MARCH 10, 2010
No More Funds for Philanderers
by Myriam Miedzian
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" – the celebrated mantra of the 1976 film, Network, kept going through my mind as I read about New York congressman Eric Massa's announcement that he would not run for reelection, followed by his decision to resign "due to health reasons." Yes, he had another bout of cancer in December, but his resignation comes as the House Ethics Committee is scheduled to investigate a male staffer's allegations of sexual harassment!
Attracted by this retired military man's anti- Iraq and Afghanistan war positions, my husband and I supported Massa financially, and my husband raised money for his campaign.
Attracted by John Edwards's focus on poverty and universal medical coverage, we supported him generously, and helped his presidential primary fundraising efforts.
We were also strong supporters of Elliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton.
Many Republican donors must feel the way we do. Shortly after Massa's announcement, California State Senator Roy Ashburn,
a vehement opponent of gay rights, was arrested for drunk driving with an unidentified man in his passenger seat – after leaving a gay nightclub.
While Democrats mostly get caught cheating on their wives with girlfriends or prostitutes, Republican sex scandals tend to be on the more seedy side. For example, Congressman Jon Hinson was arrested for having sex in a House Men's Room after a previous arrest for exposing himself to an undercover police officer. Republican Senator Larry Craig pleaded guilty to lewd conduct in an airport men's room.
More in the Democratic sex scandal tradition, South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford, married and father of four, was caught having an affair with an Argentine woman.
All these men, and others like them including Gary Hart (D), Mark Foley (R), James E. Mc Greevey (D), David Vitter (R), to name only a few, risked their careers and betrayed the people who helped them get elected.
Why? Is it all about testosterone?
Research indicates a two-way relationship between testosterone levels in men and the attainment of power and dominance. Higher levels of testosterone lead to increased dominant and aggressive behavior. Higher levels of power and dominance, in turn, lead to increases in testosterone levels. Because higher testosterone levels are also linked to increased sex drive, powerful men are likely to be particularly sexually driven.
Higher levels of testosterone are also a factor contributing to the self confidence and hubris – the belief that one can get away with anything including supporting anti-gay legislation while trying to pick up men in toilets, or having an affair while presenting oneself as the caring and devoted husband of a woman with terminal cancer – that so many politicians exhibit.
When Edwards confessed to his affair, he explained, "I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic." – psychoanalytic jargon for a bad case of hubris.
Are some politicians driven to go beyond the risk inherent in illicit sex and take extreme risks to further enhance their enjoyment?
When Republicans like Hinson or Craig expose themselves to strangers, or solicit sex in men's rooms, they are taking risks far beyond the risk of having an illicit affair. Spitzer didn't just have extramarital sex, but went to call girls. Since he himself had passed anti-prostitution legislation in New York State, he had to be aware that his removal from office – highly desired by his political enemies – was a certainty if his illegal Empire Club escapades ever came to light.
From a young age, many boys and men are drawn to adrenaline raising risky behaviors. Engaging in life-risking sports and dangerous driving are among the factors that lead to much higher male than female accidental deaths rates. Men are more likely to be compulsive gamblers and to engage in impulsive violent behavior. A 2005 Merrill Lynch study concluded that when it comes to stock investments, men tend to take more risks than women, which leads them to make more mistakes.
It is likely that the history of the last 20 years would have been radically different were it not for political sex scandals. Gary Hart, not George Bush, might well have been our 41st president, were it not for his affair with Donna Rice. If so we may have been spared the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. Did the distraction of his politically motivated "Lewinsky impeachment" lead Bill Clinton to not focus as much as he might have on Al Quaeda? Could 9/11 have been prevented?
Wouldn't a scandal-free Clinton presidency have led to Al Gore becoming President?
Sex scandals lead to the nullification of voters choices. Spitzer was widely admired as a reformer and was elected governor of New York by 70% of the electorate – an extraordinary vote of confidence. Many of his reforms have been nipped in the bud as a result of his resignation, and New Yorkers became saddled with a governor they did not vote for.
I am all in favor of the European attitude towards sex and politicians – as long as it's legal and not contrary to their stated political positions, their sexual behavior concerns only them and their mates. While it wouldn't take care of sex scandals a la Spitzer or Craig, it would represent a giant step in the right direction. But that's not about to happen. There's no way the media is going to refrain from seedy and steaming news that attracts readers and viewers.
And so my husband and I have agreed – no more risk taking with our political contributions. From now on we will support women candidates exclusively.
Myriam Miedzian is Author of He Walked Through Walls: A Twentieth-Century Tale of Survival