Dishonorable mention

It’s not the heat; it’s the hypocrisy.

Maybe Mark Sanford had a real shot at presidential politics; maybe he didn’t. It’s all over now that he’s admitted he was having an affair with a woman in Argentina (See emails) and that’s why he disappeared for several days and nobody — including his wife — knew where he was. The fact his wife said she wasn’t concerned told me everything I need to know about the Sanford marriage.

Why do politicians have affairs? Perhaps for the same reasons everyone else who’s running around has one: they don’t think they’re going to get caught, ego, and, sex; — not necessarily in that order.

Twenty-two percent of adults in monogamous relationships have cheated on their current partner. The rate is even higher among married men, according to a recent survey. If politicians cheat at the same clip, 91 members of Congress are fooling around.

“We think everybody is out there doing it,” says Janet Lever, a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles, and the study’s lead researcher told MSNBC. “Well, they’re not.”

Our reaction — usually disappointment — reveals our basic idealism toward politics. “I think why this gets so much attention in the news is because these are people we want to trust – they are people who make important decisions that affect our lives. When they turn out to be dishonest, we are not only disappointed, but we can’t trust them at all,” Emily Brown, a marriage counselor, told the Washington Post after one politician’s fling went public.

The list of pols getting caught, though, seems endless. My ranking of the top 10 political “affairs.”

10. Gov. James E. McGreevey – With his wife standing by his side, the New Jersey governor acknowledged he had an affair, then admitted he was gay.

9. Gov. David Patterson – One day after replacing the philandering Elliot Spitzer, Patterson admitted that he also had an affair... or two, causing a communal forehead slap among New York residents.

8. Rep. Vito Fossella – The New York congressman broke down on the House floor last May after acknowledging his arrest for drunk driving and admitting he had a daughter with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

7. Sen. John Ensign – It was just last Tuesday — two days before Sanford took off for Argentina — that Ensign admitted he had an affair with a family friend. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” reading from the first chapter of the “Politician’s Guide to Admitting Your Affair.”

6. Rep. Newt Gingrich – One of President Clinton’s biggest critics during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich admitted he was fooling around, too, around the same time. “There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards,” he said, while insisting he wasn’t a hypocrite. Gingrich, considered a potential presidential contender, may end up proving that having an affair isn’t a political death sentence.

5. Sen. David Vitter — The Louisiana senator was all about family values, as long as you don’t define family values as “eschewing the DC Madam.” “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,” he said, with his wife standing nearby.

4. Sen. Larry Craig – The Idaho senator was arrested at the Minneapolis St. Paul airport Concourse C men’s room after apparently soliciting an undercover cop for sex. His defense? “I am not gay,” he insisted. His wife joined him at his side for his press conference.

3. John Edwards - The former presidential candidate proved there really are two Americas: the men who cheat on their wives and the men who don’t. “I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices,” he said of his affair with the campaign’s filmmaker. His wife, battling breast cancer, stood beside him. It was an uncomfortable moment, though, when she appeared on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me last Saturday, only to be asked by Peter Sagal, “how big is the doghouse your husband lives in now?”

2. Eliot Spitzer – The New York governor with a squeaky clean reputation, tossed it away for a romp with high-priced hookers. “I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” he said, with his wife standing at his side.

1. Bill Clinton - Still the mother of all political affairs. “I did not have sex with that woman” is as big a part of presidential history as “I am not a crook.” Both were lies. (Zip ahead to 6:18 here). Well-delivered lies.

  • Kim V

    But the difference between Spitzer or Clinton and Sanford is that Spitzerand Clinton’s political party doesn’t ride on the high horse of “traditional marriage” and how only one man and one woman is the only way marriage can be perfect; and anything else is going to ruin the institution of marriage. But really, what ruined Sanford’s marriage wasn’t the threat of “gay marriage” in the US, but his own self. So much for “family values.” I guess his whole party’s argument, for him at least, is a sham.

  • John Olson

    1. Patterson gets bonus points for poor timing. I’m not sure he had fully moved into the Gov’s office when the news of his dalliance broke.

    2. Where, oh where is Mark Foley???

    3. Double bonus for McGreevey for “equal opportunity.”

  • http://www.laurabrownart.com Laura.

