I will make you a deal.
As it happens, the Brazen Narcissist Horndog Politician on my brain right now is Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who has just confessed, in an almost admirably gut-spewing manner, that the trail he'd just been on was not rigorous and Appalachian, but amorous and Argentinian. But not too long from now, Sanford's ritual mortification will, God willing, have receded. Then someone else's—perhaps your own—will take its place, just as Sanford's has replaced John Ensign's, which replaced John Edwards', which replaced Eliot Spitzer's, which replaced Jim McGreevey's, which replaced Bill Clinton's—not that anyone could ever replace Bill Clinton in the Brazen Narcissist Horndog department.
Anyway, you aren't busted yet, but given your astonishing knack for combining hubris and hypocrisy, you will be. And we both know what—notwithstanding Sanford's emoting—will almost certainly happen then. You will go on TV to express contrition, insist that this is an aberration, venerate your wife, and screw the other woman, this time by dismissing her as a mistake. Your political enemies will express shock and horror, despite the fact that they hear some version of this exact tale several times a year. Friends and pundits will invoke femmes fatales from Sally Hemings to Monica Lewinsky. Everyone, including the media, will trash the media for being so intrusive, petty, dirty, vindictive, and out of touch with what really matters to real Americans. And real Americans will gobble up every salacious detail.
Enough. Here's the deal, straight from one of the reporters who will tell your story. I will count or discount your role as a family man in my coverage to the exact degree that you count or discount it in your public account of yourself.
You want reporters to treat your family as off-limits? Don't use your wife and kids as campaign props. You don't want the press to draw a connection between your private and public lives? Quit drawing that connection every chance you get, by telling us how Ellie made you care about children, or how Jeannie and Little Jeannie would never let you hear the end of it if you voted against a woman's right to choose. You want people to ignore the scoop on your shenanigans and focus on the economy and the war in Iraq? Next time People magazine wants to do a spread on your happy home life, decline on the grounds that we really ought to focus on the economy and the war in Iraq.
Not, you understand, that it has to be an all-or-nothing, black-or-white kind of arrangement. Based on your emphasis—the florid videos you do or don't release; the hand-holding interviews you do or don't give; the public appearances your wife and kids do or don't make with you or for you across the country—I will treat your personal life as if it matters not at all; just a bit; at least as much as anything else, or any variation thereof. It's entirely up to you.
Look, as far as I am concerned, your home is your castle, even if that home is the White House. You dig the moat, and I'll gladly stay on the other side. But the more you invite me in, the more I am going to look around. And, based on how you behave and with whom, I just might feel perfectly free to ask: "Hey Ozzie, does Harriet know about the hookers?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- The best books we read in 2014
- How I lost all my money
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
Subscribe to the Week