Politicians and the scandals that define them

Melissa Johnson, Writer

Former congressman Anthony Weiner was caught in a public scandal after he sent a sexually suggestive picture of himself and Anthony Jr. (as well as his toddler son) sprawled across a bed to a seemingly random woman on Aug. 28.


This is actually the politician’s third sex scandal since 2011, all of which involve lewd pictures Mr. Weiner sent to random women. The former New York congressman and newly wed husband to longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin initially denied the scandal after accidentally posting the picture to his Twitter feed with the caption,”Someone just climbed into my bed.” He then took to Twitter to deny the sext allegation stating someone had hacked his account.

He then deleted his Twitter account and refused to comment further. The Huffington Post credits him with reviving “The Congressional Sex Scandal,” as if it’s one of America’s great political traditions.

In a way it is.

While someone hacking your social media profile to post sexually suggestive photos of you may not be as common an occurrence as Mr. Weiner suggests, political sex scandals seem to be as inseparable as female celebrities and leaked nudes. Mr. Weiner is far from the only politician to be caught in such an unflattering situation.

Most people remember President Clinton’s fling with Monica Lewinsky back in the late nineties, but anecdotal evidence suggests that even figures such as Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. were caught with their pants down.

In more recent memory, Michigan State Rep. Todd Courser was forced to resign from office in September 2015 for covering up an extramarital affair with his colleague Cindy Gamrat.

What is it about politics that attracts this kind of scandal? Why are politicians seemingly magnets for such lewd media debauchery? One answer is simple: they are human.

Not that humanity is a bad thing mind you. We’re all just human, capable of both great and not-so-great things. But consider this: if Anthony Weiner was just the guy who lived down the street, would anyone care about his private life? Would anyone in Washington be up in arms about his poorly targeted sexting? Probably not.

Politicians and other prominent people in power are framed with  a particular archetype with specific expectations attached to them like flag pins. It’s normal life if Anthony Weiner does it. It’s scandalous if Congressman Weiner does it. Generally speaking, we have an idea in our collective heads about how people in power are supposed to act.

According to this collective thought from society: Leaders are smart and professional and do absolutely nothing wrong, until they cheat on their wives and suddenly have to tell the press that they did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Cognitive dissonance is a heck of a pill to swallow, and we generally don’t take it well. But it does make for good news. To say that a bit of media bias doesn’t also show up to the party is a bit inaccurate.

In the end, explanation is not justification and this kind of frat boy behavior has its own set of consequences no matter who performs them. But I think our reaction to and our continued interest in the private scandals of people in power is a reflection of our own desire to search for the gritty humanity in others, even those we place on a pedestal.