The blog Gawker defends a brawling mayor on a three-day alcoholic bender (one also accused of making sexual comments about family members and of sexual harassment), and attacked efforts at his removal as examples of "everything wrong with politics today" -- he is being "shamed and punished" for "being honest about his personal failings."


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 31, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Values and Addiction: Gawker Says Leave Drunken Mayor Alone!

No pictures available of fight and sexual harassment

No pictures available of fight and sexual

Gawker -- the model of a youth-oriented, on-line publication (my daughter interned with them) -- posted this : "Mayor Won't Resign After Public Bender," by Lauri Apple.  The Mayor of Sheboygan, WI -- Bob Ryan -- went on a public drunken spree.  It lasted three days, he got in a fight, and he passed out in a grungy bar.  (That's the Mayor in the picture.)

What next?

The city council called for his resignation.

The Mayor refused:

"I'm not proud of it," he says. "That's not me, but that's the alcoholic within me." He's working with counselors, psychologists, and doctors, attending group meetings, and - in light of his latest stumble - says he's enrolling in an intensive outpatient program to supplement all those other sobriety-promoting activities.

(See my last post about how less-then-effective our most popular go-to therapies are.)

What is Gawker's editorial position (remembering that it expresses the cutting edge in youth outlook)?

And so this case pretty much exemplifies everything that's wrong with politics today (emphasis added): You've got a mayor who's being honest about his personal failings, and who's therefore being shamed and punished for it.

 Although, Laurie, he got honest after his public debacle, right?

Alcoholism tends to involve embarrassing behavior; it clearly does in Ryan's case. So I'm sorry but yes, you are trying to remove the mayor for his alcoholism (emphasis added).

That clearly won't do!

Let's shift to a Socratic method here.   Several other things uncontrolled drunkenness involve are violence and sexual misconduct, both often involving family members. 

This is not an abstraction.  Remember, the mayor got in a brawl when he was drunk.  (Do you count that as embarrassing behavior, Lauri?)

Socratic question I: What if the guy he fought was blinded in the fight?  Okay with that?

The victims of drunken violence are most often family members.

Socratic question II: What if he beat his wife or children when he was drunk, Lauri? Chalk that up to the disease?

As for the sexual misconduct, including family members, that's also not an abstraction.  Ms. Apple reports in her post:

In addition to the bender, Ryan's other displays of alleged bad behavior include making some sort of sex-comment about a relative and being accused of sexual harassment by a former female employee. So dude's got some behavioral problems.

Socratic question III: Lauri, what if he sexually molested his daughter, or raped his wife when he was drunk.  Okay there?

Given her low opinion of politicians in general, perhaps Ms. Apple doesn't think the Mayor's job requires that much sober time.

Socratic question IV: Would you feel any dfferently about the person continuing at his job if he were a surgeon, a teacher, a judge, a cop, a minister, the President? [All right - I know the President is a politician.  Speaking of which, wouldn't a U.S. Senator who got publicly drunk for three days and punched out a constituent have to resign? Does this, "It's-all-right-I'm-an-alcoholic" thing only work for municipal politicians?]

Ms. Apple has an addendum describing another drunken Wisconsin Mayor story, which is quite similar, but which most people are less sympathetic towards:

In Marinette, Wisconsin, city officials are trying to oust their mayor, Robert Harbick, following a July 2 incident in which Harbick crashed into a light pole while driving drunk.

Socratic question V: Lauri, you didn't give an editorial position on this one -- okay with this DWI mayor staying in office?  What if he killed a child while driving drunk -- any problem there?

This last is not an abstraction to me.  I testified for the prosecution in a case where a prominent AA member got drunk, crossed a medial strip in his car, and killed a woman driving the other way (it was the morning).

Socratic question VI: Lauri, okay for a guy like this to hold public office?

In fact, the man was convicted of manslaughter (maximum term eight years).  It turned out that he had set out that day driving from bar to bar.

Socratic question VII:  Would you have voted to acquit, Lauri (his defense was EXACTLY the one you outline) and does his conviction exemplify for you everything that's wrong with juries today?

The police told me, off the record, that they had been called to this man's home several times due to domestic violence (which was not admissable as evidence).  His wife sat dutifully at the man's trial with their baby on her lap.

Socratic question VIII: Any problem with this picture Lauri?

My questions indicate I disapprove of Lauri's position. But I think she is 100 percent indicative of where we are headed.  Who could possibly fault the Mayor?  That's what Lauri learned in school.

Another question, Laurie:

Socratic question IX:  Do you believe values affect people's likelihood of engaging in addictive behavior, and do you have a problem with pregnant addicted women getting drunk, smoking, or taking drugs?

Laurie, I do believe values critically influence addiction .  Here's one reason why.  Pregnancy (and parenthood) is statistically the single largest prompt to people's quitting addictions.  Many addicted people simply say, "I'm not going to subject my child to this." 

Last set of questions:

Socratic question X:  I know addicted women who have quit heroin, alcohol, smoking when they became pregnant -- do you know any women like this?  Why do you think they were able to quit successfully? Do you think the attitudes underlying your piece are consistent with, or run counter to, the ability these women displayed?