(title cf. Brainiac)

The American fascination with the dongs of our elected officials is hard to take. On one hand I can see why the average moralistic (and probably hypocritical, but that's another story) voter would consider extramarital shenanigans to be conduct unbecoming a public official. Anthony Weiner can testify to the consequences, as can John Ensign, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Vito Fossella, and so many others (although the occasional curious case, like David "Senator Hookers" Vitter, does get a pass for no readily apparent reason). On the other hand, why can't Americans find the same sense of deep moral outrage over Congressional corruption and malfeasance unless it involves the wang?

Yes, the occasional high profile corruption bust happens when an elected official practically gets caught holding giant sacks of money with dollar signs on them (William Jefferson, Duke Cunningham, Operation Tennessee Waltz, etc). But for the most part sex scandals are career enders whereas all manner of trading influence and favors for campaign contributions or schemes that line the Congressman's own pockets is usually greeted with a shrug. I mean, hey, Joe Lieberman may be little more than a paid shill for AIPAC, the financial industry, and insurance companies, but he doesn't cheat on his wife. What a guy. Sure, John Cornyn would support legislation to allow energy companies to strip mine Arlington National Cemetery, but we've never seen his penis, have we? Class act!

Most Americans are far too young or uninterested to remember the Abscam scandal from 1978-1981. The FBI employed the services of a professional con man (which I believe is the plot of a TV show now) to engineer a sting to catch corrupt elected officials. An undercover FBI agent posed as a mysterious Arab sheik who offered large sums of money in exchange for political favors – in this case, granting him legal asylum in the U.S., soliciting wealthy investors for a foreign investment scheme, and helping the "sheik" illegally transfer his fortune into the U.S. To their credit, some members who were approached either declined to meet with him or directly rejected offers of a bribe. Some weren't that bright. Five members of the House and a Senator (Harrison Williams of New Jersey) were indicted and, believe it or not, actually went to prison.

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and suppose that the FBI would actually do something like this today: What percentage of Congress do you think would take the bribes? What percentage do you think would spurn a bribe but accept something like campaign contributions, favors for family members, or other less obvious gifts? What percentage would, as South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler did during Abscam, say "No. Wait a minute. What you are suggesting may be illegal," leave, and immediately contact the FBI? More importantly, what portion of the voting public would be as up in arms about this kind of behavior as they are about "sexting"? Hell, unless the FBI happened to catch the exact same number of Republicans and Democrats the whole thing would probably be written off as a partisan witch hunt.

It's heartening, I suppose, that the voting public is willing to hold people like Anthony Weiner responsible for their behavior. So hooray, we are capable of caring. Now if only we could start holding them accountable for something that actually matters.

26 thoughts on “NOTHING EVER CHANGES”

  • I think it's shadenfreude for self-righteous hypocrites. Most Real American mouth-breathers can't fathom the circumstances surrounding real political corruption involving bags of money and influence on policy and choose not to learn about them, but they've all thought about committing adultery. I'd imagine e-cheating is an oddly exciting subject for a lot of them.

    The Vitter issue is a stumper. Every well-informed person with whom I've discussed the Weiner matter has mentioned it, and aside from basic IOKIYAR, no one's explained it. Maybe religious-right Louisianans get more leeway than cable-news jerkoffs from Queens.

  • Agreed – Americans feign outrage when a guy tweets his wang but see nothing morally unconscionable about a congress passing tax cuts for the richest Americans at the expense of everyone else.

    Why? Because scandals are entertaining. Some cultures produce great art, literature, scientific advances – our culture's most salient product is scandals. It's an ongoing game we play in which the media, the public and public figures are all knowingly complicit. A public figure does something "scandalous," this person is shamed publicly and falls from grace. Most often, the public figure is allowed to rehabilitate himself (see Spitzer, Elliot), because we were all never really truly outraged in the first place and, anyway, we also get a kick out of comeback stories. And so this tiresome cycle repeats itself ad nauseum. We designate a category of behavior "scandalous" (extramarital sexts, etc.) and then all enjoy a good scandal when a public figure engages in that behavior.

