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Centrists in the Senate are celebrating their work to reopen the government after a three-day shutdown and hope to build on their momentum to address a host of issues beyond immigration, including health care and...More >>
Centrists in the Senate are celebrating their work to reopen the government after a three-day shutdown and hope to build on their momentum to address a host of issues beyond immigration, including health care and disaster relief.More >>
(RNN) - In the age of round-the-clock media coverage and social media, politicians are losing their "cookie cutter" images and their claims of great family values sometimes ring hollow. They are all too often known for living out the biggest scandals on TV.
Rep. Vance McAllister, who received endorsements and help campaigning from Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, is a good example of when 'kissing up' goes wrong. McAllister, who is married and promotes Christian values, was caught on a surveillance camera passionately embracing one of his married aides, Melissa Peacock. Now McAllister has a new title, 'the kissing congressman' and has been urged to resign like many others before him.
From U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner literally being caught with his pants down to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's antics and illegal drug use, politicians have been found lacking in their claims as faithful husbands and upstanding members of the community.
"Americans love scandals because it is the perfect political irony. We assume that politicians are supposed to be buttoned-up, straight arrows that are moral and forthright. But when politicians get caught doing something illegal or immoral, it violates this perspective and we watch to find out why," said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.
Since investigative journalism changed the way the media gathers and exposes information, politicians have been caught in embarrassing online conversations, lewd behavior, having affairs with women and men, fathering children out of wedlock, entertaining prostitutes, sexually harassing staff and committing tax fraud all while campaigning to earn the trust of the public.
Even in the 1700s, politicians were being exposed for covering up infidelity, money laundering and dirty business deals, which shows how scandals play a big part in politics. The public's awareness of the competition and ongoing fight for each candidate to stand-out during elections has led to a certain level of understanding and forgiveness for any deceitful ways. It's simply what the people expect from these powerful men.
Pop culture feeds off the tantalizing details for the amusement of the masses. Late-night shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallonmake serious scandals seem more lighthearted and humorous. ABC's hit TV show Scandal, starring actress Kerry Washington who plays the president's mistress, creates its own fictionalized version of a White House scandal for the entertainment of a big audience.
"We often know very little about the private lives of politicians. When scandals hit and we discover seedy details about our elected officials, it heightens our interest. This is what makes these events such compelling TV drama," Rottinghaus said.
The 24-hour news cycle, cable TV news, and social media like YouTube and Twitter have made it possible for anyone to watch and rewatch the many mishaps and rants of politicians.
Some politicians involved in scandals disappear from the public spotlight, such as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, while others don't suffer ill consequences, or even make comebacks to varying degrees of success.
"Scandals may ironically benefit some candidates and some elected officials. In a paper I have coming out, I found that there is a small increase in support for nonincumbents running for president in an open primary. The publicity from the scandal helps them become more recognizable in a crowded political field," Rottinghaus said.
As the media serves up scandals, America continues to feed off of them. As the news story becomes more common and more highly publicized, the idea of a perfect candidate has been diminished. Deceitful acts have jump started the careers of many powerful family men by helping them gain fame and celebrity status.
For example, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who admitted to an extramarital affair, won the GOP nomination and subsequently the congressional seat. Sanford beat out his high-profile opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister to comic Stephen Colbert and became an example of a politician who found electoral success after a scandal.
One of the nation's biggest scandals involved former President Bill Clinton and his mistress, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton vehemently denied the affair with the famous line, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," and then was proved to be lying. He retracted his statement with apologies to his family and the public, as many other politicians have done before going on to live out successful careers.
This has become an era of acceptance and scandal, Rottinghaus said.
He explained how this may be what the people want, and some politicians are just capitalizing off of it.
"I find that scandals have a way of helping governors sharpen and expand their political agenda. These are both odd byproducts of scandal, but make some sense, considering that scandals may help advertise the positions of these candidates to voters who might not have been paying attention," Rottinghaus said.
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