Wednesday, May 8, 2013

sex and the double standard

By now, everyone knows that Mark "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" Sanford is back in Congress after winning a special election last night. While the district is bright red, many Democrats (including myself) thought that we had a chance to pull this one off. We had a rockstar candidate (who piggybacked on her brother's name ID) and they had a deeply flawed candidate with more baggage than an airport. However, the voters ultimately decided that the R next to Sanford's name was good enough to revive his political career.

Like many, I like to follow political sex scandals. They are amusing to even non consumers of political news. Some of them are so silly that if you made it up, nobody would believe it. When I saw The Campaign last summer, when Will Ferrell's character posted pictures of his dick to Twitter, it almost seemed made up, but yes that really did happen. They happen on both sides of the aisle. Some of course are more sleazier than others (I would rank Mark Sanford up there in terms of sleaziness). They also happen on both sides of the aisle. For every Mark Sanford there's an Eliot Spitzer. What is different is how the various parties handle the sex scandals and how the party that preaches 'family values' gets away with it.

Within a year of each other, two politicians that hold statewide office (one a governor of a blue state, the other a senator from a red state) get caught with prostitutes. When Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer (who I voted for in my last NY election) was caught, he resigned his office within a week. His party punished him by stripping him of his superdelegate status at the national convention that year. Contrast that to Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. The senator secluded himself for a week and then his party and constituents forgave him. He never resigned his office, in fact he easily won re-election in 2010 with 57% of the vote. (Note, even though Governor Spitzer left politics, he has since made a comeback as a media personality).

To use another bipartisan example, two politicians seeking the presidency both cheat on their wives who have cancer. Very sleazy indeed. However, only one of them is still in the spotlight (granted, years after the scandal) and his party took him seriously. Newt Gingrich's adultery was the not the only scandal that plagued him throughout his career. He was cheating on a wife with cancer and actually served her divorce papers while in the hospital. This is a man who finished 3rd in the presidential primary in 2012, many years after his scandal was public. On my side of the aisle, we also have a presidential candidate who cheated on his (now late) wife with cancer-- John Edwards (who I will admit was my first choice in the 2008 primary, but now I feel I dodged a bullet). Because he's a sleazeball, he was punished by his party (his speaking role at the convention was taken away and any hopes he had of a cabinet appointment were as well), and five years later he remains out of the spotlight. Will he pull a Newt and make a run for president down the line? I'll eat my shoes if he's taken seriously as a contender. I think that the party leadership and base would (rightfully) turn his candidacy into a laughingstock.

Newt Gingrich (who won Mark Sanford's Bible Belt state in the 2012 primary), David Vitter, Mark Sanford, and to throw a Democrat in there, Bill Clinton. All of these guys have survived a sex scandal. With the exception of Anthony Weiner (who is interested in running for mayor of New York City), it seems that the Republicans are more likely to (sometimes successfully) run candidates that have been caught in a sex scandal while the Democrats punish most of their sex scandal candidates. So what is next for the party of family values? After Sanford's victory last night, it seems that the sky's the limit for sex scandal plagued Republicans. So who's the next GOP comeback kid? Larry Craig (last seen in an airport men's room)? Mark Foley (last seen auditioning for "To Catch a Predator")? John Ensign (last seen paying off his mistress's parents)?

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