In light of the indictment against Senator John Edwards and Congressmen Anthony Wiener’s sexting, I’ve been reflecting on these past few years at the amount of exposed extramarital affairs that has plagued the Capital. Just to name a few, there’s been Idaho Senator Larry Craig, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, Governor Elliot Spitzer, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanfords, Nevada Senator John Ensign, Senator David Vitter, and hat’s just to name the most scandalous of affairs. These are the men we’re supposed to hold as our role models, but their ethics are hardly admirable. Laely the media has been asking the question we’re all been asking–why do politicians cheat so much?
Politicians on average aren’t more unfaithful than the average married man. In fact, according to one MSNBC poll, 30% of married men have extramarital affairs. (Obviously for women it’s much lower, around 10%). So if politicians aren’t cheating more than the average man, why do we pay them so much attention? Well, for one, the fact that many of them run on the platform of family values (which encompasses being faithful to their wife) and that if they’re leading our country, they’re supposed to have some sort of set of morals that are superior to ours. It feels like the idea of morals and values have shattered in Washington, or just a part of rhetoric that we’ve all become sick of, and accustomed to. The media has made sure to hold the politicians accountable, which is perhaps why we hear more about affairs than before. (Their inability of politicians (Yes I’m talking to you Wiener and Craig) to use the internet intelligently also contributes greatly). NPR points out that there is nothing new about the extramarital affairs; politicians have been having them since this country was founded. When reading Gore Videl’s “Lincoln” he talked about how Lincoln himself visited whorehouses. Thomas Jefferson had an affair, as depicted in the famous film, “Jefferson in Paris”.
Aside from the media paying more attention to the personal lives of politicians, we can also blame (or thank) the growing polarization in Washington, which each side of the aisle taking advantage of any opportunity to smear their opposite. However, it’s not always fair on both sides. As Rachel Maddow outlines on her show, ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’, Republicans are actively seeking to drown the Democrats through the most meager of affairs, like the Congressmen Wiener “scandal”.
But let’s get back to the questoin at hand: Why do politicians cheat? To answer this, I believe there are two categories one can file these affairs: Trouble at home (AKA the most normal reason why people have affairs) and Power=Women.
Politicans like Senator John Edwards fall under the normal category of having marital problems which led to his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter. Rielle Hunter is attractive–but she ain’t no Marilyn Monroe (See JFK). For years Edwards was reported as having marriage problems with his wife, who ended up with breast cancer and died last year. What Edwards did was horrible–cheat on his dying wife (it’s still debated whether he cheated before or after she discovered she had cancer) but him having an extra marital affair wasn’t the result of his fame and glory as a politician but instead, troubles at home. Regardless, his actions aren’t justifiable.
Then there are the affairs only fit for a politician, a rockstar, or a king. We remember President John F. Kennedy and his many women, including Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Telemundo star Mirthala Salinas, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and appointment secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons and Playboy star Leslie Durant, Elliot Spitzer and Prostitute Ashley Alexandra Dupre, hotdamn, the list goes on. What do all these women have in common? Right, I already said it, hotdamn.
For the same reason why women flock around celebrities, they do for politicians–the money, fame, and power. I’m sure these politicians’ ability to be charismatic also woos the women. Their rhetoric, and lies. The politicians are more susceptible to having opportunities with gorgeous women who wouldn’t give up the chance with a powerful man. The New York Times describe politicians as having a “thrill-factor” because everyday they must take risks as a politician. Should they vote for this bill? What will their constituents back home think? Should I accept this corporate donation? For the same reason men generally cheat, the risk-taking decisions as a politician must exasperate the male’s never ending search for a thrill.
The problem can also stem from politician’s narcissism–when asked to Bill Clinton why he cheated, he replied “Because I could”.
So why do politicians cheat? Is it because they fall out of love of their wives and into love for another women, because they seek the thrill of having an affair and keeping it under wraps, or because they want to confirm that they have power and therefore believe the rules of “Love Laws” as Arundhati Roy, author of the novel God of Small Things describes social expectations, or “religion of love” as Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo, doesn’t apply to them?
All the above. One or two of the reasons from above. Maybe one. Maybe none.
Maybe the question we really need to ask, is do they realize the pain infidelity inflicts on their wives? We often focus on “why” and “who”, but we don’t spend enough time looking back at the wives, and their strength to remain with their husband through it all to help them maintain their political career. But you know what, I quite like how the most recent season of the hit TV series, “the Good Wife” ends–Alicia leaving her cheating husband who was just elected as the D.A of Chicago, to be with a better man.