WASHINGTON -- With reporters shouting and camera flashes exploding before his eyes, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner stood alone on a stage in New York City, trying to respond to every question. But there was no answer for one of the questions:
Why would he send graphic images to women he had met on Facebook and Twitter? How could he not know -- with any number of sex-tainted scandals to guide him -- that it could cost him his career and ruin his reputation as he lied, like so many others, to avoid the embarrassment of getting caught?
"This was a very dumb thing to do. It was a very hurtful thing to do," he said from the stage, tears in his eyes. "If you're looking for some kind of deep explanation for this, I simply don't have one."
Some psychologists, though, say they can explain the steady drumbeat of news about politicians who philander, attempt to seduce, or, as in Weiner's version of what happened, ignore the potential consequences of what he considered harmless frivolity.
In a Los Angeles Times essay last month, Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University, laid out his case that these politicians are type T personalities who thrive on uncertainty and risk, and there is evidence to back that up. Politicians excel at public speaking, often mentioned as a common fear of most people. They also stake their careers on elections, seldom live on a 9-5 schedule and have little semblance of family life.
Add that they are surrounded by admirers who believe in their message, and the opportunity to take such a risk seems easy -- though Farley said many type T's are so confident, they don't see the risks.
Stanley Renshon, an expert on political psychology at the City University of New York, sees politicians' philandering as "an occupational hazard of people in power " who identify themselves and their beliefs with what they see as being best for the nation.
From that viewpoint -- and while surrounded by followers -- they can begin to believe "they are exempt from the rules that govern ordinary behavior, " Renshon said.
And though narcissism and entitlement play a part, he said, many also feel trapped: They see their chances for happiness and power slipping away -- and take risks to keep both.
"There's a widespread feeling in the American public about politicians, in general, gaming the system. This fits into their narrative," said Renshon, whose psychological portrait of the president, "Barack Obama and the Politics of Redemption," is due out next month.
Political sexual shenanigans are as old as, well, homo sapiens.
Mythology paints a picture of Zeus -- the head of the Greek pantheon of gods -- as a willful lothario. Julius Caesar brought Cleopatra to Rome and set her up in a home on one side of the Tiber while his wife lived on the other -- and everyone knew it, said Ronald Mellor, a professor of ancient Greek and Roman history at the University of California, Los Angeles .
"Sexual promiscuity was not that frowned upon," Mellor said. "It's that we're incredibly sanctimonious."
And aware: With the popularity of Twitter and Facebook, people can be lured into thinking they're engaged in a private relationship that, in reality, provides little privacy at all. Friends share tweets with friends and others; photos are passed along.
"We all do silly things, but in the age of new media, we are not well-educated about the consequences," said Karen McDevitt, who teaches new media practices at Wayne State University. "I tell students all the time, 'Privacy does not exist when you're involved in new media."'
Sex scandals don't follow any set of rules or circumstances, of course. The allegations that former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards misused campaign cash to hide his mistress and baby are different from the revelation that former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a child with a woman who is not his wife.
Outcomes, too, are varied: Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal and is regarded as a Democratic statesman. Time will tell whether Newt Gingrich's marriages, on the other hand, are held against him in the GOP presidential nominating season.
What eats at the Rev. Albert Cutie, a Florida Episcopal priest who left the Catholic Church to marry, is the hypocrisy of a public that laps up explicit images and sexual innuendo and then expects purity from elected officials.
Cutie, who has a show airing on select FOX-owned stations starting next month, said he is not sure whether politicians are more prone to straying. But, he said, he does wonder whether the demands on their time, their drive and their constant public view hurt their other relationships.
"I really think, at the end of the day, there's a lot of loneliness in some people," Cutie said. "Ultimately, people are looking for intimacy in their lives. It's unfortunate some people find intimacy in all the wrong places."
He hoped that people wouldn't be so quick to judge -- politicians are just people, too. "It breaks my heart to see us ... judge so harshly," he said.
"Some people find intimacy in all the wrong places."
(c) 2011, Detroit Free Press.
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