Amer­i­cans are trans­fixed by the low drama of politi­cians who stray

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

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:

As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tos

For­mer New Jer­sey Gov. James E. McGreevey and Dina Matos McGreevey start their di­vorce trial.

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