Ever notice how politicians are in fine fettle until they crash headfirst into a crisis of their own making?
That’s what’s happing again on Capitol Hill these days.
When the problem was booze and pills, it was covered up and the “ill” politician would go off to a clinic or some remote location for “well-needed rest,” translation: dry out. There was the drunken, married senator who crashed his car on the way to see his girlfriend. Or the one discovered leading two lives with two families.
The drunks and drug users would go to the hospital for “exhaustion” or a fancy clinic like Betty Ford’s for treatment for “rest and recovery.” Their problems were usually kept secret and they often returned to work
I’ve known prominent members of the House and Senate who were shickers. I ran into a top House leader one morning on the way to my office in the Rayburn Building as he was sipping something out of bottle concealed in a brown bag you only get in one place. One famous senator had a penchant for sherry and could polish off a bottle before lunch. Some keep small bottles of vodka because the liquor is colorless and odorless and they could pace themselves with small amounts. One would wait until 5 pm and then empty a bottle of wine as visitors watched. Most, in my experience, were not falling down drunks but it did show in their temper, patience, attention span and, most of all, their judgment.
In today’s age of media and madness, the affliction getting the most attention is sex. Not that it is new but in a more prurient past, the media tended to avoid it. Unless it could be used to partisan advantage.
While Congressional Republicans were in high dudgeon prosecuting Bill Clinton for lying about having extramarital sex, two of his highest ranking prosecutors were doing the same thing themselves. Most notably House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), who had cheated on his first wife and was then cheating on his second, and his intended successor as speaker, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana), who then resigned.
Today we have a president who boasted about his serial adultery, his penis size and his propensity for grabbing women’s genitalia. But an “understanding” Republican Congress doesn’t seem to care.
Some of those exposed, like Donald Trump and disgraced Alabama judge and accused pedophile Roy Moore, will brazenly rage in full denial and attack their enemies. Others will try to flee the spotlight. They may say they’re going for treatment of their “sex addition,” or are “spending quiet time with family” to try to repair the personal and political lives they’ve damaged.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), 88, was planning to run for a 27th term next year, claiming to be in fine health. Then the news broke of sexual harassment accusations by at least three women and suddenly his health wasn’t so robust. Certainly his political health took a downturn. After a few days under fire and facing calls from Democratic leaders that it was time to resign, he checked into a Detroit hospital.
“As you know, his health is not the best, is not what it should be,” said his lawyer, Arnold Reed. Now Reed says Conyers will announce his plans “in the next day or so.” What’s going on? It’s his political health that took a turn for the worse, and he’s using his physical health as an excuse to announce his retirement.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) also announced his retirement? He suffered from a case of wiener disease — you can take that in both senses of the word. The conservative Methodist from Dallas-Fort Worth, like Anthony Weiner, the liberal Jew from Brooklyn, was sending out nude selfies that went public on the Internet.
Weiner is now in prison for sexting a minor.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) is groping for a way to save his political career that is very likely to end early thanks to allegations of sexual misconduct. The big question is whether he will resign now or retire when his term ends in 2020. If he has any dreams of running for reelection he should look at the photo of him appearing to fondle a young woman and then imagine it on billboards around his state.
In the latest incident, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called on freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nevada) to resign in the face of accusations of making unwanted sexual advances toward a campaign aide.
The revelations will continue to cascade. While they can produce rapid results in the media and entertainment business, it moves much too slowly in politics. Weiner eventually resigned but Barton is waiting out his term – with full pay and perks – to retire a year from now.
Politicians will tell you they were elected and only their constituents can fire them. Convicted felons can be forced out, but short of that there are steps the Congressional leadership can take for offenders like Barton and Conyers who prefer to brazen it out. They can be stripped of their chairmanships, committee assignments and other privileges like junketeering.
One thing should be done immediately. The Congress must remove the veil of secrecy surrounding charges and settlements of sex and other abuse cases against elected public officials and let taxpayers know what these cover-ups are costing them. It’s called accountability.