Hypothetical: Young Love & Consequences

-{Ever since I was a kid, I pestered my father and anyone else who would listen with hypothetical questions. Some habits die hard. I think that hypothetical questions give us a neutral insight into how we approach moral and ethical dilemmas as well as balance various values and beliefs. A variation of this hypothetical was originally posted on Hit Coffee. I am re-posting it here because I am interested in how LoOG readers would approach the situation.}-

Bob Gaines is a two-term congressman. He got his position on a bit of a fluke, the default opponent in a year where his party had a really good showing. He also unseated the incumbent with a torrent of negative attacks on ethics violations going back to when his opponent was a criminal court judge. Prior to becoming a congressman, Gaines was a prosecutor working his way up from petty misdemeanors to sex crimes.

Congressman Gaines has a secret. One of those secrets out in the open for anyone that does the math. Finally, his third opponent, Jim Stevens, did. Gaines met his wife when he was 18 and she was 15. They are three years and two months apart, meaning that if they had sex at any point prior to her turning 17 (they were not married up to that point), he was guilty of statutory rape according to the laws of his state. He doesn’t need to take the 5th because the Statue of Limitations has passed (beyond which, obviously his wife is not going to press for charges nor are her parents, who always liked him), but he’s not saying one way or the other whether he had premarital sex with his wife, before or after her 17th birthday.

The Stevens campaign is saying that this is highly relevant because, as a prosecutor, Gaines handled sex crimes and if he was a sex criminal than that goes towards his character and raises questions of hypocrisy. The Gaines campaign responds that even that weak reasoning doesn’t work because Gaines never actually prosecuted any comparable statutory rape cases (if Gaines is in fact guilty of such) and beyond which regardless of what happened Gaines was obviously not in violation of the spirit of the law. Stevens says the law is the law. The Gaines campaign say that whatever may or may not have happened is in the past is irrelevant because there is no legal standing for charges to be filed. Stevens says this is about character, not criminal charges. He also takes issue with the notion of “comparable,” because Gaines did in fact prosecute a couple of statutory rape cases. The records reflect that the victims in those cases were 12 and 13 with one perpetrator in his late twenties and the other in his forties (and a step-father besides), and Gaines’s campaign says that is not comparable to an age difference of three years with a future husband, if it in fact occurred, which nobody has any proof of.

Now, assume that you find both Gaines and Stevens to be equally good or bad on the issues. Would this (probable) revelation about Gaines’s past make you less likely to vote for him? If so, how much less likely? Does the fact that Gaines married her make his alleged crime irrelevant or is the law the law? Does the fact that it was over a decade ago make it irrelevant or is the law the law? Does the fact that Gaines prosecuted rapists make his own possible indiscretions relevant? Despite the fact that Gaines is not denying it, do you simply give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s irrelevant because nothing has been proved or do you assume guilt? Do you think it wouldn’t be such a big deal but for Gaines’s refusal to address the issue? Does the fact that Gaines got his job on the basis of negative campaigning mean that all’s fair? Do you resent the fact that Stevens is focusing on this rather than more substantive things and therefore sour on Stevens’ candidacy?

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. This would have exactly zero impact on my decision whether or not to vote for him. Teenagers have sex with each other, all the time. The age difference between the two was not in any way concerning, like if she had been 12 and he 19. A complete non-issue.

    • Would you be irritated with Stevens for pressing the issue or would you more likely just think “Stupid, but hey, that’s politics.”

      • The latter; it’s not something earthshaking like whether Gaines wears a flag pin, or whether his pastor ever said anything stupid.

      • I would be irritated, but it wouldn’t sway my vote, either. Teenagers have sex, politicians flog idiotic non-issues, I roll my eyes and try to find old “Simpsons” episodes to take my mind off of the state of the nation.

  2. I’d probably be less likely to vote for Stevens for trying to make an issue out of it.

  3. From the dates given in Wikipedia, Mitt Romney started dating his wife when he was 18 and she was 15. They didn’t marry until he was 22.

