Feature

Sex scandals: Why disgraced politicians run

Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer—“the fallen golden boys”—are leading in the races for New York City mayor and comptroller.

“A little disgrace never hurt anyone, especially in New York City,” said Connor Simpson and Philip Bump in TheAtlantic.com. Perhaps that’s why the latest poll numbers show that former Rep. Anthony Weiner—best known for tweeting photos of his crotch to women—is now leading the race for New York mayor. At the same time, Eliot Spitzer—who resigned as New York governor in 2008 after getting caught patronizing high-priced prostitutes—is now leading the race for city comptroller. How can this be? Thanks to their nationally publicized sex scandals, “the fallen golden boys” have great name recognition; their opponents are fairly dull, second-tier city officials no one knows. No one really saw this coming, but next year, New York City might be run by two Democrats famed for dropping their pants.

You have to wonder “what makes these guys tick,” said John F. Harris and Alexander Burns in Politico.com. After the national humiliation Weiner and Spitzer brought on themselves, they should have buried themselves in some anonymous do-good work. But the same obsessive hunger that drove these men to “sexual excess and disaster” also makes them seek “public approval and power.’’ They satisfy that hunger by winning elections. For narcissists like Weiner and Spitzer—and for Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Mark Sanford before them—anonymity is agony. New Yorkers don’t have to like Weiner and Spitzer to vote for them, said Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe. Voters might just decide that in ruthless, big-city politics, it’s best to be represented by a politician “so egomaniacal that he’s willing to anger a lot of powerful people.”

Americans may be finally “shifting toward a French-like indifference toward their leaders’ extramarital exploits,” said USA Today in an editorial. In a Gallup poll from a few years back, 46 percent of respondents said it would bother them “not much” or “not at all” if a presidential candidate had an extramarital affair. The risk for voters is that “the more forgiving they become, the more brazen and shameless their elected officials may get.” True, but at least guys like Weiner and Spitzer aren’t boring, said Walter Shapiro in Yahoo.com. After years of partisan gridlock in Washington, voters may crave the mindless entertainment of a summer blockbuster. “And, boy, is New York City politics providing it.”

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