Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surviving sex scandals - advice for our politicians

As yet another Republican falls into the sex scandal trap, here is some advice on how to effectively survive one of these career busters. Maybe this ought to be required daily morning reading for all of our elected colleagues...

1. Don’t break any big laws. Larry Craig made himself a laughing stock, but he only pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Likewise, Senator Vitter’s alleged sins were technically only misdemeanors.

2. Be a nice guy. One reason former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York resigned so soon after his penchant for call girls was revealed last year was that he suffered from a deficit of charm. People just didn’t like him. When Mr. Spitzer’s replacement, the very amiable David Paterson, announced that he hadn’t been the ideal husband either, his colleagues and the public gave him a pass.

3. Remember that it’s not the sex, it’s the lying. Just as we expect full disclosure from our spouses, we expect it from our politicians too. Mark Sanford has already admitted he was unfaithful, and said he plans on going “one by one and town by town to talk to a lot of old friends across this state” about “what I’ve done” and “asking their forgiveness.” Before this is over, expect to know quite a lot about Governor Sanford’s little visit to Argentina.

4. Pathologize the problem. We don’t want to hear that you succumbed to ordinary lust. Blame it on sexual addiction, an alcohol problem, or childhood abuse. Pledge to enter couples therapy. If it’s part of a sickness, you can treat it and fix it.

5. If you can’t conjure up a malady, say it was an accident. In America, adulterers routinely insist that they’re not the sort of people who would have affairs. Governor Sanford says his affair began “very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do in just a casual email back and forth.” Only a truly evil person would cheat on purpose.

6. Get your wife on board. If she doesn’t take you back, neither will the rest of us. Political wives — who have hitched their wagons to their husbands’ careers — know we’re reading their body language and measuring how many millimeters they stand from their husbands. They walk a fine line between salvaging their dignity and keeping their husbands employed. That explains why Jenny Sanford’s public statement reads like a cross between a wounded wife’s lament, and a polished press release. “For the last fifteen years my husband has been fully engaged in public service to the citizens and taxpayers of this states,” she reminds us. She goes on to say that he has “earned a chance to resurrect our marriage” — and, presumably, to keep his job.

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