    “fooling around” with newt gingrich? gross.

  • Bob Collins

    Political party aside, I can’t imagine anyone making any excuse of any kind for cheating on one’s spouse and, actually, children.

    It’s getting easier and easier to be the best man in the room. Just do nothing. It’s a low bar.

  • Mac Wilson

    Bob Packwood

    Gary Condit

    Gary Hart

    Wilbur Mills (the best of all!)

  • GregS

    “Wilbur Mills (the best of all!)”

    Oh yeah!! Fanne Fox, the Argentinian bomb-shell leaping into the tidal pool.

  • GregS

    “But the difference between Spitzer or Clinton and Sanford is that Spitzerand Clinton’s political party doesn’t ride on the high horse of “traditional marriage” and how only one man and one woman is the only way marriage can be perfect; and anything else is going to ruin the institution of marriage.”

    Yeah, that right, they belong to the “cheat’n is not a problem” party.

    Hey, do what you want to do, to anyone you want to do it to (do’n a little dance here)

  • Bob Collins

    Technically, I don’t think it’s confirmed that Mills was having an affair with Foxe.

    Gary Hart was the first coming of John Edwards. Actually arrogant enough to invite the press to follow him around.

  • Brad Horras

    Q: Why did the Republican politician’s affair come as a shock to his constituents?

    A: Because it was with a woman! *rimshot*

    Completely shattered marriages and personal lives aside, the hipocracy in these political affairs is just golden and really a lot of fun to watch.

  • GregS

    “Technically, I don’t think it’s confirmed that Mills was having an affair with Foxe.”

    Maybe not, but he gave press conferences from her dressing room at a strip club.

  • momkat

    The hipocracy is the thing that screams at me. Come on, you, (fill in the blank politician name,) are disgusting. ath least this guy didn’t drag his long-suffering wife out for the press conference.

  • David

    The problem with saying that both parties have members that cheat on their wives is that the Republican party likes to pretend that it is morally superior to the Democratic Party which it likes to brand as godless. I was delighted to see Sanford face ridicule over his affair since it’s this hypocrite that believes inthe sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman and preaches against the evils of gay marriage. Doctor heal thyself.

  • lance

    any red blooded American that looks to politicians of any political party as some sort of moral role model should not be allowed to vote

  • Dale

    Why should Sanford be counted out? Look at McCain, Guiliani, Clinton, Gingrich and on and on – all phiilanderers and worse. If a politician can put together a coalition that wins, party faithful will overlook almost anything. They go for the big “O”; we go for the big “W”.

    Don’t talk to me about morals and principles. And are sexual transgressions the most egregious? Of course not. We take politicians’ words too seriously and they dish out words from their big heads like cheap popcorn. Watch their feet. Watch their little heads. Follow the money.

    Hypocrite is derived from the idea that someone plays a role on a stage, but is very different as the actual person. Politicians play a public role that must live up to our espoused standards, but under it all, they are no better and maybe a little worse than all of us. Get over it.

  • bob

    Gotta agree with Lance about not looking to pols as role models.

    BC, the Washington Post comments from the marriage counselor are whack/beyond naivete. I don’t know anyone who has a “basic idealism” about politics or politicians. We live in a corpocracy, in which politicians historically have proven to be untrustworthy. That’s why most folks don’t feel let down when some lyin’ horndog gets caught with certain of his anatomical parts in a wringer. It’s just business as usual.

    Although I do take a certain satisfaction in it when a family values or gay-bashing hypocrite is brought to heel.

  • GregS

    “The problem with saying that both parties have members that cheat on their wives is that the Republican party likes to pretend that it is morally superior to the Democratic Party which it likes to brand as godless.”

    You mean kind of like the party that sells Senate seats to the highest bidder pretending to be morally superior?

  • Bob Collins

    The comments about a basic idealism toward politics is mine, not the marriage counselor.

    Hope, perhaps should’ve been a better word but the fact we think an individual politician can change things significantly tells me we’re idealistic by nature…hopeful by nature… whatever.

