05:55 AM Jun 26, 2009

WASHINGTON - What is it with philandering politicians?

Mr Sanford with his wife Jenny, before he admitted to his affair. AP

Why do men in power - the ones on pedestals - think they are above their constituents and can get away with cheating on their spouses, particularly these days amid intense media scrutiny and when peccadilloes are arguably more politically damaging?

It is a long list of those who thought they could jet off to Argentina, cruise on the yacht Monkey Business, check into a hotel under an assumed name or use an escort service and never get caught, never have to come clean.

These days, the fallout can run the gamut. It can doom a career - former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey - or simply unleash the fury of a special prosecutor leading to impeachment - then-President Bill Clinton.

This was not always the way it was in the United States. There are politicians, presidents even, who did the dalliance dance privately and did not pay publicly: John F Kennedy, Franklin D Roosevelt, included.

No more. It's a different world today. A public with at-your-fingertips Internet has developed an insatiable appetite for scandal.

That makes it all the more inexplicable that these men tempt fate. And, particularly, men with presidential aspirations.

One possible explanation, said Mr Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at City University of New York: "Narcissism is an occupational hazard for political leaders. You have to have an outsized ambition and an outsized ego to run for office."

To be sure, politicians do not necessarily have different reasons for cheating than non-politicians, and they do not necessarily cheat more often.

The difference: "They live their lives more in a fishbowl, and that has responsibilities and costs with it," said Mr Renshon, adding that an adulterous politician does not just betray his family's trust, but he also betrays the public's trust.

Indeed, when politicians get caught, their actions raise questions about their judgment, character and integrity as a leader.

"It does matter in public perceptions," said Mr Stephen Wayne, a Georgetown University government professor who has studied political psychology. When it comes to the highest positions in politics, he said, "we want to figure out who acts as a model for others".

On some level, it is easy to see why they cheat. Mr Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University professor

emeritus of politics, suggested adrenaline as the common denominator, saying that "for some individuals, the excitement of illicit sexual activity might feed the same desire" as "the excitement of politics".

There also is a clue in the kind of people drawn to politics.

These are men who relish seeking approval. These are men who adore getting praise and who often are surrounded by swarms of sycophants. These are men who, in some cases, need to exercise power and who think they are untouchable.

As leaders, these are also the type of men who are likely to break promises, manipulate and cut corners. They probably are big risk-takers. And they are prone to thinking of themselves first.

Just ask their wives, their mistresses or the security details that often are privy to indiscretions.

Not a year seems to go by without a Washington sex scandal, and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty.

Last year, former presidential candidate John Edwards and Mr Spitzer came before the public to admit they erred.

This month alone, it has been Mr John Ensign and Mr Sanford, two Republicans with national ambitions and mentioned as possible 2012 presidential candidates. Those dreams are likely over. AP

From TODAY, World – Friday, 26-Jun-2009; see the source article here.

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