Politicians’ cheating hearts should come as no surprise
June 25, 2009 1 Comment
Last week, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford announced that he was taking a little break. Hiking in the Appalachians, he said. He even had the camping gear to prove it.
And now, confirmation that the governor was not in the Appalachians at all — he was actually in Argentina. And that what he was doing down there, with a woman identified as Maria Belen Shapur, could only be described as ‘hiking’ in an absurdly loose sense of the word.
All very interesting.
But why is it such a surprise that a governor would be having an affair? It’s not as if a politician admitting to an affair is anything new. Both former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke* publicly admitted to affairs while still in office — and remained popular. Many others national leaders have been revealed by history to have done the same, including former prime minister Pierre Trudeau here in Canada, and presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson in the U.S.
And in France, which perhaps takes a more tolerant view of these things, both the wife and the mistress of the late president François Mitterrand were prominent among the mourners at his 1996 funeral.
Why the public is so enthralled with political sex capers has something to do with human nature. It proves to us that our leaders are, ultimately, just one of us. We tsk tsk them for their indiscretions, but we have a far easier time identifying with them than we do with those who try to pass themselves off as virtuous.
In fact, I would hazard to guess that we secretly hate politicians who are too virtuous. Privately, we hope that they’ll be busted for something or other, just to show that nobody is perfect.
Philandering always has been and always will be fairly commonplace among our elected representatives, just as it is among the general public. Politicians spend days, even weeks at a time, away from their families. Their social standing invites flirting. Their egos make it tough to say “no”.
Like the John Profumo, Gary Hart and Maxime Bernier scandals that came before it, the Mark Sanford scandal will eventually blow over. But the titillating stories about politicians’ private lives will keep on coming, because politics is a way of life that lends itself to that sort of thing… and because we the public feel better about ourselves after reading all about it.
* – The story of Malcolm Fraser, Hawke’s predecessor as Australian prime minister, is no less bizarre than Sanford’s “missing in Argentina” saga. Early one morning in 1986, three years after leaving office, the former prime minister burst into the lobby of a seedy Memphis motel wrapped in a towel, desperately seeking a pair of pants and then a taxicab out of there. Years later, Fraser still refuses to speak publicly about how he ended up trouserless in Memphis, although wife Tamie said in a 2007 interview that she believed her husband to have been the victim of a practical joke. Many Australians, however, suspect that he probably took advantage of his relative anonymity in the U.S. and the fact that he was travelling without a security detail to engage in a one-night stand or to hire a prostitute.
Asked later about his prominent guest (whose motel room had been registered to “Joan Jones”), the desk clerk is reported to have said, “He didn’t look too prominent at 7 o’clock in the morning.”