    As for the “it’s worse when Republicans cheat because they act morally superior,” I think that’s part of the problem — people put what is essentially a betrayal of vows, a betrayal of family , in political, as if somehow cheating on your marriage is less serious as long as you never said it was bad.

    But of course, the moment you say “I do,” you’ve essentially joined the ranks of those who advocate a loyalty to one’s spouse and children.

  • GregS

    “Why do politicians have affairs?”

    Could the answer be found in evolution?

    Think about it. What could be a better evolutionary mechanism than an increased urge to procreate among the successful?

    Read successful as the leaders.

    From an biological point of view, it makes sense for women to cheat with the “best” males and for males to spread their genes wide and far.

    On the other hand, fidelity is also evolutionary.

    That is why we are upset but not surprised when our leaders cheat on their spouses.

  • Kim V

    MarkS: I see you removed the main point from my original post. What I was trying to say is: Sanford has no right to say he and his party defend the “sanctity of marriage” when he dishonored his own marriage. He is of the ideology that homosexuality/”gay marriage” would be an “abomination.” I think adultery is a much greater abomination. Given his circumstance, how could the gay couple down the street possibly do any worse in marriage than he did? (Sorry if this feels like derailing the conversation about his affair, but I believe that the two issues are connected. Hypocrisy indeed.)

  • Kim V

    Edit: Clearly I meant GregS, not MarkS. Sorry for not proofreading.

  • Dale

    The public persona for a politician must be perceived as consistent with the party ideology. Those who play the part well in public discourse become party leaders. For Republicans, the play is about personal virtue and the ideology of individualism. For Democrats, the play is about “one for all, all for one” and the ideology is based on collectivism.

    The person is not the public persona. On a personal level, vows mean the same for people of either ideology. When a Republican violates those vows, on a public level, he/she diminishes the credibility of personal virtue and individualism as a feasible ideology. When a Democrat violates the vows, on a public level, he/she calls into question the ability of people to be selfless.

    We might say Sanford is a moral hypocrite while Clinton is self-centered in that the actor, in both cases, did not stay in their publlc role. Sophocles certainly had fun with these problems of leadership and he was writing 2500 years ago.

  • http://www.laurabrownart.com Laura.

    bob collins! i really appreciate this conversation and your efforts at keeping a level head and fair perspective on it. i like this here news cut blog.

  • Heather

    My favorite things about this one are:

    1) His wife did not stand next to him at the press conference.

    2) He actually seemed sincere in his feelings toward the woman in Argentina.

    Was it ok for him to cheat? No. What kind of jerk do you have to be to ditch out on Father’s Day? A pretty big one. But I like it that neither of the women involved were minimized in the theatrics!

  • kennedy

    Of course he seemed sincere. He is a politician. That’s what they do for a living. All that schmoozing practice probably helped him convince the “other woman” to get involved.

    Why do some romanticize infidelity? Is it the hope that everyone has a true love out there, even if they are already in a committed relationship? At 22%, lot’s of people are selling and buying the fact that “I truly belong with you, not in my current unhappy relationship.” Talk about a tired line. Why does it still work? Is it just an excuse?

  • GregS

    “What I was trying to say is: Sanford has no right to say he and his party defend the “sanctity of marriage” when he dishonored his own marriage.”

    Let’s not bring his party into this. The Republicans and Democrats have the exact same platform on Gay Marriage – both oppose it.

    Of course what might be troubling is the public perception that Obama and the Democrats are not sincere about their opposition to gay marriage. That they say, “One man, one woman” with their fingers crossed.

    Ah, but that is a discussion on hypocrisy for another day..

    “Given his circumstance, how could the gay couple down the street possibly do any worse in marriage than he did?”

    Hmmmmmm, maybe the time to legalize gay marriage will be when the public consequences for cheating are the same regardless of orientation.

  • MNguy

    “Bad” behavior is a relative definition. Politicians are no better and no worse than the rest of us. The problem comes when these politicians become self-styled morals police who seek to impose a rigid code of conduct based on a human being’s interpretation of an old book. It gets worse when these bellowing nincompoops pretend to believe in these “family values” then get caught with their pants down.

    Time to give everyone a break and stop calling for rules that infringe on rights without practical benefit. We didn’t elect these fools to teach us morality.