This week brought two more “shocking” revelations of sexual offenses by prominent politicians.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger admitted to an affair with a member of his house staff, which produced a now-14-year-old child. He and Maria Shriver had just celebrated their 25 year wedding anniversary April 26 when the news came out. Rumors of infidelity and sexual harrassment had dogged Schwartzenegger for years; Shriver famously defended him in 2003, calling him “an A-plus human being”.
In more serious allegations, International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with rape of a hotel maid (along with accompanying charges of forced oral and anal sexual contact and false imprisonment charges) and is now awaiting trial on Riker’s Island. Strauss-Kahn had challenged Ségolène Royal for the leadership of the French Socialist Party prior to Nicolas Sarkozy’s eventual 2007 election as French President and was widely expected to run again in the next election cycle. In an ironic twist, it was revealed that Strauss-Kahn predicted “le fric, les femmes et ma judeite” (“money, women and my Jewishness”) would be his undoing as a candidate for President.
Should we be surprised?
Unfortunately, the sexual exploits of politicians are so common as to be expected, rather than excepted. Depending on one’s political orientation, one can rattle off a series of rather spectacular sexual flame-outs.
Lined up on one side of the aisle: President Bill Clinton; former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer; his successor, David Paterson; former Senator John Edwards; and nearly any member of the Kennedy family.
From the other side: Schwarzenegger; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Senator David Vitter; former Senator Larry Craig; anyone who ever lived at 133 C Street Southeast (“the C Street House”).
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Politicians and sex go together, well, like cigars and fellatio.
Has it always been this way? The evidence strongly suggests “yes”. In a series of articles for Psychology Today collected under the heading “Sex…Power…Scandal”, a group of authors have analyzed the latest cases.
One of the series writers, Laura Betzig, has written a book chapter called “The End of the Republic” which gives a concise and accurate history of the sexual indiscretions of the Roman emperors.
Roman emperors married just one, legitimate wife at a time; but they had sex with as many women as they could afford. Some of those women were freeborn Roman citizens; but many of those women were slaves. Friends, family members, senators, and his praetorian guard brought freeborn wives and daughters to the imperial bed. And on the side, Roman emperors had sexual access to hundreds or thousands of slaves, whose daughters and sons—vernae, or homeborn slaves—filled Latin law, literature, and the imperial civil service: the Familia Caesaris.
This closely models what has been seen in societies of apes and monkeys, primates with which we share a common ancestor. For example, in gorillas, one “silverback male” controls a harem consisting of about a dozen females and his pre-pubescent offspring. Young males, upon reaching puberty, are faced with a stark choice: either strike out on their own, or challenge the silverback for dominance of the harem. It’s no coincidence that the term “silverback” has been applied to a certain type of male who exerts his dominance in the arena of politics or finance. In fact, reports of Strauss-Kahn’s attack sound remarkably like a dominant male exerting force on a subordinate female.
Which, of course, brings us to the basic problem. Sex, politics and power are inextricably linked in human society and culture. Given the ubiquitous nature of sexual conquest in the political arena, perhaps it’s time to accept that politicians will roam, and merely ask that they leave unwilling women and children alone. We would do well to abandon a false pretense of “family values” and instead insist that all sexual encounters by politicians take place between consenting adults.
- Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn Not Guilty! (wmbriggs.com)
- Brand New Details About The Strauss-Kahn Arrest (businessinsider.com)
- IMF Throws Dominique Strauss-Kahn Under The Bus (businessinsider.com)
- Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the silly stereotypes about American and European morals. (slate.com)
- Hotels, Porsches and No Taxes: Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Maddening IMF Perks (newsfeed.time.com)
- Charming No More: Strauss-Kahn Braces for the Wrath of American Puritanism (time.com)
- How the Media’s Getting the Strauss-Kahn, Ensign Scandals Wrong (usnews.com)
- IMF Head Dominique Strauss-Kahn Arrested in New York Sex-Crime Inquiry (politicore.wordpress.com)
- Female employee previously warned about IMF head (salon.com)
- Dominique Strauss-Kahn Denied Bail [Update] (gawker.com)