  • I'm sure being a Republican, and stubborn enough to refuse calls for his resignation helped Vitter stay afloat until no one cared anymore. But more importantly, Vitter's from a state that long ago set the standard for career-ending scandal at getting caught with 'a dead girl or a live boy,' and where "Vote for the Crook, It's Important' was a winning campaign slogan. (I don't know if it's better or worse that those two examples come from the same recently-paroled former governor)

    Louisianans do not give a shit about their politician's ethics, and they weren't going to start just because of a little diaper fetish/prostitution scandal. If he were from anywhere else, he'd probably have been toast.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Next you will start to decry the fact that congress is on dole as a whole, that they all work for the bankers and the other rich.

    Sex is a great outrage relieve; you must give us something!

  • Atticus Dogsbody says:

    When cocks are involved all actions are evil because cocks come from Satan, when money is involved there can be no evil because Jesus.

    Very simple, really.

  • Sex is binary (married? yes/no) and therefore simple. Existing in evangelical circles as I do I'm used to getting stuck into people over this topic (whether it's non-marital or homosexual) and call Bull on their hypocrisy of not treating *all* sin as sin. The people I associate w are highly educated and can't see their hypocrisy. I'm convinced that church leaders go at the sex issue is that it's low hanging fruit.

    While money, well we're all just pre-millionaires aren't we? Ask any evangelical minister and they'll tell you nothing draws the ire of a congregation like a good money talk.

  • Who was outraged by this whole thing? I have yet to meet anyone in the real world who cares about the weiner thing. (I don't have a TV, so mainly all I hear is the blogosphere lamenting the stupidity of media coverage.) On the other hand, just about everyone in the real world (all across the political spectrum) is disgusted by the corruption in DC.

    I think the main source of political enthusiasm in this country is the (usually temporary) belief that your guys are slightly less corrupt than the other guy. The main source of political apathy is the sense that they're all corrupt.

  • People get worked up over this and not other corruption for the exact same reason that they got worked up over Hot Coffee: In a game that is entirely about being a gansgter and committing crime, the greatest moral failing is that you can see a very badly-pixellized nipple.

    Americans are sexually repressed. That's it. Full stop. Religious dogma that forbids almost all sexual acts as sinful is embedded deep into the nation's psyche. Children are not raised with lessons about how corruption and complex money laundering schemes are evil — they are raised, almost from birth, with the "SEX IS EVIL DAMNIT" message being pounded into their heads. It leaves them deeply afraid of most forms of sexual expression, and makes for great entertainment watching someone else fall because of something sex-related. "A-ha! *I* was brought up better than that, look at how smart I am!"

    It's sort of an extension of the anti-intillectual push. Watching those with fancy book-learnin' fail because they just don't have the good 'common sense' that sex is evil, pshaw!

  • Mr. Prosser says:

    I think John is on to something here. Perhaps it's just that using prostitutes and cyber flashing is easy to understand, tax codes and financial regulation is hard.

  • Strangepork says:

    Men are pigs. Give 'em enough power and/or money and they devolve into frat boys.

    As a Porcine-American, I protest being compared to a frat boy.

  • Here's my problem with the hand-wringing over political sexytime.

    It's NO different from the sexytime shenanigans that go on anywhere else in our society. And politicians are no different from anyone else. If they weren't getting it on in the state house or U.S. Congress they'd be getting it on in their jobs at home.

    Human beings are very sexual. Denying that probably makes them act out even more inappropriately. America needs to quit acting so squeamish about this stuff. We'd all be a lot better off.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Personally, I don't give a shit. Adultery, last time I checked, is not illegal. As long as they remain within the bounds of the law, what they do is between them and their spouse.

  • Bribes. If you want to bribe a politician, you need only form a PAC or lobby, no? You'll get knocked if you don't play by the rules, but there are perfectly legal ways to peddle power and profit to politicians while still nominally engaging in protected petition.

    Did anyone read that CNN interview with Daniel Ellsberg? The money line: "All the crimes Richard Nixon committed against me are now legal." Ellsberg leaked a huge government study on Vietnam to the press in 1971, and was charged as a spy. Those charges were dropped when government misconduct (wiretapping, etc.,) was discovered. Nixon and the Mario Bros. wouldn't need to engage in B&E these days, of course.

