Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

Sen. John Ensign & 10 Best (Worst) DC Sex Scandals

5 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size

Nothing gets Washington atwitter (old-school atwitter, not Twitter) like a good sex scandal.

In the real world, people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or the space shuttle exploded. In D.C., we remember where we were when we watched the Gov. Jim McGreevey train-wreck of an "I am a gay American" press conference, or heard of Sen. Larry Craig's "wide stance" while on the toilet.

So when Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) announced late Tuesday that he'd had an extramarital affair with a staffer, D.C. was buzzing like we'd all had an extra-shot latte.

Excitement waned, though, when initial details of Ensign's marital infidelity suggested a garden-variety sex scandal. I realized then that the worst part of the story is that sex scandals are so commonplace in politics that a sitting senator announcing he cheated on his wife with a co-worker is not that shocking. It seems a sex scandal has to find fresh new angles (a la Mark Foley or Gary Condit) just to keep our interest.

The larger moral issue is that extramarital affairs have become more acceptable to Americans, which I blame on Bill Clinton. It's still shocking to me that Clinton would have the arrogance to carry on a sexual affair with an intern in the White House. His deficit of morals, disregard of marital vows and disrespect for the office of the presidency forever shifted the nation's views of acceptable sexual behavior for public officials. In the post-Clinton era, the Gary Hart cheating scandal seems downright quaint.

Once the Clinton intern scandal broke, we heard every gross detail of his oral sex in the Oval Office. In fact, the Clinton affair was so over-the-top (but under the desk) and so detailed (remember the blue dress?) that Americans became forever numb to the sex-scandal shocks. (And no, I don't blame Ken Starr or congressional Republicans for making the details public; if Clinton had not had the affair in the first place, there would obviously have been nothing for his critics to investigate and divulge.)

One thing I can't tell you, though, is why it seems that most of the politicians caught in sex scandals tend to be fellow Republicans. We think of ourselves as the party of family values and yet our guys are screwing around; that's embarrassing.

But like I said, both Ds and Rs now need a unique or somehow more salacious angle to get any sustained attention for a sex scandal. So below is my ranking of the best/worst sex scandals in the post-Clinton era, based on the excitement level of jaded D.C. insiders:

1. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) for the "wide stance" excuse, the married-but-secretly-gay possibility, and the details of the bathroom stall.

2. Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) whose instant messages to boys were so icky we couldn't stop reading.

3. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D-N.J.) for the wife who stood at his side during the press conference (until the book came out) and the unforgettable "I am a gay American" line.

4. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-N.Y.) because Mr. Rectitude was a hypocrite who had paid for a hooker.

5. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) for claiming he cheated on his wife only when her cancer was in remission and for apparently letting a loyal campaign aide pretend to be his girlfriend's baby daddy.

6. Former Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) for the 911 calls and police reports that alleged he'd choked his mistress, which Sherwood denied.

7. Former Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) for his secret second family.

8. Former Senate candidate Jack Ryan (R-IL) for the pre-election bombshell that derailed his senate race and gave the country President Obama: Ryan's ex-wife reportedly accused him of trying to make her go to sex clubs, according records in the couple's divorce file. He denied the accusation.

9. Former Rep. Ed Schrock (R-VA) for an allegation by a gay activist that the congressman placed gay personal ads.

10. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) for his phone number in the D.C. Madam's black book and his admission of "sin".

Ensign and his affair, in other words, didn't even make the list. So while almost everyone on the above list has the word "former" preceding their titles, I don't think Ensign will step down. But is it good or bad for the country that this sex scandal is unlikely to end his political career?

Follow me on Twitter: EmilyMiller_DC

Filed Under: Woman Up
Outbrain - The Most Trusted Content Discovery Platform

Get Your Content Discovered.

Promote your content on premium websites

Learn More ›

Outbrain Amplify:
Get your content discovered

Your content will be promoted on the web's largest and most respected media properties, including, Slate and ESPN. We make sure it's seen precisely when people will find it most interesting.

Learn More

Outbrain Engage: The solution for a modern publisher

Outbrain Engage is a full stack software solution that empowers an entire media organization to more effectively manage its online content and programming experience.

Learn More

The world's largest content discovery platform

We bring together premium publishers and marketers of all sizes (including many of the world's leading brands) into the world's largest and most vibrant content marketplace. Learn more about Outbrain ›

561 Million

The global audience reached by Outbrain each month*

190 Billion

The total recommendations we serve consumers monthly


Of the world’s leading brands use Outbrain

* Audience reach according to comScore, September 2014. Leading brands via Ad Age DataCenter / Kantar Media, 2014.

Andy Blau
We selected Outbrain not only because the revenues were higher than others, but because its engine drives better recommendations than others.
Andy Blau
Senior Vice President, Group General Manager
Time Inc.
Dan Horowitz
It's less about buying traffic than it is about reaching the right people with relevant headlines to get them to your content.
Dan Horowitz
EVP and Senior Partner
Fleishman-Hillard Digital
Katrina Craigwell
Our goal is always to deliver content that adds value to the conversations being held by the end user. Outbrain allows us to do just that.
Katrina Craigwell
Global Manager of Digital Marketing
Bailey Foote
The fact that we’re able to drive these kinds of transactions with consumers at scale and with increasing efficiency has made Outbrain paramount to our marketing strategy.
Bailey Foote
E-commerce Manager
The Line
Neal Moore
You cannot leave it to chance that someone will find and engage with your content. Outbrain can put your content in the midst of the world’s most prestigious publications.
Neal Moore
Zach Zavos
Having links to our content appearing directly on premium publisher sites helped us establish our brand.
Zach Zavos
Conversant Media
Mike Brito
Outbrain is one of those [critical] components helping us deliver the right messages to the right contingent at massive scale and in real time to counter a crisis.
Mike Brito
Group Director

A global footprint of service

We operate offices in 11 global territories and we partner with publishers and marketers in over 55 countries, including the U.S., UK, France, Brazil, India and Japan. Come join us ›

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.

Follow Politics Daily

  • Comics
Featuring political comics by Robert and Donna TrussellMore>>
  • Woman UP Video
politics daily videos
Weekly Videos
Woman Up, Politics Daily's Online Sunday ShowMore»
politics daily videos
TV Appearances
Showcasing appearances by Politics Daily staff and contributors.More>>