Sunday, March 23, 2008

Politics and Other Sex Games

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of politicians who behave like frat boys on a panty raid.

Not a week after Eliot Spitzer went from being the governor of New York to the punchline of a joke because of a weakness for high-priced hookers, his replacement, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, described as "a class act," admitted that he had an extramarital affair. Several, in fact.

Not to be outdone, his wife confided that she had, too.

This follows reports that former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who resigned his position after he announced he was gay and confessed to adultery with a male lover, was involved in multiple sexual trysts with an aide and his wife Dina Matos, according to stories in the Newark Star Ledger. His wife denied the charges.

McGreevy, since his resignation, teaches ethics, law and leadership at Kean University in New Jersey. He has been accepted to General Theological Seminary, where he will pursue a Master of Divinity degree, required to become an Episcopal priest, according to published reports.

Which follows the arrest of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, for lewd conduct in the men's bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last June. Craig pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and has stated that he will not run for re-election.

All of which follows the granddaddy of all political sex scandals involving Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky getting up close and personal in the Oval Office. Not that it was much of a surprise. Watching Clinton was like following a trash truck on the freeway, throwing off bits of scrap and garbage while it rolls along.

And then there was Gary Hart and Wilbur Mills and Bob Packwood and Wayne Hays.

Look, I'm no prude.

We live in an era of child-molesting priests, morally compromised celebrities and chemical gobbling athletes. Any reasonable person would assume that these same lapses in personal conduct would taint elected officials as well.

We live amid changing sexual mores. Is a dalliance that big a deal anymore? If we are indeed becoming more liberal about these things, shouldn't there be fewer "scandals"?

We live in a country where shamelessness is the order of the day. Watch Dr. Phil if you don't believe it. Or consider this: a New York City securities trader recently filed suit because he claims he was injured when a stripper giving him a lap dance swiveled and smacked him in the face with the heel of her shoe. Poor guy probably worked at Bear Stearns as well.

We live at a time when public confidence in elected officials is at an all-time low. Having Pete the Politician caught with a blonde named Boom Boom exiting the Tickled Pink Motel doesn't help any.

On the other hand, it's nothing new.

Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemmings, a 17-year-old slave. Alexander Hamilton had a long-term extramarital affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds whose husband blackmailed him.

Besides, Americans love nothing more than a fall-from-grace story, the more rich and powerful and the farther the fall, the better. Which explains why the Spitzer story was the most talked-about event since 9/11.

With the explosion in cable TV and Internet media, there are more and more reporters than ever sniffing the air for scandal. And they're finding it.

Politicians have always misbehaved. We're just hearing about it more now.

That doesn't excuse behavior that is reckless and shameful. It sends a terrible message to our young. And there is little joy in watching the wreckage of a career and/or a family.

Unfortunately, it will never end.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, according to no less an authority than Henry Kissinger.

Dr. Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist, quoted in the New York Times, put it this way:

"Politics is a risky business. You're at the whim of the electorate ... it inspires a risk-taking person to go into that line of work."

Added Dr. Judy Kuriansky, of Columbia University, talking about Eliot Spitzer: "You project wrong onto others that is symptomatic of your own behavior. It's called a defense mechanism. Basically, it's unconscious."

Moreover, she said, "when you get into a position of power, you think you're above the law."

None of which explains why these people never seem to consider the consequences.

This might help:

Every office seeker, every elected politician, should keep one scene in mind if he is tempted to stray from the straight and narrow.

Imagine what it must have been like for Eliot Spitzer to sit at the kitchen table, face to face with his wife and three teenage daughters, and tell them what he had done.

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