    • I see that this may look like an attack on Romney; not at all. At least as far as I can see from outside, there’s not a word to be said against them as a couple, and bringing up anything that might or might not have happened over forty years ago would be asinine.

    • And no one has asked about their sexual involvement, either. Because in the case of true believer Mormons (among other kinds of religious folk) it seems likely that they did actually abstain from sex until marriage.

      “Abstain from sex” does not necessarily exclude other kinds of fooling around (or messing around, which is like fooling around except without dinner first). But it just doesn’t seem worth the inquiry.

      • There is a saying around these parts of the Beehive state that amount to this: “It’s moral if it’s oral.”

        Or something to that effect. I’m always amazed that people would promise their entire lives to each other before ever really exploring their combined sexuality and actually living day to day with each other. I’m sure some will say I cheapen the institution by saying this but it is a bit like buying a house without ever seeing it inside and out.

        • mark: “It’s moral if it’s oral.”

          Better would be “it’s banal if it’s anal,” except it doesn’t actually rhyme when you say it out loud.

  4. My grandfather married my grandmother when they were 4 years apart and they were both in their teens. This was something that happened all the time, at the time.

    This story makes me think of my Grandad and Gran.

    To hear it explained that if my Grandad went after child molesters that he’d be a hypocrite would strike me as patently offensive if I were in a bad mood and as merely exceptionally culturally ignorant/arrogant if I were in a good one.

  5. Reading the other comments so far I may end up being the devil’s advocate here, depending on the hypotheticals involved in Gaines’s past campaigning.

    I tend to think of my vote as a bit of power I hold; when you ask me to vote for you, you ask me to give up that period for a period of time, and give it totally to you. I hate feeling like I have been tricked out of my power.

    If Gaines had come to power solely by campaigning on his governing or managerial skills, or on his positions on “the issues” then I wold agree with what I’m the others hearing here. I’d even vote for him, because if all other things are equal I’d want the guy who’d now had some experience at the job.

    But was he a hard-line law and order candidate first time around? (Most DAs tend to be, I think.) When asked about illegal immigrants, had he taken a hard-nose stance, saying that any given particulars about a hard luck illegal Mexican news story was irrelevant, because the law was the law, and that made that person a criminal regardless of the fact that he and his employer weren’t hurting anyone? Then yeah, I’d be happy to vote against him this time around.

    This has less to do with hypocrisy than it does having convinced me to vote for you – to have given you my power – by vilifying a group of people you knew you technically belonged to.

    That, and I feel a candidate has to fall on the sword of any campaign issue he himself has forged.

    A few years ago in Oregon we had a GOP candidate for governor who – it was discovered in the middle of the general election campaign – had owned three companies that had all failed and gone bankrupt. I tend to think that this would not have been a big deal for me (hey, lot’s of good business people fail, and there is something to be said about learning from your mistakes) if his “proven business savvy” not been the central thrust of his campaign. That is to say, he had previously spent months saying that his opponent had no business sense and had never run any successful business venture while he had successfully run three. After the story about his business past broke, he and his spokespeople kept insisting that those failures were a long time a go, and they shouldn’t be turned into campaign issues. And I kept thinking, yeah, but you’re the ones that *made* them campaign issues.

    • But was he a hard-line law and order candidate first time around? (Most DAs tend to be, I think.) When asked about illegal immigrants, had he taken a hard-nose stance, saying that any given particulars about a hard luck illegal Mexican news story was irrelevant, because the law was the law, and that made that person a criminal regardless of the fact that he and his employer weren’t hurting anyone? Then yeah, I’d be happy to vote against him this time around.

      How likely is it you would vote for such a candidate in the first place? I mean, even if this tidbit hadn’t gotten out?

      • Not so likely. But that may not end up being relevant the purpose of your original question. Mentally, I had my reaction to your question without any of these add ons, and then worked my way backward to see why I’d had it.

        In this case I’m not even sure I’m proud of how I’d vote, but there you have the honest answer anyway.

