In the past three decades or so, when writing about political sex scandals became an art form, the tendency has always been to lump everyone together. There are many differences between, say, what Anthony Weiner did and what Mark Sanford did. And, while we're at it, what John Edwards and Mark Foley and Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and Marion Barry and Gary Hart and Wilbur Mills and Buz Lukens and Kwame Kilpatrick and Larry Craig and Eliot Spitzer and John Ensign and Barney Frank and all the others have done as well. Yet, when one writes about "sex scandals" and "politicians," you'll often see all these fine gentlemen included in the article, despite the differing circumstances.
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Famous sex scandals of the past. Top row: Gary Hart 1987, Bill Clinton 1992, Newt Gingrich 2012. Bottom row: Chuck Robb (D-Va.), Mark Foley (R-Fla.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Bob Packwood (R-Ore.)
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But in some ways it's not that much of a stretch to link Sanford with Weiner, considering the fact that they are two high profile pols who in recent years humiliated their wives, abandoned by their supporters and who are now either seeking "redemption" (the current buzzword) with the voters or contemplating doing so.
While their actions are quite different in scope — Sanford fell in love with another woman and Weiner sent lewd pictures of himself on Twitter — both followed a similar pattern. Immediately their inclination was to lie. Sanford was "hiking on the Appalachian Trail;" Weiner's Twitter account was "hacked." And when their stories fell apart, they switched to tearful, icky, TMI Total Confessional. Sanford managed to serve out his term, even though he was censured by the state legislature for using government funds to hide his affair. For Weiner, it took just one month to go from adamantly denying he had sent the racy photos (or feigning ignorance as to whether the pictures were really of him) to resigning his House seat in June of 2011.
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On the 2013 redemption/apology tour.
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They also both totally humiliated their wives and shamed their families. Sanford's affair led to divorce; he is now engaged to his Argentinian firecracker. Weiner's wife, who was pregnant at the time the notorious Tweets were being sent out, is staying put. Sanford was in love with the "other woman," which was/is not the case with Weiner.
It's one thing to ask for forgiveness and seek redemption from the voters; Sanford and Weiner seem to be reading from the same script. But it's another to give them a reason to vote for you. The task may be a little easier for Sanford. First of all, the stars began to align in his favor when the representative from South Carolina's First Congressional District, Tim Scott, was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy. In a Republican district that went 58 percent for Mitt Romney last year, Sanford was easily the most well-known and best-financed Republican in the race to succeed Scott. Besides, he held the very same seat for three terms before he retired in 2000 (and then went on to serve eight years as governor). He still has a decent shot at winning the May 7 general election.
It's a tougher road for Weiner, whose scandal is unlikely to ever be forgotten (and even if that were possible, there will always be the front page of the New York Post to remind you of it). And even if Weiner can ignore the shameful and embarrassing treatment he is assured of getting from the city tabloids, he still has to get by a serious list of other Democrats who want to be mayor, one that includes the speaker of the city council, two citywide-elected officials (the public advocate and comptroller), and the unsuccessful 2009 Democratic nominee, among others. He has already reportedly spent a hundred thousand dollars in polling for a potential run and has more than $4 million in the bank that could be used for a campaign. And his recent comments, highlighted by Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story, made it clear that his itching for City Hall has not diminished one bit, not since he first tried in 2005, when he made a strong bid in the Democratic primary.
What he may not realize is that there is no great need for him to return to politics, even among his fellow Dems. Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green writes that Weiner may be blind to how others see him: "One reason Weiner has so few friends is that most members of Congress, including his fellow Democrats, regarded him as chiefly concerned with his own aggrandizement — he spent more time shouting at Republicans on cable television than legislating."
In some ways, Anthony Weiner is a very smart guy. In many ways, he reminds me of Gary Hart. Yes, I know, I warned against sex-scandal linking at the beginning of this post. But there are a lot of similarities between the two. Hart, of course, was the frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, the "new ideas" candidate, until he was caught spending a weekend in April of 1987 with one Donna Rice, a woman who happened to not be his wife. Humiliated and the subject of endless mockery from late night comedians, Hart dropped out of the race within a month. But then, shockingly, he re-entered the contest in mid-December, saying voters were not hearing about the key issues from the candidates, such as "strategic investment economics," "military reform" or "enlightened engagement." Maybe so, but the straight-faced pronouncement from Hart came seemingly with the belief that voters would be thinking of "strategic investment economics" when they saw him. It was as if he were blinded by his own self-importance.
Hart was gone from the race a few months later, having won not a single delegate.
Similarly, Weiner has started talking about the issues that face New York City. He wants a single-payer health care system. He would raise taxes on the wealthy. He wants to encourage people to commute to work by bike. He wants more "transparency" in the police department.
Will anyone be listening?
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Maybe one day we'll focus more on qualifications and less on looks?
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Good Looks Department. President Obama wandered into a bit of controversy the other day when he said of Kamala Harris, California's AG, that she "happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country." Within minutes came the usual head-scratching, with many wondering if Obama's comments were, in the words of GWU Associate Law Professor Naomi Schoenbaum, writing in Slate, "simply a statement of opinion, a gaffe, or a form of benign sexism."
Of course, this is not the first time Obama has gotten into hot water over his comments about women; one may recall his description of Hillary Clinton as "likeable enough" during a 2008 debate. And don't think for a minute that this is solely an Obama issue. How many times, for instance, have you seen references to Sarah Palin's or Scott Brown's looks?
The fact is, nobody can be the "best looking" anything without an official Political Junkie Fake Poll.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Here's one sampling from the mailbag:
Q: You wrote that Hillary Clinton will be 69 years old in 2016 and that if she won, she would be the oldest woman ever elected president of the U.S. But wouldn't she also be the youngest, since no woman has ever been president? — Roberta Chandler, Chicago, Ill.
A: Yes, of course. I was just being playful. Sometimes being playful doesn't translate well in print.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the prospects for gun and immigration legislation. You can listen to the segment here:
April 10 TOTN Junkie segment
And speaking of TOTN ... Lots of wonderful notes from so many friends expressing their thoughts about Talk of the Nation and, of course, the Wednesday Political Junkie segment ending at the end of June. Your expressions of support mean more to me than you know.
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me. With Ron on vacation last week, Mara Liasson stepped in to substitute.
Sanford And Weiner: Different Humiliations, Same Remorseful Script
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ON THE CALENDAR:
April 24 — Hillary Clinton first post-government paid speech, National Multi Housing Council in Dallas.
April 30 — Special Massachusetts Senate primary.
May 7 — Special election in S.C. 01.
May 21 — Los Angeles mayoral runoff. Also: Pittsburgh mayoral primary.
June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned.
June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.
June 26 — Final "Political Junkie" segment on Talk of the Nation (TOTN).
Aug. 6 — Seattle mayoral primary.
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This day in political history: The House ethics committee says it found "reason to believe" that Speaker Jim Wright violated House rules 69 times over the past ten years, mostly over allegations that the Texas Democrat enriched himself regarding a book-publishing scheme and accepting improper gifts from a Fort Worth developer. Wright insists he is innocent of the charges (April 17, 1989). On May 31, Wright will make a dramatic announcement on the House floor, saying he will resign effective June 6, rather than contest the charges.
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