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POWER DRUNK

Sex and the CT: Politicos and cheap thrills

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CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA:  Musings on life, politics and economics from TOI's Washington correspondent

Henry Kissinger, who said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, didn't dwell much on the fallout of runaway libidos of politicians, the ultimate powermongers. DNA spillage is just one outcome of the excesses of the lout with clout, whose ranks have swelled in recent weeks with the addition of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Silvio Berlusconi, and Newt Gingrich, among others, to the licentious hall of shame. These are men whose chutzpah extends beyond being merely spunky. There is a recklessness to their behavior that calls into question not just their morality - which Oscar Wilde thought is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike - but their capacity for judgment and decision-making.

The latest to join this carnal carnival is a young American law-maker named Anthony Weiner, whose moniker, with a little transposition of vowels, is unfortunately slang for the male organ (wiener). Indeed, the Congressman, known in sub-continental circles for his recent marriage to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's close aide of Indian origin, has been sending pictures of his crown jewels to sundry women on social networks. Why the young politico in a seemingly happy marriage and a promising career - and this goes for others in the scroll of shame too - would go and screw it all up with such a gross display of unbridled libido is baffling political scientists in America.

Wienergate is not the first sex scandal in America or the last, but lately, the powerful seem to be stumbling into licentious raj with greater frequency. In the last decade, sexcapades have forced the resignation or marred the reputation of half a dozen members of Congress, a couple of governors, four Senators, and a couple of Presidential hopefuls. American politics is in the throes of
forbidden ecstasy even as its economy is in prolonged agony. Why?

One explanation is that sex scandals have always been around; it's just that they're being reported more frequently and intrusively. The other, possibly supplementary, explanation is that politicians are seeking more cheap thrills and dangerous spills to escape the pressures of office. Then there is the aphrodisiac aphorism. Take your pick.

Americans are not particularly moralistic - or licentious. Their reaction to sex scandals is tempered. They forgive some peccadilloes (Bill Clinton and JFK did fine) and punish others. Even those rebuked end up making a decent enough living on the lecture circuit or talk tour after the dust - and presumably lust - settles down. The transgressions seem to last only so far as they are in power. To that extent, the Kissingerian dictum is correct.

But two things about political sexcapades seem to annoy Americans. One is when perpetrators are hurtful towards victims of their sex scandal, especially to their wives (which is why those caught grovel before their families in contrition). Among the current lot of lotharios, a few were downright cruel and pitiless to their spouses: Weiner's wife of two years is pregnant; Edwards' wife was suffering from cancer when he was procreating with another woman; and Schwarzenegger knocked up a nanny the same time his wife was pregnant with his child, leading to two little Schwarzeneggers and their mothers (unwittingly) co-habiting the Governor's mansion.

The other thing that irks Americans is hypocrisy. Politicians in sex scandals are most ridiculed when they're seen as false prophets of virtue. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was laughed out of office after his dealings with prostitutes because in his earlier career as a prosecutor, he had crusaded against illicit activities. Newt Gingrich's Presidential bid is being tripped up not because of his two divorces and third marriage but because people see his lectures on values as phony.

Remarkably, among the current lot of Republican hopefuls, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is one of the few one-marriage candidates even though his religion is associated with polygamy (his state, Utah, has a beer called Polygamy Porter whose slogan is "Why stop at one?") Yet, he has not been subject to ridicule like Gingrich has. In contrast, among Democrats and liberals, Clsinton survived, and even thrived, even after being caught virtually in flagrante delicto during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, especially after Republicans made a big to-do about his indiscretion, seeking to impeach him. JFK joked "If I don't have a woman every three days or so, I get a terrible headache. " And his brother, Ted Kennedy, the Old Lion of the Senate (Bollywood would have called him Old Loin) bragged, "They don't call me Tyrannosaurus Sex for nothing. " Where sex scandal is the common denominator, honesty and candor trump hypocrisy and duplicity.

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