        • I’d consider it relevant insofar as if your chances of voting for him were 0% either way, it doesn’t really move you. Can you imagine this revelation changing your view of a candidate that you liked or weren’t sure about?

          As for Gaines specifically, his political views are complex. But down to the basics, socially conservative (though not in a particularly mean-spirited way) and economically liberal (of the hand-up-not-hand-out variety) and not anti-immigrant at all (a lot of recent-landers are in his district). He achieved office on the basis of the previous incumbent’s corruption (so there is an honesty angle there) and the fame of his deceased father (so there is a biographical angle there). He doesn’t particularly play up his time as a prosecutor, but does say that it gave him a window through which he saw that our society is not working. Does that help?

          • Sure, then I’d vote for him.

            But to make the possibly relevant point more relevant, at least in terms of using me as a case study:

            Let’s say that in another election someone whom I might vote for runs a campaign on eliminating corporate welfare, and rather than talking about how it is bad policy publicly goes after people like those at AIG or oil companies or a massive corn products company and tries to get my ire up about them asking for “handouts” to get them out of jams they themselves created or use my tax dollars to make a very profitable business even more profitable. I would be very susceptible to this message.

            But it comes out later that he and the partners of his private company have been lobbying a congressional committee to subsidize part of their business to make it more profitable. I have no problem with a company trying to lobby their congress man to do this; if it allowed and and encouraged, I see him doing nothing wrong in trying to get some of that yummy pork. (My congressman agreeing to give him said money, however, is another matter.)

            Here is a case where you have someone pitching a campaign message that I might well vote for. And privately in his business acting in a way I find perfectly appropriate. But asking to be put in power with this message, acting in this way… he loses my vote, every time.

  6. Government isn’t properly in the business of handing out permission slips for sex. No one needs any permission to have sex, except from the person having it with them and/or their significant others.

    The only exceptions are for when the sex is nonconsensual. When it’s two teenagers who later marry, it’s pretty obvious that the sex was consensual. There isn’t much pressure in our culture at least to marry your rapist.

    Our laws ought to reflect this set of moral conclusions perfectly, but they don’t. To the extent that they don’t, I side with these views and not with the laws. In other words, it’s a total non-issue to me.

  7. I would be more interested in this question if the pol in question had actually prosecuted some ‘Romeo & Juliet’ cases instead of more obvious, noncontroversial, statutory rape cases. As such, it seems like a non-issue to me unless the guy has been talking up a ‘no tolerance for sex offenders’ platform or bragging about putting teens involved in sexting or some such on sex offender registries.
    That said, I think it would be valid to upbraid him for not fighting to change his state’s statutory rape laws so what he ostensibly did cannot not be used against others in the future, either.

    • If the information in the hypothetical is good, it looks like the laws have only been used against adults violating children rather than Romeo/Juliet situations.

      • I’m probably being over-literal, but in a Romeo-Juliet situation they’d both wind up dead.

        • The radio has a commercial for McDonald’s that never fails to raise my blood pressure.

          “Some things just go together… like Romeo and Juliet!”

          Eventually we get to McDonald’s and an ice-cold Coke.

          I am usually yelling about Romeo and Juliet committing suicide before we get there, however.

          • She says, “Why can’t we be more like Romeo & Juliet?”
            He says, “They died before they even knew each other yet.”
            She says, “That’s not right; that’s not what it’s about!”
            He says, “Just wait till he forgets to put the cat out.”

            {Phil Pritchett}

    • Gaines himself has prosecuted no such cases. The department in which he works has, though, when driven by irate parents. Regarding the changing of the law, Gaines himself does not comment, though if he did he could say “Statutory rape laws are state. I’m federal.” Would you find that to be weaselly or an actual defense?

      • This new information makes me more inclined to not only vote for him, but perhaps contribute as well.

      • I’d consider that defense a little weaselly, but not enough to shove my vote one way or t’other, in as much as maybe I’d say something if I somehow had the chance to chat with Gaines, but nothing more.
        I feel like there are so many bigger fish to fry as far as political hypocrisy goes and far worse political smears occurring to let this dominate my personal voting preferences.

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