Sex, Lies & Trousergate: Letter to a Political Husband

Last week former general David H. Petraeus was a war hero reinvented as the Director of the CIA; this week he has resigned his position and is more famous for committing adultery than for being a four-star general. His sudden fall raises the perennial question: Why do men in power keep cheating, especially in this, the 21st century, when technology and the 24/7 news cycle practically guarantee that they'll not only be caught but memed without mercy? Is it just a dangerous combination of high-test narcissism and boys-will-be-boyness? In 2008, in the wake of l’affaires Edwards and Spitzer, MORE asked six smart writers for their sharpest takes on the psychology of the high-level cheater. Why does he do it? Will he ever learn? And are we wrong to care?

by Judith Thurman
lipstick on collar photo
Photograph: iStock

From MORE'S 2008 package on politicians who cheat. Darling, if you're going to run, please read this first!
The last prominent free-love candidate for president of the United States was a feminist, Victoria Woodhull, who ran—and lost—in 1872. Times may have changed, but in America there is still no free love for candidates.

If you are running for high office yourself, don’t worry. However qualified you are, you’ll be too busy trying to prove your competence on one hand and your unthreatening femininity on the other to even think about sex.

However, if your husband plans to run, an ounce of prevention may help you avoid a Silda Wall Spitzer moment in the spotlight. Slip the following position paper (no pun intended) into the case of any adult video or DVD in his sock drawer and he’ll be sure to get the message.

Dear Candidate:

Congratulations on announcing, and good luck with your campaign! Please note that from today on, your _______ (fill in appropriate member nickname; for example, willie, weenie boy, pajawa, snoopy-dog) now belongs to the people of the United States.

Governing our great country can be stressful, but it is also lots of fun, so you shouldn’t need any extra fun involving an exchange of DNA with interns, hookers, troopers, bundlers, pages, models, masseurs, burlesque artists, Mafia molls, blonde lobbyists, videographers, political groupies or anyone with 38DDD breast implants who is also named Fanne. (In case you’re too young to know: Fanne Foxe, the self-described Tidal Basin Bombshell, helped bring down Congressman Wilbur D. Mills in 1974.)

If you still feel the need, just remember that there will come a time when no one will remember who you were or care what you do—not even the vice squad at the Minneapolis airport—and you will be able to cheat on your wife with impunity (unless she is running for your former office).

The good news is that whatever takes place in your conjugal bed is nobody’s business, unless you make kinky demands that cause your spouse to freak out and a judge to unseal your divorce papers. (Perhaps you remember Jack Ryan, the ultraconservative Republican from Illinois. He thought some hot, public sex in a swingers’ club with his reluctant wife, the lovely actress Jeri Ryan, qualified as a “romantic getaway.” Voters disagreed; they elected Barack Obama.)

What if you have that one-in-a-million marriage from which the sizzle has long since evaporated? Discreet self-gratification is your safest option. But many candidates do not appear to have learned the lesson that self-gratification means just that: you and pajawa. It does not include any helpers under your desk! Bill Clinton’s Oval Office gratification with Monica was ultimately most gratifying to supporters of George W. Bush.

 We know how hard you have been working for the country and that you firmly believe public service is its own reward (apart from the travel junkets, housing and other perks, the constant ego massage, the health and pension benefits your constituents can only dream of, the huge lecture and consulting fees once you retire, and the aura of invincibility that makes power such an aphrodisiac).

And yes, it’s a shame that you cannot, under any circumstances, however twisted your narcissistic rationale, exploit your exalted position to get a little nookie on the side. But remember where you went into politics. Hint: It isn’t the State of Denial.

Judith Thurman, a New Yorker staff writer, is the author of Cleopatra's Nose, now out in paperback.


Susan Cheever: Is Sex Addiction to Blame?

Patricia J. Williams on sex, scandal and the danger of these distractions.

Katha Pollitt on why hypocrisiy is the bigger scandal.

Daphne Merkin on America's "national naïveté."

Naomi Wolf on why politicians shouldn't be ashamed to seek therapy.

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First Published Wed, 2009-04-29 19:57

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