When Arnold Schwarzenegger assumed the governorship of California in 2003, he joined a short list of Hollywood actors who have gone from the screen to the statehouse, including his "Predator" costar Jesse Ventura and his Sacramento forbear Ronald Reagan.
When he revealed to the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he conceived a child out of wedlock a decade ago, he found himself in much better company.
The list of American politicians whose elevated moral stature doesn't quite jibe with the realities of their marriages is illustrious and long. FDR had a decades-long affair with Eleanor's personal secretary, Lyndon B. Johnson possessed what his former press secretary once described as the sexual proclivities of "a Turkish sultan." And is there really anything left to be said about the Kennedys?
Altogether, 14 presidents have dealt with charges that they were "less than pure when it came to bedroom conduct," according to a New York Times article published in 1998, as Washington bubbled with rumors about a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Among those unlucky souls was Chester A. Arthur, who told a friend that being accused of marital infidelity was "worse than assassination."
If Schwarzenegger wanted to commiserate with some living adulterers, he could call up John McCain, or John Ensign, or Jim McGreevey, or two of the last three governors of New York, David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer.
Extramarital affairs that produce children are less common, of course. Politicians don't have them, unless they're named Thomas Jefferson, who likely fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings. Or John Edwards, who admitted last year that he had a kid in 2008 with his campaign videographer and personal New Age spiritual guide, Rielle Hunter. Or Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina senator whose half-century of opposition to integration apparently didn’t extend to his choice of mistresses; his illegitimate daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, had an African-American mom.
South Carolina, it appears, is a hotbed of hot beds. Along with Thurmond, its luminaries of adultery include former governor Mark Sanford, who dropped out of sight for six days in 2009 to pursue what he later described to reporters as "a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."
As for his successor, Governor Nikki Haley, two separate men accused her of extramarital action during a two-week stretch of her campaign last June (she said they were wrong).
So is it true that, as Henry Kissinger said, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac?
"Humans are slightly polygamous," said Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, "which means that across our society, men who have higher socioeconomic status have more sexual partners, and that's true no matter how that socioeconomic status is measured -– whether it's the number of cows a man owns or property or the digits in his Charles Schwab spreadsheet."
Consider Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the newly deposed head of the IMF, arrested this weekend for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid in his $3,000-a-night hotel room.
"Hundreds of years ago, that kind of behavior might have been par for the course," said Kruger. "The king had the right to the first night. We have different laws and social norms now, but I still think we have this evolutionary leaning and that's why we see people misbehaving in these ways."
Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage counselor and the author of "Divorce Busting" (as well as an occasional blog for this publication), agreed, to a point. "I don't think the rich and the famous and the politically advanced have a corner on the market of a sense of entitlement," she said. "They're often singled out, but if you were to track down people who are less fortunate and have less power, I think you'd be surprised how many men in particular sire children and either manage to keep it secret or don't."
"We tend to think that politicians should be smarter and better and more skilled," she added. "When really they're dumb people like the rest of us."