    But I agree that people have an easier time identifying their position on sex than trying to understand the constitutionality of the Patriot Act. (See also: Why Johnny Sucks At Democracy.) The madness of it all is that rules, regs, and Acts are facts. Even if subject to interpretation, they're all on paper. Whereas opinions about sex are just that: opinions. Fluid opinions, even for people who proclaim themselves moral absolutists.

    I admit, I do mock incriminated Conservatives relentlessly, but that's only because I loathe their brand of hypocrisy. You don't get to fly the Christian Family Values flag while cheating on your second wife with your third mistress; you don't get to deprive gays of rights while hiring rentboys; you don't get held to a different, lower standard when you have voiced outrage over someone else's misbehavior. If you are a live-and-let-live guy, making an ass of yourself without breaking the law is between you and your wife. (Or wives. Or husband. Or what you will.)

  • This all is a rancid holdover from America's Puritan/Calvinist past: Sex? EWWWW! Money–hey, whatever. We'll give it a pass….

    Yes, nothing stirs up public hysteria here like a sex scandal (never mind the REAL morals of Americans–oh, speaking of that, what I find interesting about our popular culture is how it's perfectly OK to show women's boobs everywhere, in every media, barely covered by the sheerest material, stiff nipple showing under the cloth–but show an honest bare boob, and the public goes into hysterics of stern morality…)

    But somehow, the attitude seems to be that it's sorta OK if the scandal is all about money–hey, isn't that what Life In America is all about, makin' bucks, never mind how you make 'em?

    Never mind that the politicians who sell us out for money do far more harm to the public good that the ones whose wicks go wandering in inappropriate directions….

  • Radical Scientist: It's not that Vitter's constituents gave him a pass, but that his party gave him a pass. The very same Repugs who are calling for Weiner to resign are the ones who kept mum with regard to Vitter. What Vitter did was illegal. But there he is, save in the bosom of the Republican party.

    As far as I can see, Weiner did two bad things: he did a lot of the Tweeting and photo-taking at work. Anyone else doing that crap at work gets canned or at least reprimanded; and he lied about it when first confronted (which is not that bad in my book, but expected), but it is what his party members cannot get past. Because now the story is all about Weiner being naked and it will keep on until ALL the photos are released, which apparently could take a while. He has become a liability and they want him gone.

  • I think the Aussies had it right during the Bill Clinton nonsense when they said they were thankful Australia got the criminals and America got the puritans.

  • I don't think that ordinary Americans care all that much about Weiner's shenanigans, notwithstanding calls for his resignation by the House PTB and all the cackling in the mainstream media. On Twitter, the hashtag #MoreObsceneThanWeiner is trending, and the topics range from Rick Scott's and Scott Walker's assholish behavior to the lack of meaningful healthcare reform and efforts by the GOP to dismantle Medicare.

  • Your rant strikes to the heart of why my response to this "scandal" has been a shrug and perhaps a laugh at the line of "Congressmen Weiner's Weiner". Thanks.

  • Kudos to Larry Pressler.

    A rare politician then, and even moreso now.

    The FBI doesn't do that anymore, because sending agents provocateurs to mosques is more politically popular, and will not offend anyone in the power elite.

  • Bill Murray says:

    @devtob — and by saying that you have pretty much said everything in favor of Pressler in Congress. He has done some good things outside Congress.

  • I have often wondered this also. I think this reflects what journalists are interested in and is probably a cheap form news. My favorite episode of corruption, which is also frivolous, was when a bipartisan group of 11 members of congress crowned Rev. Moon "Ruler of the Universe".

  • Hazel Stone says:

    I keep hoping "lefty dood" blogs like this are going to stop apologizing for the non-consensual BS that Rep. Weiner did. This is not just about cheating or sexting. He was basically flashing random women electronically. I shouldn't have to worry that if I tweet a CONGRESSMAN that I liked his 2 minute speech on the floor that he's going to send me porn of himself.

    Corruption is a big deal. This is also a big deal. You don't have to blow off reasonable concerns from women about this to make your point about corruption.

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