Americans are transfixed by the low drama of politicians who stray
Politicians appear to be on a whistle-stop tour of infidelity. It’s the McGreevey-Dann-Spitzer show — and then some.
Infidelity is big theater these days, providing both spectacle and cautionary tale to eager onlookers and press alike. Adultery and its attendant behaviors have created a popular culture and cottage industry all their own, driving political strategy, press coverage and — on rare occasions — a few positive outcomes.
America is along for the ride — and ready to hear more about the greater implications of infidelity.
“We love it. It confirms our worst fears about politicians and confirms our suspicions,” talk radio host Michael Savage said May 6.
The divorce case of former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and his estranged wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, got under way May 6, detailing the story of his homosexuality, extramarital affairs and newfound religious calling.
And so, with a clatter of cameras and the caterwaul of reporters, McGreevey vs. McGreevey embarked upon yet another leg of a very public journey.
Infidelity is the gift that keeps on giving, in the words of pundits and wags. The roster of straying politicians is ever-plentiful: Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, a Democrat, is refusing calls for his own impeachment from both his own party and Republican lawmakers after admitting Friday that he had an extramarital affair.
The assorted indiscretions of Sens. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, and David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, plus Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick, a Democrat, are among those that have surfaced in recent months broadening the scope of public interest.
Also broadening is the term “infidelity” itself.
Therapists routinely discuss emotional, financial and cyber varieties of “infidelity” among couples who flirt too much, spend money unwisely or go online for their cheating fixes.
The American Sociological Association, meanwhile, has recognized that wives of professional athletes often must cope with “adultery culture.”
Surveys from CNN, the University of California and other sources say about a quarter of men and 15 percent of women have cheated on their spouses.
Some disagree that the nation has devolved. In her 2007 book “Lust in Translation,” author Pamela Druckerman maintains that the nation is willing to accept premarital sex — but “ve- hemently” rejects adultery. A study published in the May issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family finds that attendance at religious services can prevent marital infidelity because it is a meaningful and reliable “shared activity between spouses.”
Still, infidelity is a fixture on the political landscape.
“It’s entertainment, and it seems OK because all these public figures are doing it,” said Ruth Houston, author of “Is He Cheating on You? — 829 Telltale Signs” and founder of the online relationship site www.infidelityadvice.com.
“For politicians, if infidelity doesn’t cost them votes, they don’t think seriously about it. It may be embarrassing, but it just boils down to business as usual. And that’s a very sad reality,” she said.
The McGreevey tale has been unfolding since the couple appeared on camera together in 2004 when Mr. McGreevey confessed and apologized for his cheating ways while his missus stood by him stoically — a proven crisis-management method used by Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton during their own public travails in the White House.
“If you know something bad is coming out, the strategic consideration is to get out front and control it as much as you can. Sometimes the dynamics can change when the event isn’t dragged out,” said Thomas Holbrook, a professor of government at the University of Wisconsin.
“Voters still react to such things, but frankly, there’s also salacious element at work. We think it’s terrible. But we can’t wait for the next episode,” he said.
Indeed, the McGreevey infidelity was episodic: The embattled couple wrote tell-all books within four months of each other, detailing their respective takes on his resignation from office in 2004. His sold; hers didn’t — and the couple continued sniping via assorted broadcast appearances.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer doesn’t get to write his own book — at least, not right away.
Last week, the Penguin Group announced that Fortune magazine writer Peter Elkind and filmmaker Alex Gibney were collaborating on a book and documentary film about the “law-and-order Democrat” — just weeksafterMr.Spitzerannouncedhis intention to step down after cheating on his wife with a prostitute.
“The impact of infidelity on the public is context specific. Spitzer was publicly positioned as reformer. His unfaithfulness had a larger dimension,” Mr. Holbrook said.
Take a lesson from Mr. Spitzer’s successor.
In a pre-emptive strike, just a day after taking office the newly appointed New York Gov. David Paterson disclosed to the press that he had cheated on his wife.
“That worked,” Mr. Holbrook said. “Paterson was aided by the fact this incident was way in his past.”
They fight it out, we watch:
Former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and Dina Matos McGreevey start their divorce trial.