A Brief History
On July 18, 1969, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts, possibly the next Democratic presidential nominee, drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge over Chappaquiddick Creek, killing his passenger, a young woman not his wife. This scandal mixing a woman and booze may well have cost Kennedy a chance to ever earn the Democratic presidential nomination that he felt was his. Many times over the years famous politicians have tainted their legacies by sexual scandal, and here we list 10 of the most egregious and most famous indiscretions.
Today, when surveillance video and cell phone recording capability are rampant, politicians and celebrities are ever susceptible to public scrutiny. In recent months political candidates for President of the United States (2020 election) have been targeted for any hint of sexual impropriety, including former Vice President Joe Biden with his predilection for creepily smelling the hair of women and girls, Senator Kamala Harris for having had an affair with her married boss while serving as a prosecutor in California, and of course, President Trump for his many documented affairs and other sexual peccadilloes, including his alleged association with suspected child abuser Jeffrey Epstein.
Question for Students (and others): What political sex scandal would you place at the top of this list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
10. John Profumo, Sex With Spy.
Profumo was Secretary of State for War in the United Kingdom in the heart of the Cold War when he was discovered to be having an affair with a 19 year old model, Christine Keeler, that just happened to be the mistress of a Soviet spy. Profumo lied to Parliament in 1963, but soon was forced to admit the truth, resigning his post and costing Harold Macillan his position as prime minister. This incident spawned the 1989 movie Scandal, the Andrew Lloyd Weber play Stephen Ward, and the song “Killer Queen” by Queen (about Christine Keeler).
9. Wilbur Mills, Fanne Fox.
Mills was a powerful Arkansas congressman, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1950’s through 1974. He was stopped by US Park Police one night for drunk driving when his mistress, known as Fanne Fox, theArgentine Bombshell, jumped out of the car and into a ditch. The scandal did not cost Mills his seat in congress and he was reelected easily, but when he showed up at the strip joint where Fox was working and held a drunken press conference in her dressing room, he was forced out of his position as Committee Chairman. A year before he died he opened an alcohol rehab center.
8. Moshe Katsav, Rape and Sexual Harassment.
This pillar of the community was born in Iran as Musa Qasab, and was serving as the President of Israel when he complained of being blackmailed by a woman. Investigators found this woman and several others complaining of rape and sexual harassment at the hands of the President. Not able to prosecute a sitting president, prosecutors waited until he left office in 2007. Katsav (of course!) blamed the media for inciting feelings against him, but he was convicted of 2 counts of rape and of obstruction of justice. He would have had more charges, but the statute of limitations had run out on several other cases. He lost an appeal of his convictions and 7 year prison sentence.
7. Mark Foley, Paging the Page.
Another typical hypocrite in office, Foley was a gay bashing congressman that got caught soliciting teenage boys that served as congressional pages and instant messaging sexually suggestive messages to them. The scandal may well have cost the Republican party the majority in the House in the 2006 elections. Foley was also accused of having sex with former pages after they left congress and had turned 18 years old. He blamed his conduct on having been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy, and alcoholism. One or more other Republican congressmen were implicated in the scandal, and senior Republican congressmen were found to have known about the unethical e-mails and done nothing about them, including John Boehner who claimed he notified the House Speaker, but then recanted when the Speaker denied that.
6. Larry Craig, Wide Stance.
Conservative Republican senator from Idaho, Craig is the typical anti-gay rights politician that turns out to have closeted gay issues himself. He got caught in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport bathroom reaching under a bathroom stall in an effort to solicit sex from an undercover policeman. He was arrested for lewd conduct in public and tried to quietly plead guilty to disorderly conduct to make the embarrassment go away. Craig offered a pathetic excuse of having a “wide stance” when he uses the bathroom on the police report, a ridiculous notion. It turns out Craig has been accused of homosexual activities in other incidents, and Craig got into further trouble by improperly using campaign funds for legal bills.
5. Anthony Weiner’s Weiner.
In a scandal referred to by the press as “Weinergate” this outspoken progressive congressman from New York was found to have been sending unwanted “sexts,” sexually oriented messages and photos by cell phone. The married Weiner at first denied the allegations, but then admitted the truth when confronted with the evidence. He resigned his seat in Congress in June of 2011, and in an attempt to reenter the political world decided to run for mayor of New York City in 2013. Sure enough, new sexts surfaced and it was apparent Weiner was up to his old tricks, this time using the internet nom de penis of “Carlos Danger.” He came in fifth in the Democratic primary.
4. Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky.
While the Republican party was spending tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars in a massive attempt to find any incriminating information about Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1998 under the guise of a real estate investigation, they hit pay dirt when information leaked out about the President’s affair with a young White House intern. Clinton at first denied any “sexual relations with that woman” but was forced to admit that he indeed had engaged in sexual behavior (though not intercourse) with Monica Lewinsky when confronted with the evidence he left on her dress. Impeached by Congress not for the sex, but for lying to Congress, Clinton was tried by the Senate and got a 50-50 vote, an acquittal under our laws.
3. Silvio Berlusconi, Bunga Bunga.
Serving a total of 9 years as the Prime Minister of Italy, this media mogul has a personal fortune of $9 billion, which he apparently enjoys to the fullest. Frequently on the wrong side of the law, and convicted of tax evasion in 2013, it was the 2009 and 2010 accusations by his wife and others of his sexual misconduct that grabbed the attention of the world. He was accused of engaging in sexual relations with females less than 18 years old, including participation in orgies known as “bunga bunga” parties. Berlusconi was eventually convicted of paying for sex with a minor in 2013 and sentenced to 7 years in jail, with a permanent ban from politics. Court testimony revealed Berlusconi had paid a teenage prostitute 4.5 million euros for her services.
2. Ted Kennedy, Chappaquiddick.
As described above, Kennedy, the heir apparent to the Kennedy dynasty, was undone by his predilection for women and booze, two things that would haunt his entire career and probably the only things that kept him out of the White House. Drunkenly driving Mary Jo Kopechne into the water where she drowned, and failing to attempt to get help, being more worried about his own welfare apparently was okay with Massachusetts voters who continued to reelect him, but enough of an obstacle that he would never become president.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Sperminator.
Dogged by rumors and accusations of sexual harassment for years, the Austrian Oak shrugged off questions about his indiscretions and got himself elected governor of California in 2003 and again in 2006. When the sexual harassment allegations resurfaced in a big way, during these campaigns he still fought back, until the last straw broke the camel’s back in 2011 when it was revealed that Arnold had fathered a son out of wedlock with his maid back in 1997. His wife left him and he became the brunt of late night comedians’ jokes, often referred to as “The Sperminator.” Any talk of amending the constitution to allow him to run for president of the US went out the window, as did most of his female fans.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which ones would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Ross, Shelley. Fall from Grace: Sex, Scandal and Corruption in American Politics from 1702 to Present. Ballantine Books, 1988.
Smith, Leslie. Compromising Positions: Sex Scandals, Politics, and American Christianity. Oxford University Press, 2019.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Joel Kramer of a bumper sticker he saw in a parking lot, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Joelk75 at https://flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00/2718450178. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.