Monday August 19, 2013

Alden Graves

August is officially an off month for politicians in Washington to accomplish anything. You will note that I used the word "officially" because Congress doesn’t accomplish all that much during the other 11 months either. It just looks better when they don’t do anything because they are resting up from not doing anything.

Without even a 41st vote to repeal Obamacare to anticipate, the country will have to turn its attention to something else for a while. Wouldn’t you know, there is an obliging group of men who are willing to provide us with that diversion until the Republicans can resume their positions defending the perimeters of the Koch Empire.

We have all heard of the Stone Age, the Paleolithic Age, the Jazz Age, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Age, and, courtesy of Edith Wharton, the Age of Innocence. If you were shopping around for a label for the times in which we find ourselves mired at the moment, you could do a lot worse than the Age of Repentant Politicians.

As far as future votes are concerned, our fallen politicos are counting on two things: The notoriously short memory of the American electorate and, contrary to Erich Segal’s lucrative catch phrase, love does mean saying you’re sorry - over and over again. (The latter will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been married for any amount of time.


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If the Republicans, with their minimalist approach to government, still want to keep leering at what is going on in bedrooms across our great land, the Democrats seem to be the ones participating in the behavior of which they disapprove so strongly, Washington cathouses, the Appalachian Trail, and Minnesota toilet stalls notwithstanding.

I’m sure bad behavior of a sexual nature is as timeless as our purple mountains majesty, but until quite recently, the public wasn’t treated to the circumstances in such excruciating detail. The antics of politicians are the lead stories on tabloid television programs that used to subsist on Hollywood’s endless supply of lurid material for gossipmongers to salivate over.

I’m not sure that, except for one very relevant point, the general public wasn’t better off not knowing.

It would have done an awful job on property values in Camelot had the country known that its resident white knight was cheating on his lady fair with a femme fatale from the dark kingdom of Hollywood. As a matter of fact, even the suggestion that JFK was having an affair with Marilyn Monroe would very likely have inspired laughter rather than outrage. It was just too ludicrous to even consider. Maybe that might be construed as mass naivety to the sophisticated denizens of 2013, but I’m not at all sure us older folks weren’t better off in our collective ignorance. Jackie played the part of the devout wife very convincingly.

That task fell to Hillary Clinton a few decades later. If the battalion of cameras aimed at the First Family after the revelation of Bill’s tacky indiscretion with a White House intern hadn’t caught telltale wisps of steam rising off the top of her head, Mrs. Clinton might have evoked the same kind of admiration that Meryl Streep usually receives for undertaking a particularly difficult role. Mrs. Clinton managed to thrive in spite of her very public humiliation and her name today, spoken in conjunction with the national elections in 2016, evokes the same kind of reaction amongst the GOP hierarchy that a wooden stake once did for Count Dracula.

Fast forward from awkward stains in the Oval Office to 2013, when the word "tacky" reads like a euphemism for the kind of conduct that is on display today. Eliot Spitzer, after pontificating on the evils of carnal sin that must have had Pat Robertson beaming with joy, was revealed as the frequent client of a high-priced prostitute. (I’m not certain of the exact amount that elevates a prostitute to a call girl, but I’m pretty sure that anyone charging less than $100 runs the risk of being referred to by that other word.)

Anthony Weiner has managed the not inconsiderable feat of torpedoing two separate careers in politics by overindulging his fondness for wallowing in the shady side of social networking. Mr. Weiner seems tothink that his self-immolated ordeal by fire will mold his effectiveness as mayor of one of the most complex and diverse cities in the world. You can almost imagine "His Character Was Forged in Sleazy Scandal" on the political posters in Times Square. In scarlet letters, of course. The problem with Anthony Weiner extends much deeper than his proclivity for texting pictures of his namesake and can better be summoned up by his having the nerve to publicly refer to a 69-year-old constituent as "grandpa" when the man asked him a question that didn’t please the imperiously delusional candidate.

It could be argued that bad personal behavior is nobody’s business but the unfortunate participants. Adjectives like "careless" and "irresponsible" can be applied to most of us from time to time. Most of us, however, are not burdened with setting public examples and a patent disregard for this crucial factor points to a much more serious problem: a willful or even a self-destructive stupidity.

If John Kennedy, at least in his own lifetime, got away with dallying with a notoriously unstable movie star, he was lucky. For men like Spitzer and Weiner to think they are going to get away with similar behavior is just plain stupid and, if there is one commodity this country doesn’t need at the moment, it is more stupid people in high places.

And "I’m sorry" just doesn’t cut it.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.