interest for private life increasing, people prefer more entertaining programs, ‘the American electorate are regarded as fed up with Washington politicians, “voter want people who aren’t political”‘ ( Newman, in Schauer 2003, 301,). Candidates’ private life scandals seemed very interesting topic for news programs. Perhaps Bill Clinton’s extramarital relationship with Monica Lewinsky was one of the biggest scandals in USA history which was on headlines of newspapers for years. Although Clinton was elected for office for the second time after the scandal, some of higher ranked officials, had to resign after scandals,

Randall L. Tobias, Deputy Secretary of State, resigned a day after confirming his usage of Washington escort services. Although April 27, 2007 dated press release of the state department said that he was leaving for personal reasons.

New York governor Eliot Spitzer who also accused having extramarital affair with prostitute resigned from his post after scandal. Before his resignation he ‘made a brief public appearance during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a “private matter.”‘ (New York Times, March 10, 2008).

There might be several reasons for this increase, but probably the most important two reasons which is decrease of interest to real politics as mentioned above ‘peoples being fed up with Washington politicians’ (Schauer 2003, 301) and media which always tries to meet popular demand. In the last elections in USA candidate Barack Obama’s race, family, religion was discussed and much as his election platform. Today media is considered as one of most profit bringing areas in the world. In the competitive market companies are working to maximize their profits at any price. American media is called as freest and most commercial media in the world by Heather Savigny (2004, 225).

Privacy in Greece

Discussions about privacy and public life are not something new for Greece. In ancient Greece private lives and public were separated from each others, private life was called oikos and public life was called as dimos. In Platos Republic Plato and Socrates discuss privacy issue. After reviewing Greek newspapers headlines in last 25 years one might thing that Greeks might seem not to be interested in oikos of politicians after over than 2000 years from Socrates times or Greeks are not interested in politics at all or having politicians who has very ideal life without any scandals, so that there are only two well known publicized high ranked public officials’ scandals. Both of these scandals have very similar feature. In the first case

Andreas Papandreou, while receiving hospital treatment in London, was accompanied by a former air hostess, Ms. Dimitra Liani rather than with his wife, even friendly press gave the fact widespread publicity. Later, he was constantly seen with Ms. Liani, most notable on his return to Greece from London, In Autumn 1988 and at the EC Summit in Rhodes in December of that year. (Georgia Chondreleou 2004,5,)

However this case was not revealed by journalists or someone else but Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou himself let rumors to be spread. Greek prime ministers confident action also indicates that he is not that much concerned about critiques and media pressure. Indeed this case was not discussed in the media that much, so that his health and later on corruption scandals overshadowed this case.

In the Second case:

Christos Zachopoulos, the former secretary general of the Greek Culture Ministry and chairman of the Central Archaeological Council, jumped off the balcony of his fourth-floor home here [December 20, 2007]after allegations that he was being blackmailed by his former office assistant, with whom he had had an affair. Mr. Zachopoulos, 54, survived the fall. (New York Times December 20, 2007)

This scandals also mentioned as “The juiciest sex scandal in modern Greek memory” (Times Online January 9, 2008)

Comparatively with the first case in the second case General Secretary of the Greek culture get more attention from the media. Perhaps, the thing that forced General Secretary to resign and attempt for the suicide was not only related publication of his love affair in the media, but also his being accused for corruption.

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“An Athens prosecutor [was] also examining at least 10 of an estimated 200 cases in which Mr. Zachopoulos, in his capacity as the head of the Central Archaeological Council, decreed that places could be removed from the list of protected archaeological sites. (New York Times, January 19, 2008).

Having only two politician private life scandal in Greece also doesn’t means that Greek people are not interested in politics. Politics is still one of the most famous topics in Greek Coffee Shops. But it’s also known that population get information what media gives.

Although there was freedom of speech in media, since the beginning of the 1980s ruling parties always had impact on TVs, so that most the TVs and big newspapers either belonged to the government or survived with the subsidies from the government. Even today from time to time Greek governments subsidize media. Perhaps it is not coincidence that there is not that much critique in media against government and high ranked officials except the cases which officials exposed them or the cases which is already related with some ethical issues.


Even if this two countries seems very similar in some points there differences in public attention to their life. However ‘political scandals take place only in liberal democracies because only there is the separation of public from private spheres fundamental to the political system’ (Markovitsa nd Silverstei in Betty a. Dobratz and Whitfield, Stephanie 1992, 168). Perhaps the level of the liberalization and Greeks being under dictatorship was also one of the factors that affect level of scandals.

‘Plato’s Republic abolishes the foundation of any private life for the guardians who the ideal state-eliminating the family and private property in order to create unity in the state”. Socrates considers the objection that guardians will not be happy if they have to give up pleasures of the private life. Such happiness he replies is “senseless and childish”; the guardians, after all, will enjoy a better and more honorable life than other citizens. Anyhow, the aim should be to make whole society good, not to make one section of it happy, he also argues that even if guardians will have to give up their private lives, they will still enjoy a better honorable life.'(Plato’s Republic in Thompson 1987, 124).

If we compare USA and Greece with Plato and Socrates philosophy, Plato’s model private and public life is very suitable USA approach of privacy so that politicians seems to be ok giving up their privacy in order to ‘enjoy a better honorable life’. However Greece politicians still can manage to keep their private lives from public.

The main difference in the cases of two countries is that USA population will get more However media also played significant role in publicizing the cases. Free and commercialized USA media seems is more likely to meet entertain popular demand of population that the media and press which is subsidized by government.


Its obvious that there are still will be a lot of debates about public and private lives. As much country will get liberalized, achieve free media,


  • Frederics Schauer 2000, “Can Public Figures have private lives?” Social Philosophy and Policy, 17:299-306
  • Dennis F. Tomphson 1987, Political Etics and Public Office. Cabridge Mass.: Harvard University Press
  • Georgia Chondroleou 2004, “Public Images and Private Lives: the Greek Experience” Parliamentary Affairs Vol. 57 No. 1, 53-66
  • Heather Savigny 2004, “The Media and the Personal Lives of Politicians in the Unites States”, Parliamentary Affairs Vol. 57 No. 1, 223-235
  • Betty A. Dobratz and Whitfield, Stephanie Sep., 1992, “Does Scandal Influence Voters’ Party Preference? The Case of Greece during the Papandreou Era ” European Sociological Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, 167-180
  • privacy. Dictionary.com. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privacy (accessed: December 11, 2009). http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privacy (accessed: December 05, 2009)
  • http://www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/adolf_hitler.html, last accessed December 10, 2009
  • http://www.nytimes.com/
  • http://timesonline.co.uk (accessed December 10, 2009)


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