Good grief, it happened again: One of those awful press conferences at which a carefully dressed little man confesses to the world — while an explosion of flashbulbs reflects off his sweaty forehead — that his penis has been somewhere it probably ought not to have been.
Beside the elected statesman stands his humiliated wife, who has been coached by a callous crisis-management spinner to hold hands with her calamitously horny husband and radiate divine absolution. Because right now, she is the closest thing the American viewers have to God. And if she can forgive him, then so should we.
The latest lawmaker to step up to the “Forgive me, constituents, for I have sinned” podium is Louisiana senator David Vitter. The Republican’s phone number turned up on the client list of a Washington, D.C., escort service that federal prosecutors are calling a prostitution ring. He apologized and his wife Wendy, who once told reporters she would go Lorena Bobbitt on her better half if he was ever caught cheating, assured us — with the most pained expression I’ve ever seen — their marriage was stronger than ever.
We may be seeing more of these episodes in the coming weeks if others of the escort service’s 200,000 phone numbers are identified as legislators. What are the chances?
Commanders-in-Chief FDR and JFK had mistresses. Clinton had Monica. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just copped to a marriage-ending affair. And Vitter’s Senate predecessor was Robert Livingston, who resigned when word got out that he was cheating on his wife.
Why do politicians have such trouble keeping their trousers zipped? Is it the stress of the job? The aphrodisiac of power? Are the women of Washington, D.C., really that much hotter than those in the rest of the world?
I’ve heard scientists speculate that men seek public office for the express, if not always conscious, purpose of gaining access to more sexual partners. (“It’s just nature’s way, darling. Don’t be cross.”) One thing’s for sure: They have more energy than I do. I think about what it would take for a public person to carry on a secret affair (Disguises? Separate bank accounts? Dedicated cell phones?) and I’m exhausted before the fun part even begins. But the real question isn’t why or how our officeholders cheat. It’s whether their cheating makes them bad leaders.
I’m the last person you’d expect to forgive a philanderer; I’ve seen too many people crushed by dalliances that probably felt harmless at the time. And as unlikely as I am to forgive a cheater, I’m even less likely to cut a Republican some slack. Especially a hypocritical one like Vitter who has been marching in the “family values” parade for years, and called the perennially canoodling Clinton “morally unfit to govern.”
But, perhaps everyone’s flawed in some way: an appetite for interns, an inflated ego, horrendous comic timing. And maybe our job as voters is to figure out how our politicians are flawed and either vote them the hell out of office or else shrug our shoulders and say, “Eh, I can live with that.”
If we must continue to see these confessional press conferences, though, just once I’d like to see the mortified missus step up to the mike and say, “I’m divorcing this schmuck because he messed up our marriage. But I’m going to continue to vote for him, and you should, too, because he’s good at his job. In fact, having humiliated me so thoroughly, he’s bound to be an even better representative than he was before. Because I know from experience that after he’s screwed someone, he’s incapable of doing it again for a good, long time.”