Beltway Lotharios and the Cycle of Scandal

For the last two weeks the media has gorged on a non-stop litany of stories concerning the single most important issue facing our nation. Would that be the “unexpected” reports of almost non-existent private sector job growth and an economy that, despite Obama’s reassurances, may be on the brink of a double-dip recession? No. Is it Obama’s violation of the War Powers Act with our continued “kinetic military action” in Libya? Nuh-uh. Maybe it’s Sixth Circuit’s review of the ObamaCare case (nope) or the Federal Reserve’s warning that the political body must act responsibly in order to stave off an economic collapse? Wrong again.

Based on the 24-hour saturation in the news cycle and the sheer number of stories written and aired, clearly the most important issue facing our nation is that a skinny New Yorker with an incredibly overinflated sense of his own worth had to finally admit, after days of vehement protests to the contrary, that it was indeed he who sent the lewd photographs of his genitalia, as well as sexually charged and explicit texts, to college-aged women. These women, who include a porn star, are young enough to be his daughters.

And so unravels the scandal of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), possibly the most obnoxious and arrogant member of Congress now that former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) was defeated in the last election. Weiner, considered a rising star in the Democrat Party and a likely candidate to be the next mayor of New York, instead is tearfully admitting to the nation his indiscretions which have been going on for several years, and with at least a half dozen women. Watching his fall from glory, a Brooklyn-born Icarus plummeting towards earth, the proverbial wax of his wings melted by his own flaming ego, it is hard not to feel just a little sorry for him…at least until you remember that these indiscretions occurred both before and after his marriage to his wife Huma, who is now pregnant.

Weiner’s is just the latest in a sad saga of scandals involving the Beltway Lotharios, and neither party is free of the embarrassment. Weiner’s scandal comes on the heels of Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY), who sent a shirtless picture of himself to a woman on Craigslist, former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) who resigned after being arrested for soliciting gay sex in a public restroom (or he was practicing tapping out Morse code with his penny loafers, we still aren’t sure), former Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC), who disappeared for a week or so before he admitted he was having an affair with an Argentine woman. We also have former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently revealed that he fathered a child years ago with a servant woman in his home. Let’s also not forget former governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) who turned out to have an expensive proclivity for high-end prostitutes, and former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, whose adulterous affairs would certainly be used against him during the campaign (although with this week’s implosion there may not be a campaign much longer).

As embarrassing as those incidents were, others have landed the offenders in even more hot water. Former president Bill Clinton (D-Hooters), who gave us the term “Oral Office” and had us debating the true meaning of the word “is”, was accused (but not convicted of) sexual harassment and rape, was “serviced” by a young female intern and perjured himself when caught lying about it, which led to his impeachment. Last week former senator and vice presidential nominee for the Democrat Party, John Edwards, was indicted for using campaign funds to pay off his mistress and cover up an affair he had while his wife was undergoing treatment for cancer. He now faces the possibility of jail time.

Clearly, neither party has clean hands when it comes to scandalous behavior. It seems that the main difference between the two parties is that Republicans tend to run their offenders out of office, and the Democrats tend to circle the wagons, protect and even promote their offenders. Even though Sanford, Ensign and Vitter remained in office through the end of their terms, and Vitter was actually re-elected, there was and is considerable pressure from the party for these people to resign and fade away. On the other hand you have serial offenders Bill Clinton, Barney Frank (ran a gay prostitution ring from his home), former Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA, censured for having sex with an underage male intern before Massachusetts voters re-elected him for six more terms), former Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-IL), convicted of a dozen counts of sexual assault on a 16-year old before being pardoned by President Bill Clinton), and of course Ted Kennedy (D-MA), whose sexual dalliances were legend and who helped his nephew escape a rape charge.

In short, neither Republicans nor Democrats have escaped the taint of scandal. Likely, the heady rush of power, the ego-inflating habit of being surrounded by yes-men, people indulging your pride in order to gain favor, and women seeking to be close to power, is just too much for many men to resist. Like an elixir of arrogance, they become intoxicated by the power, the money, the deference, and all that goes with it. They begin to think that they are above the law, and that the rules do not apply to them. In essence, they begin to believe all the self-promoting hype they stuff into their campaign commercials.

While such scandals are discouraging, I am glad to see that there are many Americans that are appalled by such behavior, unlike France, whose citizens are lambasting the victim of an attempted rape by the powerful international banker Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who also has a long history or sexual abuse. Europe calls us prudes, but considering the continent-wide welfare state Europe has become, I’m not too worried about criticism from them.

Here at home though, that is another matter entirely. It is to be expected that men in positions of great power will occasionally succumb to temptations and become wrapped in scandal. However, there is an element of the national populace that would have us believe that these scandals and indiscretions should be irrelevant as long as the man (or woman) is competent at executing the responsibilities of their office. I would counter, in response, with a question; namely, if we can’t depend on a man to have the strength of character to maintain fidelity in the most intimate relation he has (with his wife), then how can we expect him to maintain fidelity, in fiduciary or other terms, with hundreds of thousands or hundreds of millions of constituents, only a tiny fraction of whom he will ever meet or converse with?

In 1756, John Adams wrote in his treatise “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”, that “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”

Let us not equate an acknowledgment of man’s weakness with a normalization and acceptance of those weaknesses in those that would govern us. If we are to remain free, let us require the highest level of character from those in positions of power, so that we can hold them justifiably in high esteem, and not have our deliberative bodies turn into a casting call for the Jerry Springer show.

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