15 January 2016

Musings On Governor Hickenlooper's Remarriage This Saturday

Who Is Governor Hickenlooper?

Colorado's Governor Hickenlooper is arguably the most popular politician in recent history in Colorado.  After one full term and most of a second one as Mayor of Denver, he ran as a Democrat to be the state's Governor, won, and was re-elected.  He gave his sixth State of the State address yesterday to a joint session of the Colorado General Assembly.

What Is The News About Governor Hickenlooper's Marriage?

In every organization, the people below scrutinize the personal lives of the people above them, in part because, they have no authority to stand in judgment over them in their professional lives.  A Governor is above almost everyone but the President, U.S. Senators, royalty, Forbes 100 members, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and A-list celebrities are below them on our society's status pyramid, so just about everyone is inclined to scrutinize a Governor's personal life.

Governor Hickenlooper is 63.  His son is close in age to my own son, although they attended different schools.  He separated from his wife of ten years the same week that I did.  My wife and I after a couple of year of separation, managed to get back together, calling off divorce proceedings a matter of days before our permanent orders hearing that would have finalized the split would have happened.  Mr. Hickenlooper, and his wife, Helen Thorpe, ultimate divorced after an extended period of separation in one of the most civil and public drama-free splits that can be imagined.

Five years later, after a year of dating, he proposed to his 37 year old girlfriend over Christmas. They will be married tomorrow in a very small, very private ceremony held at an undisclosed location after just three weeks or so of an engagement - with timing dictated by Colorado's legislative calendar, which dictated that they have a small wedding before the legislative session in moving forward in earnest, or have a huge wedding after the legislative session was over.  He received a bipartisan sendoff with legislators showering him and his fiancee with rice walked down the aisle out of the legislative chamber.

The Political Impact

Sooner or later, people are going to start talking about how this impacts Governor Hickenlooper's prospects as a Presidential candidate in either 2020 or 2024 (depending upon whether or not a Democratic wins the Presidential race in 2016).  Helen Thorpe, who married Hickenlooper shortly before he ran for Mayor, is an accomplished author in her own right, but has never had much of an interest in playing the role of a socialite first lady, either when Hickenlooper was Mayor, or when he was Governor, and has made a bare minimum of campaign appearances during her marriage (although I have seen her at a couple of those).

Barring service as the President, Governor Hickenlooper would also be an attractive Vice President, potential cabinet member, commission director or ambassador for a Democratic President.  He could run for the U.S. Senate from Colorado when an opening arises on the Democratic ticket for that post. Alternately, he could return to the world of business, or could enter the non-profit sector (perhaps, for example, as a university system chancellor). Hickenlooper is not a lawyer, so a judicial post is not in his future. Surely, he will not withdraw from the world of politics entirely, no matter what he choses to do, even if it once again becomes a mere avocation for him.

Generally speaking, being in a marriage with someone who may be more willing to play a role in the process of campaigning and playing a part in her spouse's political life is an asset and makes a political career path more attractive than it would be with a spouse who wants nothing to do with that process in the household.

A Personal Take

Personally, Hickenlooper's marriage is an occasion for me to briefly acknowledge how close my wife and I came to pursuing a very different path.  It is not a path that I wish I had taken, but it would have made our lives, and the lives of our children, very different it we had, and as in Hickenlooper's case (at least in the public view), if it had happened differently, it would have been exceptionally civil and low conflict (at least to all appearances, regardless of the emotional turmoil involved).

A Measure Of How We See Divorce And Remarriage Today

In the brief time available to them, the Denver Post and other media outlets have squeezed in everything possible about May-December weddings.  Already, this discussion includes a discussion of whether or not the new couple will end up having children together.  This is interesting, but it is also old news as the long parade of celebrities in such relationships and many otherwise perfectly ordinary people in such relationships that the stories explore, illustrates.

Divorce is a bipartisan reality.  Democratic and Republican public officials both get divorced and serve the public well in their public duties while failing to keep their marriages together.  The well to do divorce much less often than the members of the working class and the poor (both of whom often split up without ever managing to get married in the first place, even when they have children together).  But, no socio-economic class from royalty to vagrancy is immune to relationships that don't last.

