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Anatomy of Washington sex scandals

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CRASH AND BURN: The higher they are, the harder they fall. The now-disgraced General Petraeus (top) and Jill Kelley with her husband (left)

In a country where a man in uniform comes next only to God, soldierly shenanigans rarely make it to the headlines. The Petraeus affair has put the military smack in the middle of the 'love pentagon'

Some years back, an enterprising adult franchise company started what it called a "Sex Tour of Washington DC" for tourists and trippers to the US Capital. No prizes for guessing the high point of the tour. It was soon after the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The White House's already dodgy reputation acquired during the Kennedy years stood thoroughly sullied. For months, the media had feasted on the salacious story of the President and the Intern, a word that briefly acquired a spicy undertone. Intimate details of the presidential anatomy and deviant behavior were the stuff of water-cooler talk, with a cigar featuring prominently in the discourse on intercourse. Visitors stood outside the White House gates gawking at the West Wing, where many of the presidential peccadilloes were said to have occurred. Jokes abounded on renaming the Washington Monument after Clinton in an underhanded tribute to its perpendicular nature.

Next up on the list was the US Capitol, seat of the American Congress and Senate, where the escapades of lawmakers over 236 years are too numerous to recount, but a couple of more recent ones will suffice. One of the more colorful involved Wilbur Mills, a 1970s Representative from Arkansas who was having an affair with an Argentinean stripper appropriately named Fanne Foxe. When a patrol cop pulled over the Congressman at 2 am near the Tidal Basin on suspicion of drinking and cavorting in a vehicle, Ms Foxe is said to have fled the scene and jumped into the Potomac. Mills resigned as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee when the scandal erupted. But voters put him back in Congress, just as they did with several lawmakers involved in similar capers. This was entirely in keeping with the spirit of a Louisiana politician who boasted around that time that the only way he could lose an election, "is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy". Yes, he meant election.

By the turn of the century, there were plenty of live boys who were in danger from predatory lawmakers. Idaho Senator Larry Craig was caught soliciting them in the men's loo at an airport. Another Congressman was outed for writing sexually explicit instant messages to an underage congressional page, referring to him as "my favorite young stud". Yet another lawmaker brazenly solicited through Craig's List personals using his actual name and email address, going to the extent of sending pictures of own shirtless body. Even the US Supreme Court made the cut for the tour, only by virtue of a charge of verbal sexual harassment by a female attorney against a judge.
But absent from the list was the Pentagon, seat of the US Defense establishment. Uniformed men were apparently above board, evidently on account of the fact that adultery is an offense that invites court martial in the military and there were no affairs in the highest echelons.

This was arrant nonsense of course. There were well chronicled cases of soldierly shenanigans involving women. But in America, a man in uniform comes next only to God. This country, as the late George Carlin observed, loves war. It has gone into combat more times than any other country and including at least one major dust-up every two decades. For protecting their country, it would appear that Americans protected the reputation of their soldiers - at least until now.

The most famous indulgence involving a General related to Douglas MacArthur, legendary war hero who was chief of Staff of the US army in the 1930s, commanded US forces in the Pacific in World War II, and was Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. Ironically, it was a Congressman and two reporters who unearthed Macarthur's secret liaison, discovering that the 55-yearold military hero was having a discreet affair with a 19-year-old Filipino film star he had brought with him from his last command in Manila and stashed in a Washington DC apartment building.

By this time MacArthur was such a legend that he spoke poorly of Presidents and politicos (he called Roosevelt "that cripple in the White House" ). But he was terrified of his wife and mother. He had sued the two reporters in a separate case but when he was informed that their first witness was his Filipino paramour who had ratted to the reporters, he ended the lawsuit, paying off the young woman with $15, 000 - carried by none other than his military aide, the future President Dwight Eisenhower!

Times have changed, as General Petraeus would doubtless attest. These days it is hard to predict which peccadilloes will survive the test of time and make it to the sex tour. Some sex scandals stick and some don't. For a sexual caper to stay in the headlines, it has to unfurl slowly. The drip-drip-drip of daily, or at least hourly, revelations is what gives it length and strength. If the involved party throws in the towel too quickly, like the Craig's List Congressman did, resigning within three hours of the expose, then it is gone from the news cycle. A local paper ruefully reported that he had set a "speed record for the life cycle of a Washington sex scandal".

On the other hand, some scandals last for months and even years. For a sex scandal to have legs, the dramatis personae have to be larger than life and high up. Garden variety lawmakers seldom make it beyond second week. The higher they are the harder they fall.

Even here some people survive and some people are wiped out. Former presidential candidate and Senator John Edwards's infidelity in the midst of his wife's cancer battle, not to speak of fathering a child with his videographer, finished his career. On the other, hand Bill Clinton left the White House with an approval rating in the mid-60 s, the highest for any President in half a century. Alas, no one is asking about Monica Lewinsky, the young ingênue whose thrall of power as a White House intern led to the indiscretion that ruined her life, except for the $12 million advance she has just received to write her memoirs (Clinton got only $10 million).

So how will things turn out for Petraeus, till recently spoken off as a future presidential candidate? Hard to say. He might have to delve into the literature of post-peccadillo political careers, where there are very few military men or spook heads. Meanwhile, the CIA headquarters, if not the Pentagon, may have made it to the Washington DC sex tour.

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