Sex, Substance, and the Fate of Nations

By Meacham, Jon | Newsweek, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Sex, Substance, and the Fate of Nations


Meacham, Jon, Newsweek


Byline: Jon Meacham

You have to give American politics this much: it is not boring. In recent days, a New York Democratic congressman resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct; the lawmaker denied the charges, though he did acknowledge the asexual groping of a male aide. "Now they are saying I groped a male staffer," former representative Eric Massa told Glenn Beck on Fox News. "Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was 'kill the old guy.' You can take anything out of context." In North Carolina, a judge ordered a former John Edwards aide to hand over any copies of an alleged sex tape featuring the former Democratic presidential candidate. Meanwhile, back on the Massa front, the ex-lawmaker accused the White House of driving him from office (he later recanted), and gave us the remarkable image of a nude confrontation between Massa and Rahm Emanuel in the curtainless showers of the House gym.

Then, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the House during a debate over Afghanistan, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island said: "If anybody wants to know where cynicism is, cynicism is that there's one, two press people in this gallery. We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV--We're talking about war and peace--$3 billion, 1,000 lives, and no press! No press!...It's despicable, the national press corps right now."

In Kennedy's formulation, the trivial was trumping the critical, and the media, craven and unserious, were doing the trumping. There is much to this critique (Al Gore makes a compelling case along similar lines in his book The Assault on Reason), but Kennedy should find some comfort in the fact that the people, broadly defined, are closer to his position than they are to the media's. When it comes down to it, voters are more interested in the substance of their own lives than they are in the sex lives of lawmakers they have never heard of before and will not again.

Still, in political circles, you are beginning to hear that it may be 2006 all over again, a year when it was the Republicans who were beset by scandals, and the seamy news out of Washington--a Republican congressman sending sexually explicit instant messages to pages--took on larger symbolic meaning. …

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