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June 25 2009

How the Parties Handle Their Sex Scandals

Heather R. Higgins

Interesting the different patterns with Democrats - Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Patterson, McGreevy -- indiscretions are discovered and cover-ups attempted as long as possible, then the wife nonetheless "stands by her man."  Republicans fess up and seem to actually feel guilty -- and the wives are not beside them, but deeply wounded. Democrats seem to see the marriage as secondary to the political career -- whereas Ensign and Sanford are punishing their careers in penance for failing their marriage vows.  Maybe those differing expectations of marriage help account for different views on the potential collateral effects of gay marriage.

Thought experiment: Ms. Argentina is actually a Mr. Where are the media's and public's sympathies then?  (Leaving aside the inevitable "Republican hypocrite" trope.)

The press conference was bizarre - Sanford's actions bespoke someone whose perhaps deep subconscious was trying to make this as awful as possible, not just for himself but for all concerned.  Why?  Perhaps he has been pushed to run for president but at root really doesn't want to go there, but how could any proud male admit that to himself?  But by vanishing, not letting aides know where he was, not delegating authority while unavailable, and volunteering an unresolved affair, he may have sufficiently damaged his prospects that it's no longer his choice to be a candidate for president. And he may have made it bad enough on the home front that his wife, who has put up with what one presumes she hopes is a passing midlife crisis, may be so mortified and furious that she divorces him -- again so that, to satisfy his subconscious, it's not him leaving her but in the end he's still divorced and free to pursue the Thrill of the New.

Sanford's affair blossomed on email and survives at great distance. Both are deceptive and removed from real life. In each one gets only snapshots, and topics are only those of mutual interest and focus -- not the shared experiences of the daily small intrusions and demands for attention (the pediatrician, the shortage of funds in the checking account, the mother-in-law's latest lament, the logistics of children, the chores of life, etc.).  And the brief visits are high intensity courtship with both at full wattage -- and a long way from the reality of seeing each other daily for years.  The unknown Argentine is surely lovely, smart, and engaging -- but then all of us are our own best when acting as travel brochure, but the actual destination -- even when accurately represented -- loses mystique after one has been resident for a while.



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