Is the sex lives of our leaders really news?
recently had the chance to see the entertaining movie Hyde Park on the Hudson with Bill Murray starring as President Franklin Roosevelt. The film highlights the president’s political genius, but does not overlook his sexual needs which were substantial. He had no less than three concurrent lovers, including his cousin. Here he was, the most powerful man in the free world, leading the country out of the Great Depression and World War II. Like most other human beings he had needs and the women around him including his secretary, Missy LeHand, obliged. Now, years after his death in 1944, Roosevelt is always listed among the top five US presidents according to the pollsters who look into such things. Of course, those were the days when photographers knew exactly what was going on and turned a blind eye. John F. Kennedy enjoyed similar immunity during his lifetime. It all changed years later when would-be presidential candidate Senator Gary Hart challenged the press corps to find him fooling around which they did, aboard a now famous yacht called “Monkey Business.” Once that happened, the flood gates were open.
From that day forward, any presidential candidate or senator or governor found to be cheating was choice red meat for a public that might not know the difference between Medicare or Medicaid but knew everything about the latest gossip and innuendo. Naturally, the more wicked the liaison, the more the public ate it up. Never mind that half the marriages in the United States end up in divorce – in this sexually repressed country, we expect our politicians to be paragons of virtue. Maybe we should learn something from the French or the Italians who seem to elect people to top office who really know the meaning of life.
Of course, there are some positive signs. Our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, lives with his girlfriend and the public properly yawned over that. Good for Cuomo and good for the public. Of course, we do distinguish between levels of politicians. It’s like one of those video games. Presidents and Senators get an extra five points. Congressmen don’t even cause a ripple and among state legislators, philandering is accepted and expected.
Naturally there are some demographic groups that take this kind of thing more seriously than others. I expect that if you asked fifty-something year old women whose husbands had left them for newer models how forgiving they were, you might get a more negative response than if you asked the general population. When I ask my students how they feel about politicians who cheat, they are very, very critical. Maybe that’s the way they feel about the idea that their parents might experiment outside a marriage. Some people say that power is the most powerful aphrodisiac and politicians have power.Some of the journalists who are the most critical of cheating politicians have been known to step out themselves while throwing that well-known first stone. Even powerful publishers of some of the worst tabloids have engaged in multiple marriages. Could these follow from illicit sexual liaisons? How come they are allowed to continue in their licentious ways? How about newspaper columnists? Ike, FDR, JFK, and Jefferson all made it through. But the political road is strewn with casualties. We are a dumbed-down society that falls for this stuff time and again. Marie Antoinette would be proud. Sex is our cake.
Shame on us. Our atmosphere has been corrupted by carbon, we are about to frack, little kids are being killed in school, and this is news? We are all human. It’s all a diversion. I’m fascinated as to who gets away with it after exposure and who doesn’t. There is no rhyme or reason. A Congressman sends a buff picture of himself out over the Internet and, as they say in baseball, he is out. This whole thing is nuts.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/17/12