You’re Not Alone Eliot

While scant consolation, it’s not exactly a select club Eliot Spitzer just joined. 

Former presidents, scads of congressmen, a Japanese prime minister, a British cabinet secretary in the 1960s, a couple of California mayors are just a few of the public officials who did too much thinking with their little heads. 

More than 100 names appear on Wikipedia’s posting on political sex scandals although there’s a bit of duplication since sometimes both parties are listed. Gary Condit and Chandra Levy, Gary Hart and Donna Rice, for example. Wayne Hays and Elizabeth Ray. Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe. 

After jumping into the Tidal Basin to evade police capture, Foxe later changed her stripper moniker from “The Argentine Firecracker” to the “The Tidal Basin Bombshell.” There’s lemons into lemonade for you. 

Sex and politics have always been intimately intertwined. As Ronald Reagan famously said: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” 

Politicians screwing themselves because they couldn’t stop themselves from doing the same unto others isn’t exactly a new phenomenon either.  

Cuneiform tablets from 1400 BC Mesopotamia recount what amounts to an impeachment trial of Mayor Kushshiharbe of Nuzi, near what’s now Kirkuk, Iraq. 

In the world of political scandal, Kushshiharbe is a two-fer. 

Not only was Kush supposedly performing the Kassite Conga with a woman named Humerelli  but he and his hench-dudes were shaking down the populace. Bribery and sex – the Kushmeister tags every base. 

In one instance, a maid, an ox hide and wood for two yokes was demanded in return for releasing the brother of Ninuari from his feudal work, according to a prosecution witness quoted in a 1998 New York Times story about the tablets. 

As for getting horizontal with Humerelli, which sounds more Chico Marx than Middle Eastern, the Kush vehemently denied the charge. He is probably not the first and definitely not the last elected official to go that route. 

American history is chock-a-block with political sex scandals and it isn’t always the man behaving stupidly. 

Peggy O’Neale – known for her “vivacious” ways – was at the center of a scandal known as the Petticoat Affair that forced a couple members of President Andy Jackson’s cabinet to resign. In the process, she helped launch the presidential career of Martin Van Buren. 

It was alleged that Peggy’s first husband, sailor John Timberlake, killed himself because of Peggy two-timing him with John Henry Eaton, Jackson’s secretary of war.  In a shrewd PR move, Peggy married Eaton pretty much before Timberlake’s body was cold. Hello? 

The Jackson administration divided on the Peggy question. The anti-Peggy faction was led by Floride Calhoun, wife of Vice President John Calhoun and much praised for her sparkling white teeth. 

When not rooting out bird nests in his sideburns, Van Buren took the Eatons’ side.  After the cabinet secretary resignations, Jackson consigned Calhoun on the ice floes and Marty, as his friends called him, became heir apparent to the Democratic Party. Thanks Peggy. 

Thirty years earlier there were a bumper crop of scandals – Jefferson and Sally Hemings. And Alexander Hamilton. 

This was a profitable affair — at least for the husband of Maria Reynolds, the object of the Hamster’s ardor. Jim Reynolds thought his wife breathing heavy with Alex was just dandy since it allowed him to shake down Hamilton for more than $1,000 – nice scratch back then. 

When Reynolds got caught running some other scam he fingered Hamilton who copped to the affair by turning his love letters over to congressional investigators as proof he was not involved in Reynolds’ other scheme. 

Bad move. The first thing they teach you in fraternities is no pictures, no proof. One of the investigators was James Monroe, who happened to be the soul brother of Tom Jefferson, Hamilton’s arch political enemy. James told Tom about the letters. 

Jefferson, proof hypocrisy is also nothing new in politics, spread ugly rumors about the Hamster not quite toeing the line on that pesky death do us part thing. In 1797, James Thomson Callender, a pamphleteer in Jefferson’s thrall, “obtained” and then printed the letters. 

The Hamster finally had to publicly admit to the affair and although he said he was super sorry, which usually wins some public sympathy, that was the end of Hamilton’s career. 

Maria Reynolds finally smartened up and divorced her conman husband. Life being full of rich irony, Maria’s lawyer was Aaron Burr who, four years later, would kill the Hamster in a duel. 

