All in the family: Can Sleazy Aunt Betty and Crooked Brother-in-law Bob wreck a political career? by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Life is complicated, and family relationships make it all the more so, especially if you’re in the business of politics. The impact goes both ways, from long-suffering spouses standing bravely by a pol who has done wrong, to the politicians enduring the guilt by association with a ne’er-do-well cousin or in-law.

Debbie DiMasi, wife of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi (currently a guest of the federal government at a prison in Kentucky), insisted to Greater Boston’s Emily Rooney this week that her husband is innocent of all corruption charges. Di Masi himself, apparently indifferent to the embarrassing legacy of recent House Speakers, is starting an 8-year term, still asserting he isn’t guilty of steering nearly $20 million in contracts to a software firm in exchange for thousands of dollars. Former Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich, sentenced Wednesday to 14 years, at least had the decency in the courtroom, finally, to acknowledge what he has done to his family. He said “I have nobody to blame but myself. … I am just so incredibly sorry.”

NY Congressman Anthony Weiner humiliated his wife by sending pictures of his private parts on the internet; NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, by consorting with call girls; South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford , by declaring his Argentinean mistress his “soul mate.” (Mrs. Sanford very publically didn’t stand by her man.) I’m not sure how sorry these pols were when they got caught with their pants down (metaphorically and, in Weiner’s case, for real) and lost their office. This scenario has become so commonplace that The Good Wife has become a top-rated television show.

Humiliation is a two-way street, as demonstrated by the Tierney/Eremian clan. U.S. Congressman John Tierney’s wife Patrice clearly has a family whose business is crime. In their case, the crime is of the illegal gambling sort. The Feds got their conviction, and yet another of her brothers is still on the lam in Antigua. Patrice herself had pled guilty to aiding and abetting the false filing of tax returns on behalf of the second brother and did 30 days in jail for being in “willful” denial about the nature of his Antigua business. Though most of the millions that went through the account went to pay for the Antigua-based brother’s taxes and his family expenses, she still legally derived certain monies from that account over several years.

As was made absolutely clear in different court proceedings, after extensive scrutiny by a very aggressive Office of the US Attorney in Boston, the Congressman was never implicated in any way in any of these illegal activities.

Ironically, and in perfect symmetry to the theme that a politician’s extended family may be the greatest curse he must endure, the best thing Tierney may have going for him,( in addition to his own progressive record in Congress), is that the sister of Rep. Richaed Tisei, likely his strongest Republican opponent, was reportedly arrested in August for possession of cocaine.

Tisei, like Tierney, has not been linked to any of his sister’s alleged conduct and also like Tierney, claims to have been unaware of any of his sister’s illegal activity.

None of this is new, and it doesn’t have to be fatal. Bill Clinton’s half brother Roger did a year in jail on a cocaine conviction. Hillary Clinton’s brother was suspected and aggressively pursued by the government of influence peddling. A judge ordered Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyango to leave the country because she was here illegally. His uncle Onyango Obama was picked up on charges of drunk driving and held because of questions about his immigration status. Jimmy Carter had his outlandish brother Billy, a good ole boy who pushed Billy Beer and Libyan investments. Richard Nixon was regularly embarrassed by his brother Donald’s financial wheeling’s and dealings with the legendary Howard Hughes. Lyndon Johnson had to deal with his brother, Sam Houston Johnson, a shiftless alcoholic. And on and on and on.

The bottom line is that, if you’re in public life – whether you’re a politician, an actor/celebrity, or an editor – or the spouse of one– it’s often not enough to be above reproach, like Caesar’s wife. You’d better hope that Caesar’s siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws are equally free of skeletons in the closet. The challenge for the electorate, in today’s often thoughtless news media environment, is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.