It's time for political sex scandals to reclaim their rightful place in our national discourse.
Really, the way things have been going lately, you'd think that extramarital sex only happened to professional athletes.
Consider the case of Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. We learned last week that the recently divorced Baucus had nominated his girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, to be a U.S. attorney without warning the White House that they were an item. You would expect this to create quite a buzz. Particularly since Baucus is a major player in the health care debate, which makes it possible to talk about his sex life while pretending to be discussing the prospects for a public option.
But, no, it's been Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods. How much can you say about a guy who golfs? A politician with a compulsively wandering eye is not just a hound dog with a famous name. He's a commentary about our judgment as voters, and the viability of our social standards. Plus, gossiping about him almost brings some useful information about the political process into the conversation. What would any of us know about how impeachment works if it hadn't been for Monica Lewinsky?
I just cannot get excited about sexual misbehavior that is never going to be investigated by a legislative committee.
To be fair, although the Republicans instantly called on the Senate ethics committee to look into the Baucus affair, Max and Melodee are not likely to actually get investigated. Hanes, who was one of three nominees being considered for the U.S. attorney post, withdrew when she and Baucus moved in together. If the story lives on in memory, it may be for a statement issued by the senator's office, which began: "Senator Baucus is currently in a mature and happy relationship with Melodee Hanes."
This is a turn of phrase that could be put to good use on so many sensitive occasions, the Baucus press office should really go for a copyright.
Joe Bruno, the former majority leader of the New York State Senate who was convicted of corruption this week, is in a mature and happy relationship with Kay Stafford, the chairwoman and president of CMA Consulting Services. (Actually, the relationship is really, really mature, since Bruno is 80.) When Bruno resigned from the Senate last year, he quickly got a great job as CEO of CMA.
A guy who was being investigated by federal prosecutors for his consulting activities would not normally be regarded as a perfect hire for an information technology consulting business, particularly when he seems to know about as much about information technology as he does about quantum physics. Still, it was nice to finally see a woman on the powerful, job-dispensing side of these stories.
One of the positive aspects of recent political gossip is that the women seem to be getting tougher. Jenny Sanford, who won public acclaim for refusing to stand by her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, during the Appalachian Trail debacle, was just named one of the "10 Most Fascinating People in 2009" on a Barbara Walters special. (Her fellow honorees included Kate Gosselin, the betrayed wife and mother of sextuplets, Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert. The clear message here is that the best routes to being fascinating are an adulterous husband or lots of eye makeup.)
On the show, she said that even if her husband had asked her to stand next to him during his confessional press conference, she wouldn't have complied. We can probably look back on 2009 as the year that finished off the loyal-wife-photo-op, even though in the Sanfords' case, having Jenny in the room undoubtedly would have helped. She might not have looked all that supportive, but when the governor promised to give the assembled press corps "way more detail than you'll ever want," she probably would have slapped her hand over his mouth.
Right now, the only senator being investigated by the ethics committee for sex-related misbehavior is John Ensign of Nevada. He had an affair with the wife of his co-chief of staff, Doug Hampton. The committee seems particularly interested in whether Ensign tried to get his ex-aide a lobbying job at a time when Hampton was legally barred from lobbying.
You may remember that Hampton is the one who first told his story of betrayal with the remark: "All of those tentacles were birthed because John needed things to go down like this." This was obviously not going to be the easiest guy in the world to place.
This could be a new rule of political sex: 1) Do not have an affair with the wife of an employee. 2) If you do so anyway, make sure that you are not the only person in the world who would hire the cuckolded husband.
Of course, that comes after the prime directive in high-stakes political adultery: Never have an affair with anyone who would enjoy seeing themselves on the cover of In Touch magazine.
That was the point where Tiger should have been paying attention.