In an interesting twist on the old story, Sosuke Uno lasted less than three months as Japan’s 75th prime minister. On the job, June 3, 1989, out the door August 10. 

Uno got toppled by a geisha he was seeing on the side. What the Japanese public was angrier about than him catting around on Mrs. Uno was that he wasn’t properly financially supporting the geisha. Hell hath no fury than a short-changed woman. 

Yet another variation on the ancient theme. Felix Francoise Faure, the 58-year-old president of France during the notorious Dreyfus investigation, died, happily one presumes, in 1899 while skroging 30-year-old Marguerite Steinheil in his office. 

Faure’s demise triggered numerous jeu de mots including nicknaming Mademoiselle Steinheil “la pompe funebre,” a bit of devilish wordplay that can mean both funeral pomp and funeral pump. The French are so clever! 

Dipping again into the Women Behaving Badly file, Teresa Bagioli Sickles ended up getting her New York Congressman husband, Dan Sickles, tried for murder in 1858 for gunning down her lover U.S. Attorney Phillip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key and nephew of Roger Taney, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Way to pick ‘em, Ter! 

Sickles confronted Teresa before the shooting got her to write out a confession to the affair. But when he tried to use it in his defense, the court ruled it inadmissible.  No political slouch he, Sickles leaked the confession to the press, which ran the conrfession in full. The media and a sex scandal? Go figure. 

Sickles was acquitted. He pleaded temporary insanity, the first time that defense was used in an American court. Teresa was dead at 31 from tuberculosis. 

There was lurid gossip about President James Buchanan and U.S. Senator Rufus King of North Carolina having a gay affair. Warren Harding had a wandering eye. 

Even on the other side of the pond it’s the same all too familiar pattern: Debonair John Profumo, married to a glamorous movie star, is in a political career that keeps rocketing skyward. 

Profumo, the war secretary for Prime Minister Harold MacMillan’s government, met his Waterloo with a 19-year-old woman named Christine Keeler who he supposedly had a bit of the bouncy-bouncy with in 1961 on a large red couch at Cliveden, the Astor’s country estate. 

If Profumo didn’t explore the mysteries of Venus on the red couch the belief that he did was enough to inspire hundreds of Stanford students to recreate the event when Cliveden became an overseas campus of The Farm. 

Unlike most of these knuckleheads caught today, Profumo never commented about his escapades with Keeler or anyone else, for that matter. His wife stood by him – don’t they always  – until her death in 1998. He left public life in 1963 and focused on charity work for the poor in London’s East End.  He died in 2006 at 91. 

More recently, there’s Sen. Larry Craig, the toe-tapping habitué of public restrooms. Mark Foley and his teenage page fetish. Bob “The Octopus” Packwood.  

Just this January, Chua Doi Lek admitted he was featured in a sex DVD circulated in his home state of Johor in Malaysia. How many times must it be repeated?  No pictures, no proof although the DVD may have been the product of a hidden camera.  Lek allowed as to how he probably shouldn’t have used the same hotel room twice for his trysts. 

Some politicians have weathered the storm. Ken Calvert, arrested for soliciting a hooker in 1993 is still in Congress. Being popped as a state lawmaker for soliciting two undercover female police officers in a Sacramento park didn’t keep Jim Costa from going to Congress. Clinton beat impeachment charges and managed to make his GOP tormentors look like buffoons in the process.

Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Gavin Newsom of San Francisco are still hanging in there after revelations of extramarital affairs. Newsom blamed his stupidity on alcohol, which can indeed cause men to be more receptive to ideas promulgated by the small head. 

But political survival isn’t the post sex scandal norm. Usually, it’s game over, slink away. 

Why do they do it? Uncontrollable libido? Secret lust for self-destruction? Do they think they’re above the law? Who knows? 

One thing for sure: It’s clearly the product of wrong-headed thought. 




Filed under: Venting


  1. Maybe the larger question is, \"Why do we care?\" It\’s all so voyeuristic, yes?

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 3.12.2008 @ 7:16 pm

  2. In the case of the esteemed former Governor Spitzer.

    Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy…

    Comment by NoOneInParticular — 3.13.2008 @ 8:01 am

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