political convention

political convention

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Political Sex Scandals: The Drama of 'Full Responsibility'

The hottest political scandals now titillating the public mind are about the sexual peccadillos of male politicians. Titillate and Peccadillo are great words. They suggest exactly what’s going on here.

The recent episodes:

• A U.S. senator and a governor discovered to be frequenting whorehouses when their names show up in the madam’s client book.

• A governor caught spending a week in Argentina with his lover after telling his staff he was going hiking.

• A U.S. senator having an affair with his best friend’s wife and attempting to buy the couple’s silence by giving the husband a job and paying them more than $90,000 in hush money.

• A governor fathering a child with a household servant. Then it's revealed the baby was conceived while his wife was pregnant.

• A former U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate having an affair with a videographer he met on the campaign trail. After vehement denials, he acknowledges that the child the woman delivered is his. He later arranges a “donation” from a rich friend so he can give his lover a big chunk of money to keep her quiet.  And during all this, his wife is dying of breast cancer.

• And most recently, a rising young congressman e-mailing women all over the country with sexy messages. His downfall arrives when a message containing a picture of his bulging jockey shorts was accidently sent to all of his followers.

In some of these cases the randy politicos resigned from office.  In some, they suffered only momentary public reprobation.  In two, the miscreants are being prosecuted for paying out bribes or misappropriation of campaign funds. 

But even though these cases represent serious breaches of public or personal trust (imagine what you’d think if your governor abandoned his official duties to fly to Buenos Aires for a secret tryst) they hardly signal the end of the republic. So why do these stories draw so much public attention, far exceeding the interest devoted to more important issues?  

The answer may lie in the vivid tableau that seems to rivet public interest whenever one of these sorry cases arises.  The leading man stands at the microphone while his compliant wife shrinks from his side, ice and sadness in her eyes. Then the confession begins.

Though the scene varies from time to time—in some cases the wife is strong enough or angry enough to stay out of the picture—the gist of the moment is always the same:  The recount of wrongdoing, the promise to make it right, and the acceptance of responsibility.  This is the classic theater of failure and redemption.  It’s no wonder that CBS has created a successful dramatic series, “the Good Wife,” based largely on this moment.  

But drama and reality aren’t the same, and sometimes responsibility is just a word given in a performance.  Here are the lines:

This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible.—Former Louisiana senator David Vitter.

There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused.—Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I have developed a relationship with a...what started as a dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently....But here recently over this last year it developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence I hurt her, I hurt you all, I hurt my wife, I hurt my boys, I hurt friends... And all I can say is that I apologize.—Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
I've insisted, I believe correctly, that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.—Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

I took responsibility for my actions in 2006 and today I take full responsibility publicly.—Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

I take 100 percent responsibility for my actions.  Plain and simple, it was wrong; it was a sin.—Former Nevada senator John Ensign. 

I don’t know what I was thinking. It was a destructive thing that I did that I accept responsibility for.—Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

These losers aren’t even very good actors.  Isn’t it time we recognized their contrived sentiments for the dreary fiction they are?

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