US historical records are chock full of arrests, convictions, imprisonments and censures of politicians, judges and holy men as well, but nothing captures the hearts and imagination of Americans like a good old sexcapade.
The quality of the scandals here is superior to that anywhere on the planet; none of that rock ‘em sock ‘em, Karate Kid stuff seen in Asian halls of government or the tepid love scandals of Italy, the rest of Europe and South America. America features top of the line, career-busting scandals that command worldwide attention.
The latest offering is that of Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York. A rising star in Congress, blessed with a smart, attractive and very pregnant wife (of Arab origin) and a good shot at becoming mayor of New York, life seemed kind to him. That was until he decided to post barely cloaked photos of his nether regions on the Twitter social network site. Now he is toast. For the past week he was pressured by colleagues in Congress to step down, which he did Thursday.
Display of one’s privates is a no-no in American politics where the cardinal rule is never, never under any circumstances put reputation, career and family at risk for sexual foolishness, and when you do, don’t get caught.
In the scope of sexual peccadilloes by US politicians, things, what Mr. Weiner did was mild. During his administration, President Bill Clinton turned the White House Oval Office into a motel by engaging in sex acts with intern Monica Lewinsky. He was discreet but she was not. She told someone who told everybody.
Who can forget Senator Gary Hart before him, a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president until reports surfaced that he was a womanizer. He challenged reporters to find any shred of evidence of this. Pictures surfaced of him on the luxury yacht Monkey Business with 29-year-old model Donna Rice sitting in his lap. He did not get the nomination.
Recent history is filled with even more titillating episodes of sex, lies and cheating politicians in installments that seem to have increased in frequency and geographic reach. Americans weaned on daily television soap operas featuring love, deceit and back stabbing truly love a good real life sex scandal. The more brazen and titillating the better. Our politicians have been too willing to oblige.
In March 2008, during the height of the country’s economic downturn, it was learned that then New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was running his own private jobs program in supporting a prostitution ring called The Emperor’s Club.
Within two weeks of the news, Mr. Spitzer had resigned and was replaced by Lieutenant Governor David Paterson who quickly confessed to his dalliances but said his wife had granted him clemency. (She also said that she wandered around during her marriage.) That dispensation allowed him to keep his job. Mr. Spitzer, who had gained notoriety going after the Wall Street bandits who caused the near economic collapse, now hosts a cable television program on CNN.
There was Kwame Kilpatrick, the 31-year-old mayor of Newark, New Jersey accused of having sex parties replete with strippers at the mayor’s mansion. One reportedly got out of hand when his wife stormed in and thrashed one of the strippers. He now is in prison on unrelated corruption convictions.
Republican Senator Larry Craig of frighteningly conservative Idaho was busted for lewd conduct after a thwarted encounter with what turned out to be a male police officer in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.
Normally, Illinois politicians follow an honored tradition of getting run out of office graft and corruption, if at all. Jack Ryan, a Republican senatorial candidate, broke that mold when he gave up his bid after divorce documents filed by his wife, that Star Trek hottie Seven of Nine, disclosed that he had urged her to accompany him to bondage sex clubs in New York, Paris and New Orleans.
Wayward politicians sometimes export their dalliances as was the case with Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a vocal champion of family values who admitted to an affair with a woman from Argentina whom he visited secretly while supposedly in the US hiking the Appalachian Trail.
At other times they import them, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Mr. Universe who went on to star in the highly profitable Terminator movie series and become governor of California, a post he held for seven years. Terminator gave us the now classic line: “I’ll be back.”
The governor’s best performance though was that of keeping secret a longtime affair with a live-in housekeeper that produced a son born only a few weeks apart from one of his own children 10 years ago. He is now out of office, his wife, Maria Shriver, is out of the house and planned movie projects are frozen. It is widely felt that so egregious was his transgression that the Spermanator won’t be back, not for a while anyway.
America is not selfish. It even hosts guest sex scandals by politicians from abroad. What makes them come here and go mad is anybody’s guess. Maybe it is something in the water. Just last month French pol Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, a man thought to be a shoo-in as the next French president came to America, drank the water and voila, a maid at the Sofitel New York Hotel alleged that he sexually assaulted her. He was arrested, indicted and relieved of prestigious job and presidential ambitions.
Let us not overlook former North Carolina senator John Edwards, not to be confused with the psychic medium John Edward, who sought the Democrat’s presidential nomination in 2007. At the same time, he was having an extramarital affair with actress and videographer Rielle Hunter, the former Lisa Jo Druck, with whom he fathered a child.
That his wife was dying of cancer at the time did not gain him public sympathy. He left in disgrace and on June 3 was indicted on six-counts of allegedly violating campaign finance laws by using campaign funds for gifts to Ms. Hunter and others to keep the affair secret.
Senator John Ensign, Republican from Nevada, resigned in May after it was disclosed that he was brazenly having an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of one of his top aides.
At the rate they are falling, the United States may need to set up a system of special elections to fill the seats of sexed-out politicians.
It is such a common problem that there are even books on it such as “Sex Scandals in American Politics: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Construction and Aftermath of Contemporary Political Sex Scandals.”
Let it not be said again that Americans are sexually uptight, just up to their eyeballs in the sexual exploits of those who would lead them.
(Nathaniel Sheppard Jr. is a well-known correspondent who has worked at The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times