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Political Sex Scandals: Obama, McCain & Palin

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Many politicians have fallen from grace with their trousers at their ankles. We know about couldn't-keep-it-in-his-pants adulterer John Edwards and cookie cutter practitioners of inappropriate conduct like Arnold Schwarzenegger. New York's very own Client #9, Eliot Spitzer, pinned down prostitute Ashley Dupré. David Vitter and Randall L. Tobias' numbers were jotted in D.C. Madam's books. Boys, boys, boys. Gotta love 'em. Allegedly, Jim McGreevey, Mark Foley, Larry Craig and Bob Allen certainly did! Tsk, tsk.

The lessons from the past decade of scandals are simple: (1) politicians screw and (2) although they may disagree on critical domestic and foreign policy issues -- donkeys and elephants equally like to rub uglies with the same sex, hook up with hookers and foster lovechild bumps. Please pause to applause fellow bloggers who put their love of politics to good use. Jessica Cutler from the Washingtonienne scandal was fired for humping the hill for cash and writing about it on her blog.

Woe is the modern American politician: so much sex, too little time. Ho, hum. Nothing new. So, why do American sex scandals consistently have the ability to derail campaigns and "strip" (pun intended) political figures from office? With other pressing economic and military concerns on our national plate, Americans can't stomach another sex scandal right now. Is part of Barack Obama's appeal his seemingly calm family life resembling the beloved Huxtables from the popular 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show? To probe these questions further, I phoned Paris to speak with Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee author Pamela Druckerman whose husband told friends and acquaintances his wife is an adultery expert. "I think he thought that was kind of a sexy thing to say," she explains, "as long as I wasn't exactly cheating." Our conversation follows below and has been edited for content and length.

HINES: Silly opening question, but what's your background? What did you study in school?

DRUCKERMAN: It's funny. I have a Masters in international affairs, weirdly enough. I studied at Columbia University. When I was in grad school, it was so international and there was so much dating going on among the student body that everyone joked, "Yeah, this is really a school about international affairs!" But I'm the only one who, as far as I know, has taken it so literally.

HINES: By "literally" you mean your book, 300 pages about how people cheat on their partners. What was it like to write about that?

DRUCKERMAN: I was planning my big white wedding and outlining chapters of my adultery book at the exact same time. It was ironic. I guess it helped me go into marriage with a more clear view of things. Of course I was romantic but I think I was a little more realistic, too. And definitely, my husband and I talked about fidelity in a way that most couples don't before they get married.

HINES: The two of you live in France, right? Is your husband American or French?

DRUCKERMAN: He's English.

HINES: Oh, yeah, I guess there are other options! [Mutual laughing.] Everyone knows I love Europe and its men, but let's cut to the US for a moment. Our economy is, like, swirling counterclockwise down the toilet and we've got two wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, it's a tight race. At this point, only a late-breaking sex scandal could dramatically sway people toward or against a candidate. Why?

DRUCKERMAN: We see it as a measure of character. The idea is: If you can cheat on your wife, you can also cheat on the country ... I guess I'm having trouble answering this question because I don't entirely agree with you.

HINES: Maybe I should have asked a different question first. Do you agree Americans still care about sex scandals? I'm a New Yorker. Remember, Spitzer lost his job.

DRUCKERMAN: He was already in office. So, it would be interesting to see what the effect is on someone who's campaigning. It's possible to actually survive a sex scandal once you're in office as long as people generally kind of like you already -- which wasn't the case with Spitzer. So, in a campaign, yeah, it's hard to imagine a late-breaking sex scandal would help either of the candidates. As long as nothing illegal occurred, I don't know that they would drop out of the race as a result. We've sort of gotten to a point in America where the bar has been raised on sex scandals; cheating on your wife isn't enough to cast you out of society.

HINES: You said wife. What about the other way around? Women cheat. Would it matter if Americans found out Obama or McCain had current affairs compared to Sarah Palin? Ooh, or what if it turned out McCain was cheating with Palin?

DRUCKERMAN: There's not much precedence for finding out political women have had affairs. Has Palin come out and said anything about her marital history?

HINES: I don't think so. I just remember seeing televised videos of her and her husband happily dancing together at an event. The message seemed to be: "Seeeee? This is a solid marriage!"

DRUCKERMAN: There's no room in American politics for saying, "Look, we've been married 20 years. We've had our ups and downs. One of us cheated, and then we sort of made it through it." Clinton said that after the fact, but no one chooses to go into a campaign saying something like that. It sets everyone up for a fall.

HINES: Families and marriages aren't perfect, but politicians are forced to present their situation as if they are. Do you think this repression makes politicians more likely to cheat?

DRUCKERMAN: The higher up you are on the power scale, presumably the more temptation you have. So, the less surprise there should be if you've slipped at some point. The thing that always surprises me in these sex scandals is not that politicians cheat; it's that each and every time, the media acts so shocked. "How could this happen?!" It's almost as if we're willfully naïve about this.

HINES: I may be in the minority, but I don't think being an adulterer automatically makes you a bad president.

DRUCKERMAN: In fact, some of our best presidents have been really crappy husbands.

HINES: How would you say adultery has influenced campaigns for the presidency or, to a greater extent, US politics in general?

DRUCKERMAN: People say the reason we're at war in Iraq is because Bush was elected. And, the reason Bush was elected is because he promised he wasn't going to give blow jobs in the oval office like Clinton did. America was just tired of presidents with outsized libidos. The public distaste for sex scandals has certainly changed our history. But, you also have to remember that Clinton was never more popular than he was after he was impeached. Sex scandals certainly make for racy news, but it's not necessarily the case that people want it to bring down a president.

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