Study Guide

Legislative Branch (Congress) - Sex Scandals in Congress

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Sex Scandals in Congress

  • Many members of Congress have been busted for various kinds of sexual misconduct
  • What explains this behavior?

On 11 June 2007, Idaho Senator Larry Craig—a conservative Republican who had long campaigned on a traditionalist "family values" platform—was arrested for soliciting gay sex from an undercover policeman inside a public restroom in the Minneapolis airport. While the seeming hypocrisy of Craig's actions surely would have become big news in any case, the incident only became truly legendary fodder for late-night comedians and snarky individuals everywhere when the police report revealed that Craig had attempted to explain away his behavior as nothing more than the result of using "a wide stance" while on the toilet.

Larry Craig's "wide stance" excuse didn't go over very well in the criminal justice system, but it did cause him to be mocked by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, among (many) others. Still, unintentional comedic value aside, Craig's actions were hardly unique among the people's representatives in Congress.

The history of congressional sex scandals is long and sordid. The careers of some of the legislative branch's most powerful figures have been laid low by, well, getting laid (or trying to get laid) in various low-down and dirty ways.

There was Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who seemed a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 until he was photographed frolicking with a woman who was not his wife aboard a yacht called—hilariously—Monkey Business.

There was powerful Arkansas Senator Wilbur Mills, who seemed like the most old-fashioned of old-fashioned southern conservatives until he got busted in 1974 for driving drunk near the DC Tidal Basin with a stripper named Fannie Foxe riding shotgun.

There was Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, who was forced to resign from office in 1995 after being accussed of sexual harrassment by dozens of women, most of them former staffers or lobbyists who had worked with him during his 27-year Senate career.

Then there was Congressman Tom Evans of Delaware, whose "girlfriend" Paula Parkinson was a well-connected (and well-endowed) lobbyist known to be willing to trade sex for political favors in the 1980s.

Then there was Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a family-values man busted for hiring prostitutes in 2007.

Then there was Florida Representative Mark Foley, who resigned in 2006 after getting caught sending lurid text messages to teenage boys working as congressional pages. Foley was not the first congressmen to get himself into trouble with Congress's teenage volunteers; in the early 1980s, both Dan Crane (a straight Republican from Illinois) and Gerry Studds (a gay Democrat from Massachusetts) were reprimanded for engaging in sexual relationships with 17-year-old pages working in the Capitol. Apparently sexual misconduct knows no bounds of either party or sexual orientation.

And the list could go on and on. Names like Mel Reynolds, Gary Condit, Ted Kennedy, Arthur Brown, Brock Adams, Allen Howe, Fred Richmond, Jon Hinson, and Ken Calvert all deserve their places alongside Larry Craig in the "wide stance" hall of shame.

But why has sexual misconduct in Congress been so common? Why have so many of these powerful men risked their reputations and careers to engage in such seemingly outlandish sexual escapades? Is there something about Capitol Hill's culture of influence-peddling that leads congressmen to treat sex like just another kind of lobbying? Or is this simply a case of power corrupting, of powerful individuals coming to believe that they are above the law and above common standards of morality?

It's hard to offer any kind of definitive answer to these questions. The only thing we can be sure of is that Larry Craig will not be the last congressman or senator to make a complete fool out of his self in a Washington sex scandal. Hopefully he'll be the last to blame it all on a "wide stance," though.

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