Friday, June 17, 2011

The unwritten rules of sex scandals

By the time Anthony Weiner resigned his House seat in shame over dirty texting, the consensus in Washington political circles was glaringly clear: The Brooklyn Democrat was simply, and belatedly, bowing to the inevitable.

But why, exactly, was it inevitable?

Far from clear, the calculus of Washington sex scandals in the wake of Weiner's forced departure is murkier than ever.

Who hangs on, and who walks the plank?

Weiner's congressional colleagues and other longtime Washington observers found themselves fumbling for answers Thursday, highlighting the double standards and situational ethics that govern the capital when it comes to weaknesses of the flesh. Some saw hypocrisy as his career burned in a classic Washington auto-da-fé.

"The informal caucus of congressmen and senators who cheat, flirt or make inappropriate comments to women of any age has not been dented by Weiner's fall," former Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) said in POLITICO's Arena forum. "The exposure rate will continue to turn on arbitrary and unwritten rules, and the sin rate will remain thoroughly bipartisan."

Weiner's sexual antics, to put it mildly, were both improper and wildly indiscreet. But so, too, were the antics of Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who was ensnared in a 2007 prostitution scandal yet managed to preserve widespread support among his colleagues and was reelected to a second term last fall. Even former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) served out his term in relative serenity after being arrested for soliciting another man in the Minneapolis airport.

Weiner, of course, compounded his problems by ostentatiously lying when questions about a lewd photo on his Twitter account came to light. But it is hard to get more ostentatiously untruthful than former President Bill Clinton, who responded to early allegations of his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky by squinting his eyes, wagging his finger and claiming, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."



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