Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Political Sex Scandals

From a previous post on Bipartisan Affairs;

America's politicians are finally gaining in their fight for bipartisan decision making. A large number of them have agreed to have affairs. Not affairs of state, mind you, but affairs of the heart. That's amore.

Today, CNN published Political sex scandals a nonpartisan affair by Kristi Keck. Not to be sexist but it seems to take a woman to see some things in their true light.

Keck quotes Sally Quinn, a longtime Washington columnist and journalist:

Sex sells and every body's interested in sex, so when there's a scandal, it's got everything - you're talking about power, and in a lot of cases, money is involved. You are talking about how the mighty have fallen.

Paul Slansky, author of "The Little Quiz Book of Big Political Sex Scandals" said that before Watergate "these things were never even covered." After the era of Deep Throat the press discovered that examining the lives of politicians was juicy fodder for the public - and a very profitable one for them.

After Nixon resigned there were a few months of the usual dry fodder. And then along came Rep. Wilbur Mills, D-Ark., who lit up the landscape like a fireworks display. He fed the media and delighted the public with his escapades with the "Argentine Firecracker." What is it with these politicans and their Argentine playmates? Mills, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Fanne Foxe were having a liesurely drive around Washington when they were stopped by the cops. The stripper jumped out of the car and went for a swim in the Potomac.

Mills did win re-election but had to resign when he showed up at a club where the stripper was showing her wares. After 38 years in the House he resigned, sought treatment and dedicated the rest of his life helping others who liked to bend the elbow a little more than required by society.

And so began the epic of sexy stories about our elected officials. While some politicians are able to overcome their affairs of the heart - Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana - most have faded into oblivian.

Quinn is quoted as saying, "I think as each scandal happens, it becomes almost more of an entertainment than a disappointment, except to the people who are close to them. . . . I think that people are much more cycnical these days, much less inclined to revere people in high office than they used to be."

Slansky says there's "an image-tarnishing element to it that never goes away."

We are supposed to learn from history, but apparently these men with their graphite zippers haven't done their homework.


  1. It's worth noting that political scandals were not genuinely 'new' even with Wilbur Mills. They had once been tremendously good copy, they had simply reached a lull during the development of the mass media age. Prior to the advent of television and radio, newspapers were very busy exposing the sex lives of Jefferson and Hamilton (whose aggressive cross-accusations of adultery are very comparable to the 1992 presidential election), speculating about the marital status of Andrew Jackson (who blamed opposition newspapers for his wife's death during his first successful presidential bid), and the peccadilloes of prominent clergyman and political activist Henry Ward Beecher.

    Indeed, in amusingly 1960s take, the newspaper editor who broke the Beecher-Tilton scandal (radical feminist, author, and journalist Victoria Claflin Woodhull... who later ran for president on a platform advocating the abolition of monogamous marriage) trumpeted the affair as a bold affirmation of every man and woman's right to free love.

    The radio age and the era of the great press barons and media conglomeration saw more and more focus on 'real news' rather than sensational headlines, particularly after Adolph Ochs began selling the New York Times with the slogan 'All the News That's Fit to Print', essentially slamming the competition as tabloid rags. The Times was tremendously successful, and Ochs' model was the norm until Watergate.

    So the post-Watergate reaction was less 'new' than it was a reversion to the way things have always been. :)

  2. Perhaps Slansky is thinking of modern times, as I am. But you’re right that there have been political scandals going back to the days of Thomas Jefferson. Many of them do fall under the umbrella of “sex scandal” while in office but several simply fail to meet the criteria called for in such a classification.

    It’s no secret that Jefferson had an affair with one of his slaves and fathered children by her, a common practice in those days – not that I condone it. The main thing is that Jefferson’s wife had died years before. Warren Harding seems to have had a sexual appetite unequal to any other president until John Kennedy.

    The quick tempered Andrew Jackson was more interested in defending the honor of women than in coupling with them. Grover Cleveland had his dalliance ten years before he became president. Woodrow Wilson got slammed just because he became engaged.

    The affairs of Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower didn’t become public knowledge until after they left office. This brings us to John Kennedy. While there was speculation about his appetite, it really didn’t become what you can term public knowledge until after his assassination.

  3. Jefferson was a widower, yes, but Hamilton was a married man whose own sex scandal had much the same effect on him and his party in his day that Bill Clinton's peccadilloes had during his. For more than a year, every political debate devolved into the berating of Hamilton the whoremonger.

    As for Jackson, he was married to his wife in one state while she was still legally married to another man in another before the divorce was final. While this was entirely legal at the time, and the divorce had been finalized by the time he ran for president, this created a certain legitimacy (for about five minutes) to charges of bigamy against Rachel Jackson. This was a major political point in his first two runs for office, that he was an adulterer and his wife was a bigamist.

    The politics surrounding both Hamilton's genuine affair and the tricky legality of Jackson's marriage were as harsh in their day as sex scandals today. In those days, newspapers were organs of political parties and journalistic objectivity was non-existent. So in some ways the sensationalism surrounding the coverage of scandals was more dramatic than today, as even the regular copy writers were as politically partisan as today's op/ed character assassins.

    The Harding, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Kennedy rumors enjoyed the protection of a mass media focused on 'real news' in the Ochs tradition and Eisenhower and Kennedy enjoyed the additional protection of a television establishment that believed celebrities' personal lives were personal and that only gossip columnists covered personal matters.

    I was just saying this transition in the news media during the progressive era and the television era was new and temporary and today's scandal driven media is much closer to the way things hand always been before. :)