Cover-Ups Hurt Cheating American Politicians

Like a recovering amnesiac, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina now recalls other times with his Argentine soul mate, and, oh yes, he crossed the line with various other women over a 20-year period.

Call it an American tragedy. It is not that Europe doesn't have philandering politicians. It is that they are less likely to lie about it. I can remember the funeral of former French President Francois Mitterrand in 1996 when his wife of some 50 years and his mistress and illegitimate daughter stood side-by-side in accordance with his dying wish.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was sued for divorce because of what his wife called "his endless womanizing." His defense was, "I never paid a woman."

American politicians are more inclined to try to lie their way out of embarrassing liaisons, and often they end up in double trouble. It was Richard Nixon who famously said, talking about the Alger Hiss scandal, that it's not the original mistake that does you in. It's the cover-up.

So it was that President Bill Clinton was impeached not for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but for falsely testifying about it. As he told us all, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had extramarital affairs, but those were not generally known until after they had died. Sanford's affair with the Argentine woman was unusual in its elaborate cover-up of a fictitious hiking trip. A lie peddled not only to the public, but to his staff and to his wife.

There was something almost bizarre in his press conference confession, "I have spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina." Sounds like a takeoff on the musical Evita, in which the leading lady sings, "Don't cry for me, Argentina."

One is left to wonder what makes politicians like ex-Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Gary Hart of Colorado jeopardize promising careers by cheating on their wives. Henry Kissinger famously said, "Power is the great aphrodisiac."

To which maybe should be added, "and hypocrisy is the great virtue."

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