Washington sex scandals ain't what they used to be.
White House budget czar Peter Orszag acknowledged that his former girlfriend had given birth to his child. But official Washington, which was once home to a cottage industry of investigators probing the private lives of public figures, greeted the news with a collective titter. Yet is was barely a decade ago that Bill Clinton -- whose sordid personal life led to the country's second impeachment -- fired a surgeon general for daring to suggest that parents should talk to their kids about masturbation.
It's hard out here for a prude: On the one hand, Sen. Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, R-Idaho, has been driven from office after trying to make fast friends in an airport men's room. On the other hand, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is politically alive and well despite an affair with a staffer -- an affair that began just a few weeks after Ensign demanded that Craig resign. It isn't just liberals like Orszag who have benefited from Washington's hard-won broadmindedness.
Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority's favorite president, remains the only president in history to attain the White House despite being divorced. Newt Gingrich would later admit to having an affair while leading Clinton's impeachment.
But sex scandals aren't always strictly private affairs, said David Barrett, a veteran Washington lawyer who helped prosecute former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros for lying about a mistress. "The real problem with a case like Orszag is if people lie and cover up," he said. "You know the two rules about government scandals? Rule No. 1 is all these things end up with cover-ups. Rule No. 2 is that nobody ever remembers the first rule."
Anyone with questions on that can ask Richard Allen, Ronald Reagan's national security adviser. Allen didn't have an affair with anyone, but he did receive cash and wristwatches from a Japanese women's magazine called Housewives' Friend after setting up an interview with Nancy Reagan. He later claimed that he simply forgot to fork the gifts over to the Treasury Department -- but it wasn't enough to save his job.
When did sexcapades go from political suicide to geek-chic gossip? "If you take Bill Clinton -- he had sex in the White House and yet left with some of the highest approval ratings in history," University of Maryland presidential historian Keith Olson said. "People separated the two."
If true, it's been a long time coming. Washington has spent centuries cultivating the sex scandal. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence and fathered several children with his slave, Sally Hemings. His race-baiting enemies didn't mind reminding him -- or the voters -- about Jefferson's twisted relationship with "Dusky Sally." Grover Cleveland was accused of having fathered an out-of-wedlock baby and made a campaign chant of, "Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?" firstname.lastname@example.org