Overall, I think we have as a society reached a level of maturity where we can acknowledge that even decent, basically good people can have relationships that grow fragile and break.  I think that Governor Hickenlooper and Helen Thorpe are good examples of such people.  I recognize that it can be particularly hard when careers and avocational activities take a front seat when it comes to priorities in a couple that doesn't share the same passions in those pursuits.

People Can Be Excellent In One Domain While Merely Mediocre Or Even Horrible In Another

Most of society has not reached the level of maturity necessary to understand that people can be paragons of virtue in some respect and seriously flaws in some other respect, and probably never will.

But, I am well aware that this is true in real life.

It is entirely possible that either Governor Hickenlooper, or Helen Thorpe, or both of them, are not just not made for each other, but are actually really not very nice in how they handle personal relationships.  As outsiders, we can never know, and on balance, that is a good thing, as even politicians are entitled to some respect for their privacy, at least if they don't exercise their power to impose hypocritical standards that they can't live up to themselves upon others.

I do not in any way hint that this is actually true, and to all outward appearances it is not.  But, even if it was true, this does not in any way detract from the fact that Governor Hickenlooper is one of the most remarkably good politicians in the nation, or that Helen Thorpe is an accomplished author. People can be genuinely and deservedly excellent in once domain, and simultaneously be abysmally bad in another.  A person's personal life is often a poor gauge of their professional competence.

Similarly, there is nothing irreconcilable about the possibility that Bill Cosby could be a masterful comedian, and perhaps even a good father and not intolerable husband, while simultaneously being a serial philanderer who at a minimum abused the trust and inappropriately manipulated a great many women (many during his marriage) and at worse was a serial rapists whose celebrity helped empower him to continue is pattern of drugging and having sex with women who were little more than strangers without their consent.

I recently finished the book The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean, which tries to inform its readers about neuroscience in the context of memoirs and anecdotes about the lives of some of the most notable doctors and patients who brought us to our current level of understanding. Many of the most illustrious neurosurgeons engaged in some form or another of questionable conduct, and of the greatest, who pinned down the cause of the Papuan neurological disease call kuru, and was critical in co-discovering the class of diseases caused by infectious agents called prions, such as Mad Cow disease and Alzheimer's disease, was also almost surely a pedophile who preyed on pre-teen and teenaged boys, a practice that was more tolerated in certain tribes in Papua New Guinea than it was in the contemporary United States where he was ultimately prosecuted for this conduct when he was in his 70s.

To take another example, Presidential candidate Ben Carson is, by all accounts, an outstanding neurosurgeon.  But, he is also, simultaneously, in other domains an incredibly credulous, superstitious, naive, and paranoid individual, and unfortunately, his faults are in areas which while irrelevant to neurosurgery, are very relevant to the job of serving as the President of the United States.

For that matter, lots of abominable political leaders who have committed crimes against humanity as Nazis or in other totalitarian regimes, are also excellent family men.

It isn't that genius in one field necessarily requires moral flaws in another domain.  But, genius in one field and deep flaws in some other domain can exist in the same person.


Also, while it is appropriate to be concerned about how the breakup and remarriage has impacted their son, it doesn't hurt to recall that perhaps the second most remarkable individual in all of Colorado politics, Andrew Romanoff, is a son of divorced parents who had a far less civil divorce than Hickenlooper and Thorpe did.  Indeed, it isn't unreasonable to infer that Romanoff owes a fair share of his remarkable ability to build consensus and forge compromises to growing up with divorces parents, one of whom is a very political Democrat, and the other of whom is a very political Republican.  And, while the evidence is pretty clear that for kids, parents who stay together is often better for them, even when the marriage is not a net benefit either of the parents, the next best thing is for unmarried parents to stay civil with each other, to keep focused on the best interests of their children, and to keep their own relationship problems out of the children's lives as much as possible. Their son is likely to get a pretty good approximation of the next best alternative.

No comments: