June 26, 2009

Why Do Politicians Cheat?

You all are not going to believe this-- the answer is not completely narcissism.

One possible explanation, said 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."

or

Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University professor emeritus of politics, suggested adrenaline as the common denominator, saying, "For some individuals, the excitement of illicit sexual activity might feed the same desire" as "the excitement of politics."

or

These are men who love themselves deeply, need to be recognized and relish 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 sometimes can become drunk from it. These are men who think the rules don't apply to them and who think they're untouchable.

These all sound plausible, but only if you don't look too closely at the details of each case.  These men had obviously different psychological forces at work in their infidelity.

Simple examples: Mark Sanford appears genuinely to have fallen in love (or something) with "Maria," while Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton saw the dalliances as... recreational.  So while narcissism may have explained a single individual's cheating, it doesn't apply to all. 

Some affairs were homosexual.  Sometimes the wife was surprised, sometimes she suspected, and sometimes (as in the case of McGreevey's wife) she was allegedly a participant.

No consistent motivation attributable to "power" or "dominance" or "thrill of the chase" can be generalized here.

Neither is there much to grab onto with the standard variables.  Some women are younger, older, good looking and bad looking. There's no relation to length of time married, or number of prior marriages.

There is, however, one important unifying characteristic of political infidelities that makes them very different from the average joe on AshleyMadison.com: everyone knows these guys are going to get caught.


II.

So instead of asking, "why do they cheat?" ask, "why don't they simply not cheat?"

Seriously consider this question.  Unless we are positing that these men are all addicted to infidelity, or compelled by genetics or voodoo to make that specific gigantic mistake and not others; a mistake which other people can't empathize with-- "he destroyed his career and marriage-- for her?!?!"-- then they should be able to resist the temptation, if for no other reason than self-preservation. 

Neither are these drunken accidents at a snowed in convention hotel.  There was no impulsiveness.  They had plenty of time to consider their actions.  They decided that this was a good idea.

They slowly and methodically planned it, and did it.  For them, there is no element of resisting temptation. They didn't do it despite themselves; they did it because, in their mind, this was worth it.

III.

In other words, there must be some other benefit beyond the sex act itself. 

An interesting paper explored the reactions to infidelity.  As you might expect, men would be more upset by a woman's sexual infidelity and women by a man's emotional infidelity.

However, when men and women are first asked to contemplate their own death, sexual infidelity was even more important to men, and even less important to women:


death and infidelity.JPGFor men who already place a high value on having sex, being reminded of one's mortality makes the sex even more important.

None of these guys think they are dying, but they do see themselves at the end.  You might think being Governor is a major accomplishment, but he sees the next 40 years as all downhill.  What's he going to do after Governor?  Last July he was meeting with McCain to be VP-- we know how that turned out.  His life is over, and he's only 49.

IV. 

An identity crisis of sorts kicks in around 40: "for the past forty years I was the guy trying to become something.  Now what am I going to be?  The guy who was something?"

When your memories outnumber your dreams, you're getting old.

Meanwhile, your wife doesn't particularly want you to grow, or change, or evolve.  She wants you status quo.  Even innocuous attempts at change are met with bemusement: "oh, God, he suddenly decided he wanted to take up biking, and he bought all this biking equipment..."

But an affair lets you be someone new, and get seen by new eyes.  Politicians spend so much energy maintaining a constant public persona.  And their family also has a constant perception of them.  And now suddenly someone else sees you differently, and you even get to penetrate her...
 
Having an affair is a creative act.  No one leaves an affair saying, "oh God, I feel ten years older."  When someone sees you, experiences you, in a different way, you feel more alive.  It's all illusory, of course, but that doesn't seem to stop people from feeling it.


V.

If I go to Moldova and have a fling with a woman and choose not to put it on my blog, I'm probably going to get away with it.  This is partly because I figure no one is monitoring me,  and partly because I had the common sense to go to Moldova where I am absolutely sure no one is monitoring me.

Yet these men take absolutely no precautions against detection.    Why don't they go to Moldova? They don't even take ordinary precautions.   Instead, these men are ludicrously indiscreet, clumsy, and careless.  They may as well write an op-ed in the Times-- "I will now penetrate this hooker."    Who disappears for days and doesn't even attempt an alibi?  Who emails their mistress from their government email account?  Who uses airport bathrooms for anything?  Who names a boat "Monkey Business?"

Neil Thigpen, a political science professor at South Carolina's Francis Marion University, said that judging from Sanford's behavior, the governor wanted to be caught.

"I almost feel like he did this whole thing with the intention that it would all come out," Thigpen said. "It's like the guy wanted it out. Why did he draw attention to himself in this fashion? Even with rudimentary scrutiny, he should have known something would bring it to a head."


Not quite caught; but if so much of their identity comes from public perception of them, then "getting caught" is external validation that they are still alive, still growing.  Cheating wasn't the point: getting caught was the point.   It is trying to show the world that you are actually what this new woman thinks you are.   It is a form of exhibitionism.  It's a four year old: "look what I can do!"

And when they apologize on TV, that isn't analogous to pleading guilty at a criminal trial.  It's analogous to releasing a sex tape.  "In case there is anyone out there who wasn't aware of what I can do, let me now apologize for it, slowly, over the next few months, in every possible media outlet I can use."

------------

This is unrelated to the above, and I have no idea what to make of it, but I made an odd discovery about the famous political sex scandals since Clinton:


SC Governor Mark Sanford (R)  5/28/60

Nevada Senator John Ensign (R)  3/25/58

Idaho Senator Larry Craig (R) airport bathroom nonsense. 5/28/60

Louisiana Senator David Vitter (sigh, R) admits to having been involved with an escort service. 5/3/61

Senator John Edwards (phew, D) 6/10/53

Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) 6/10/59

Gov. David Paterson (D) 5/20/54

Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) 8/6/57

Bill Clinton (D) 8/19/46

Newt Gingrich (R) 6/17/43

Rudy Guiliani (R) 5/28/44

Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston 4/30/43

OK Rep. Gary Condit 4/21/48


All of these men were born in late spring-summer.  No fall or winter births?  Any astrologers want to tell me why 8/13 are Geminis?





Comments

"All of these men were born... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 11:39 AM | Posted by V: | Reply

"All of these men were born in late spring-summer. No fall or winter births?"

What's your control group? Politicians? People as a whole? What's their birth distribution?

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In other words, there mu... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 12:04 PM | Posted by Neil: | Reply

In other words, there must be some other benefit beyond the sex act itself.

Is there a Darwinian in the house?

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Why do politicians cheat?</... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 1:50 PM | Posted by Mandy Lawrence: | Reply

Why do politicians cheat?

Because they can!!!

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Enjoy The Onion. It's funn... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 2:31 PM | Posted by CC: | Reply

Enjoy The Onion. It's funny 'cause it's true:
http://www.theonion.com/content/video/congressman_offers_preemptive

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if i believed in astrology,... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 3:34 PM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

if i believed in astrology, i would have guessed scorpio.

your data do point to the mid-life mortality issue.

-here is another aspect: we know these cases because they are public figures. base rates may be the same for politicians, and movie stars, as for those who are not in the limelight.

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It's almost as if the more ... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 3:36 PM | Posted by Andrew Ator: | Reply

It's almost as if the more public the perception of a person becomes, the greater the need for external validation that exists within the person. Weird.

I'm curious. If the psychiatric stance on acting on violence is "don't do it" because acting on thoughts tends to produce mindsets that make it easier to do it later, is this analogous to the golden rule? If so, I just want to know how our species ever learned to use and control fire without first watching someone else fail in the attempt.

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You have teh psychodynamic ... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2009 4:13 PM | Posted by Just me: | Reply

You have teh psychodynamic chops. Do you have a private practice?

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"All of these men were born... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2009 3:21 AM | Posted by Johnny Abacus: | Reply

"All of these men were born in late spring-summer."

Sounds like the end of the fiscal/school year, school being the important part.

Men in this birth-month range generally have good experiences in school as they are physically larger and more developmentally mature than their younger counterparts.

I wish I could provide links to people who claim that the advantage carries over into adult life, but I've lost them. It at least sounds plausible, though.

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No responsible astrologist ... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2009 1:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

No responsible astrologist is going to make a blanket statement about eight of them being Geminis. You would have to look at their birth and transit charts for other similarities, and then look at the birth and transit charts of the other five to see if those similarities also exist there.

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They're narcissists and nip... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 3:49 AM | Posted by Dave Johnson: | Reply

They're narcissists and nipple suckers. They crave the adulation. They crave gratification. Who they are, what commitments they've made-completely irrelevant. It's what men have always done at the point the mind has completely been shut down by the meaninglessness of a self-contrived existence ... let the dick run free. Sure, ruination ensues, but isn't it exciting? Aren't I the center of attention? Isn't this powerful, or gratifying, or really, really real?

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Don't really THAT much in a... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 4:54 AM | Posted by Oink Oink: | Reply

Don't really THAT much in astrology BUT...I do have a Gemini at home and I've often thought about moving him to a nudist camp since it's very hard for him to keep his pants up.

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I'm a Gemini and I'm just t... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 10:23 AM | Posted by Andrea Harris: | Reply

I'm a Gemini and I'm just the opposite -- I don't like running around naked. Well, I'm also in my forties, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. :)

Anyway, back when I used to believe in the astrology nonsense, Geminis were described as "glib, good at lying, could be two-faced." Or something like that -- this is stuff from junior high. I can be glib, but I'm pretty bad at lying. I just don't tell people things -- that's my way of being "two-faced" I guess. Also, I'm not a politician, and I've never had an affair. Then again, boy Geminis are different from girl Geminis.

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I have no idea why I just t... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 11:50 AM | Posted by Andrew Ator: | Reply

I have no idea why I just thought of this, but because they can? Didn't Chappelle cover this in his epic analysis of the Clinton fiasco? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9nl2vKBp-U

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This is an excellent... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 5:29 PM | Posted by Shannon: | Reply


This is an excellent post. Another interesting question is why don't women politicians cheat. The last report of any note of any women in office having to admit to an affair was 10 years ago. I wonder if she's a gemini.

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Perhaps politicians cheat s... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2009 9:11 PM | Posted by CigarShrink: | Reply

Perhaps politicians cheat simply because they have more opportunities to do so. Guys with money and power tend to attract a lot of women. Maybe Frank the Janitor or Jake the Office Drone would cheat just as much as Mark the Politician if they had the chance.

It seems fairly universal that we hold ourselves as morally superior to those who don't share our particular temptations. Most of us would like to think that we'd act sensibly when faced with that temptations that politicians face; the reality, however, is that most of us simply don't have to face those temptations.

I tend to disagree with the assertion that politicians must be doing this for some other reason than the sex. Sex is pretty great, folks.

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Why Moldova? Is it the fact... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2009 1:22 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Why Moldova? Is it the fact that its per capita GDP is $1200 anually, assuring you of an endless supply of girls willing to put out for cheap? Is it the fact that its population is all white makes it likely that you'll find girls who look like your high school classmates you fantasized about?

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it's because Gemini's are d... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2009 2:57 PM | Posted by aqua: | Reply

it's because Gemini's are depressed (or bored, or lonely) half the time amnd manic/hypopomanic(and extremely sexual and "on"...yet a bit lacking in the judgement area, the rest of the time. This is just my own Gemini opinion.

Re: ..."Meanwhile, your wife doesn't particularly want you to grow, or change, or evolve. She wants you status quo"?

I suggest a competing theory: Wwives are begging and praying that their husbands will grow, change and evolve. I did for years would have been faithful for years more if there was even an attempt by my husband to grow and evolve, and communicate. The status quo is too often an excuse for leaving life behind.

I suggest men have affairs, not because their wives won't let them grow, but because they do not know how to talk with their wives about what they want (sexually and otherwise). If they did I bet they'd be surprised by the results.

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> No responsible astrologis... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2009 7:21 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

> No responsible astrologist

This is a joke right?

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> No responsible astrologis... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2009 7:23 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

> No responsible astrologist

This is a joke right?

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<a href="http://web.archive... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2009 9:51 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

http://web.archive.org/web/20080123111631/http://www.astrologicalmagazine.com/
"We regret to announce that due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, the publication of The Astrological Magazine will cease with the December 2007 issue."
-does anyone else find this funny?

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We allow it by voting these... (Below threshold)

July 1, 2009 3:37 PM | Posted by Health Insurance Quotes Guy: | Reply

We allow it by voting these guys in. It's kind of like no one really caring that Manny was on roids.

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Vis a vis late spring/summe... (Below threshold)

July 1, 2009 7:02 PM | Posted by Michael G. : | Reply

Vis a vis late spring/summer births, maybe it's like what happens with hockey players all being fall/winter births, and is a result of their time spent in school. When you're a 5 year old, and your friends all turn 6 several months before you, proportionally, it's like being a 25 year old in a room full of 30 year olds. This fuels insecurity early on, a trend that might be continued later in life, and may lead to a more pronounced midlife crisis that triggers infidelity. I know I'm a neurotic wreck, and I'm born in April.

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From quite a different cont... (Below threshold)

July 6, 2009 12:12 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

From quite a different context, someone else identified the mid life/impending mortality dynamic as fuel for male libido:

"In his biography [i:6b0c9f0d0c]The Ochre Robe[/i:6b0c9f0d0c] Agehandanda Bharati describes how he became a renunciate monk and the advice given by his preceptor.

One thing the mentor told Agehananda Bharati (and I must paraphrase) is that it can be relatively easy to keep vows of chastity when we are young or middle aged, but that when we grow old, lust can flare up and take us by surprise. 'Death is staring you in the face, and your body longs to assert its rights before you die.'

Perhaps a lust for fame may overpower an aging guru, too. After lonely lives as religious aspirants, some may want one last hug, a final kiss before they die.

But perhaps others may be seized with desperation to become famous at any costs, which can be another way to long for love and banish loneliness.
"

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Shannon,women chea... (Below threshold)

July 15, 2009 1:30 PM | Posted by donna: | Reply

Shannon,

women cheat for their ego, like men. If they are pretty famous, that's mostly already taken care of.... plus as women age they don't care so much about sex, especially if they've already had kids.

men just have bigger egos...

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Donna, I'm completely flabb... (Below threshold)

July 29, 2009 2:21 PM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Donna, I'm completely flabbergasted about your comment,"...as women age they don't care so much about sex, especially if they've already had kids."

May I ask what is your base for that assertion? At least in my experience, both with the people I know, and what I've read, that is NOT the case. It may be so with some women - as it may be so with some men. But it certainly isn't true for the majority of women.

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Because in the game of life... (Below threshold)

May 31, 2010 5:49 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Because in the game of life, if you aren't cheating, then you aren't trying...

But you're, correct, sir. The answer is not, entirely, narcisissm.

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