Political sex scandals have had a way of captivating us and diverting our attention from the real issues even before the days of TMZ, Big Government and the National Enquirer. The modern-day celebrity news culture dedicates column inches, cable minutes and untold pixels to talking about shirtless congressmen, "Hiking the Appalachia Trail," and sexual braggadocio in the California Assembly. Reputations and careers built over a lifetime can be ended in the amount of take it takes to hit "upload" or click "comment." Given that realization and Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter travails, here are five rules for aspiring politicos from Sylmar to San Pedro.
- The Grover Cleveland. Political junkies and historians might recall the opposition slogan against our 22nd (and 24th) president of the United States, Grover Cleveland: "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House. Ha! Ha! Ha!" In a pre-Lanny Davis get-it-all-out-there move, Cleveland admitted paternity and to paying child support (in a non DNA-testing age). It was quite scandalous back in 1884 (and John Edwards might be the present day counterpoint) but he survived and so should Rep. Anthony Weiner -- provided all of his electronic pen pals were not underage and government resources were not used.
- Boys Will Not Be Presidents. Upon hearing about presidential prospect Gary Hart getting caught up with Donna Rice, President Ronald Reagan was reported to have said, "Boys will be boys. But boys will not be president." It still holds true -- especially as we see more women running for high public office with far less baggage than their male counterparts. You can fool around and use your public position for private vices but eventually it will come back to haunt you. To be sure, there are recent historical examples to suggest otherwise, but it's still a general rule.
- The Weiner Rule: Don't Tweet Your Junk. Oceanside resident John Tyner popularized the euphemism during a recent TSA pat down but the paraphrase of his warning holds up. If you are in public life -- let alone a 46-year-old, married congressman -- do not sext or tweet any pictures of your mezzanine. If you must, keep it to the bottom floor or penthouse. The electronic paper trail never quite goes away and you can bet Andrew Breitbart or the Left's "Inspector Javert" will eventually catch their prey. It goes without saying that it is bad for marriages and your constituents may not want that level of intimacy in their elected official.
- Use Ambition Wisely. It may sound like a lesson from Robert Greene on war, seduction and power or the third Indiana Jones movie but ambition can be a great tool if used wisely. Ambition married to idealism is a strong motivator for good in our society regardless of which side of the partisan aisle you claim allegiance to. It also has the salutary effort of smoothing out rough edges over time. Like a sacrifice to the gods of antiquity for a good harvest so some leaders give up qualities, attributes and/or vices that hold them back (i.e. drinking, womanizing, impatience, snorkel and tickle parties, etc.). And we soon learn more about the ones who do things as they always have.
- More Is Not Merrier. Some Austrian-American former governors might want a bigger brood but supporters and spouses rarely appreciate it when it comes out of wedlock. If you signed up for public life, read the fine print. First off, there is no such thing as paranoia in politics because they really are out to get you. Second, high public office is like winning the lottery: every relationship, inappropriate remark and family member unbeknownst to you will come forward. Finally, secret families have a way of coming out in contested elections and the old Diana Ross and the Supremes Love Child tune never quite endears you to voters.
So if you are going to enter politics, remember the words of Hyman Roth from Godfather II: "This is the business we've chosen." If you choose to do it, live by the rules. Either straighten up or find something else to do. Like churches are hospitals for the sinful (and not museums for saints) so politicians are not saints or mistake-free. We get that. But that does not mean you can go all meshuggah with your mezzanine on us either. To paraphrase that great San Diegan, Ron Burgundy, "Stay classy, politicos."