Unless you can catch George Bush in bed with Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice, you’d best ignore proposals to impeach the guy, becauseonly a sex scandal could possibly hold Congress and the public’s attention long enough to get the proceedings started. The fact that Bush lied to get us into war really doesn’t pass the impeachable offense test. But if the commander-in-chief lies about having sex while lying about the war, now there you’ve got a scandal, as Bill Clinton learned when he was impeached. Face it, without a sleaze factor, you just don’t have a case, even though lies about sex are probably the most common of all, whether lies to seduce, lies to cover up an affair, or just plain old faked orgasms. Yet we actually put the president on trial for them, in one of the most bizarre and astonishing political moves ever made.
It wasn’t always like this. Take semen. Can you imagine the word “semen” appearing anywhere in the media in connection with Dwight Eisenhower or Jack Kennedy or Calvin Coolidge, assuming the robotic Coolidge was capable of producing it? Of course not. In fact, presidential semen could not have been mentioned even as late as the Reagan presidency. Where the president’s semen landed was the president’s business, especially when it landed somewhere outside the president’s wife, which it often did. We still enjoyed some measure of discretion about private matters, some sense that private and public life should be separated. The media hadn’t yet accepted tabloid-level snooping, the sexual revolution hadn’t yet made shamelessly open talk about sex acceptable, and discretion hadn’t been torn down by the blabbering of talk shows, pop psychology, and the rise of an army of gossip mongers.
Now you would think that all these changes would have overthrown the basically prudish sexual mores of America, but it turns out that this openness about sex has resulted in an unprecedented prude-fest. After all, people with sexual hang-ups often get their major jollies by peering into other people’s sex lives, prying and prodding and moralizing about other’s sins of the flesh. This gives them nice, safe vicarious sex that they can mask with harping about decadent morals. In the good old days, though, they had to pry harder and work for their thrills. Today, with dirty linen and mouths flapping everywhere, well, it’s just too easy for these perverts, especially when, sexologists tell us, normal people aren’t getting laid any more often than they were 60 years ago when Alfred Kinsey started asking them about it.
The most recent prudefest involved San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s brief fling with his campaign manager’s wife, which frothed up into national news, and which the right-wing media circulated loudly as yet another example of morally corrupt leftist San Francisco values. Now some of those supposedly libertine left-coasters responded to news of the affair with a sanctimony worthy of our puritan heritage, except of course they framed it in modern psychobabble. One politico said that the mayor “ought to resign and seek psychiatric help.” “I hope the mayor gains a sudden and transformative understanding of himself,” another commented. But for the most part, San Franciscans didn’t get caught up in the hysteria, and most letters to the editor saying they couldn’t care less who the mayor slept with, as long as he ran the city competently.
Newsome obviously learned a lot from Clinton, because instead of denying, he promptly admitted his sins, looked grave and sad and apologized: “I am also sorry that I have let the people of San Francisco down.” Of course it doesn’t matter whether he meant it or not. What the voyeurs want is a confession, and they love scenes of repentance. F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been right back in the 1920s when he said “There are no second acts in American lives,” but it’s certainly wrong now. Everybody from treacherous creeps like Oliver North to fornicating televangelists—even homosexually fornicating televangelists–get a second or third act provided they repent conspicuously or even just appear to be suffering for their crimes. Richard Nixon got by with doing time in what the media called his “self-imposed exile,” until they popped him back for another life as an elder statesman.
Anyway, to get back to Bush and Cheney, I became all agitated about this report on the mayor’s indiscretions, and wrote a rude note to the journalists who first broke the news about the affair, urging them to “return to a don’t ask, don’t tell approach to sexual behavior, and keep your banality to yourselves instead of cluttering the news with such inconsequential crap.” They replied in a polite, honest manner:
“Apparently you missed the point. This was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation for a year and a half–and everyone was ready to let it pass until Newsom’s betrayed campaign manager confronted the mayor in his office, then resigned. Then they put out a press statement acknowledging he was leaving for “personal reasons” with City Hall insiders quickly raising the flag about the real reason. So I guess you think we should bury our heads in the sand, and pretend the mayor’s campaign manager simply disappeared?”
To which I responded even more rudely than in the first salvo,
“Frankly, yes, I’d RATHER you bury your head in the sand on trivial sex issues. I really don’t give a rat’s ass if the guy resigned because his wife was being fucked by Newsom, or for that matter if HE was being fucked by Newsom. People resign from jobs all the time, especially in the world of flaks and political hacks. We don’t really need to know why they resign, unless they do it to cover up a major crime. And fucking is not a major crime. I don’t even care If Dick Cheney resigns because he fucked Scooter Libby and Laura Bush and Karl Rove at the same time. But if Dick Cheney resigns because he’s covering up how he fucked my country, then, yes, I need to hear the details.
“I do hope you understand the moral distinctions here, and the cultural history involved, e.g., Roosevelt, Eisenhower, JFK, and Martin Luther King fucked outside of the bounds of matrimony, but they were not forced to endure public scrutiny because, yes, nobody bothered to expose what was essentially nobody’s business.”
Well, yes, I do sort of regret these vulgar, filthy, and intemperate remarks. But are they ultimately as offensive or harmful as reports on the sexual conduct of politicians or detailed public discussions of fellatio in high places?