THE BLOG

Finding (Political) Redemption and Maybe God

04/29/2013 04:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2013
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It's spring, the buds are sprouting, the sap is rising -- and political redemption is blooming anew.

Two politicians forced to resign from office due to sex scandals are back in the game. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford has won a primary over a Republican contender in a race for congress. He had to leave the governor's mansion after cavorting in Argentina with a woman not his wife.

Democrat Anthony Weiner left Congress in disgrace after he "sexted" photos of himself in his underwear to several women via the internet.

Sanford's back, at least for a while, though a new gaffe may derail him again. And Weiner wants to get back -- perhaps to run for mayor of New York -- as he explained in an anguished apologia in the New York Times Magazine.

In decades of writing about politics, I have observed many sex scandals -- my very favorite being the Tidal Basin Follies of 1974. Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was driving drunk through Washington with his mistress, a stripper from Argentina with a name just made for headlines: Fanne Foxe. When a police officer stopped the car, Fanne tried to flee from the law by jumping fully clothed into the tidal basin, next to the Jefferson memorial.

The story became tabloid fodder, and a few weeks later, drunk as a skunk, Mills held a press conference from Fanne Foxe's dressing room in the Pilgrim Theater, a Boston burlesque house. He did not run in 1976. Fanne changed her name to the "Tidal Basin Bombshell" and increased her performance fees.

There may be some historical irony in the fact that Fanne Foxe hailed from Argentina, the home of the mistress of Mark Sanford, In June of 2009, governor Sanford turned up missing for nearly a week. His aides didn't know where he was, although he had told them he was going hiking on the Appalachian trail. In fact, he was engaging in a different sport in a quite different place entirely -- in Buenos Aires with his mistress.

He held a press conference admitting he had been unfaithful to his wife and had fallen madly in love with his mistress, and resigned. He dumped his wife, got engaged to his south-of-the- border soul mate and then ran for congress, recasting his personal saga as "Love Story," not "Body Heat."

At least he had the good sense not to run for president, get his mistress pregnant and lie about it while married to his first wife, as John Edwards, the senator from North Carolina, managed to do.

But then, Sanford pulled a stunt that may cost him the race. His ex-wife is taking him to court him for allegedly sneaking into her house in February and then exiting via the back door, using a phone for a flashlight.

Sex and politics are hardly strange bedfellows in the life of the nation. In my recently published e-book. Girls No More, about women journalists in DC, the secretary of the Interior falls totally naked out of a closet onto a female reporter looking for her coat at a chic Washington party. (The incident was loosely based on the experiences of a reporter who covered the party beat for a DC newspaper.)

But why are some political men dispatched to the scrap heap, while others find forgiveness? Finding God helps. Amazing how many politicians discover the deity after stumbling out of bed with women not their wives. Newt Gingrich left one wife when she got cancer and dumped another for a younger staff member. He converted to Catholicism and promptly ran for president. Mark Sanford, in his runoff victory speech, said, "I want to thank my God... and acknowledge the difference He has made in my life."

Anthony Weiner basically used Freud, not the Deity, in his self-lacerating explanation of his misdeeds. Maybe on the Upper East side of Manhattan, Freud trumps even God.

Bill Clinton famously got himself impeached (but acquitted) for lying about his White House trysts with intern Monica Lewinsky. Why is he still so popular among Democrats?
Hillary stood by him. The picture of Bill and Hillary, each holding Chelsea's hand as they walked together to a helicopter after he had admitted his affair, announced she was not going to desert him.

Of course, illicit sex has been part of politics for a very long time. Often it was never written about by the press, which had a basically "boys will be boys" attitude. The Washington press corps was well aware of JFK's escapades when he was in the White House. But it was not until after his death that they became public knowledge.

The women's movement of the 1970s emphasized the fact that in most scandals, power was the real issue, not just sex. Men had it and women didn't, and there wasn't much a woman could do if her boss tried to grope her by the file cabinet, except try to slither away.

For too long, sexual harassment was an unspoken problem for women in the workplace, but finally, after they broke their silence, change did happen. Now there are laws on the books against this kind of behavior.

Of course, often it takes two to tango, and some women just can't resist married men with power. So sex scandals will probably be with us for a long time. Some men will be forgiven and others will be booed out of the political arena. We won't get to equality in this area, though, until some high-placed woman politician admits to an affair, finds God, and then gets re-elected.

Don't hold your breath.

Caryl Rivers' e-book, Girls No More, was recently published by Diversion books.