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.