Inspired, perhaps, by The Spectator's list of the top 50 political scandals, Bloomberg has run a list of the ten best American
ones. I have to say, these prudish Americans just don't do scandal like us. The list has a common theme: moralising politician caught having an affair! Please. Where are the Russian spies, the society whoremongers, the russian oligarchs, the Corfu taverns? Okay, I'll accept that the boy Clinton did them proud - but the rest of the list makes you think either America is squeaky clean or that its political class get away with far too much. Anyway, here are Bloomberg's choices, with my comments:
10 ‘Family Values’. Spitzer was New York governor, and resigned on threat of impeachment. Turned out he'd spent $80k on call girls over several years. The woman in question, Ashley Dupre, has now had 12.5m views on her MySpace page.
9. Larry Craig.
The “pro-family” Idaho senator was arrested in 2007 on suspicion of lewd conduct. But hardly Hugh Grant style - simple attempted cottaging. He left his briefcase outside the stall. Craig denied he was soliciting sex. Caught by one of those strange American police sting operations that did for George Michael.
8. Capitol Steps.
John and Rita Jenrette. The South Carolina Democrat and his wife claimed that in the late-1970s they made love on the steps leading to the House side of the Capitol. They stopped, they said, when House Speaker Tip O’Neill was walking toward them. These two are married, and this ranks as a scandal. Rumours like this used to abound about Blair and Cherie, but no one followed them up. Man bonks wife: really?
7. Newt Gingrich.
While trying to impeach Clinton, it turned out that the he was having an affair with a House aide - falling "short of God's standards" as he put it. Today that’s his third wife, and he’s a possible candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Queue more jokes.
6. Working for Wayne Hays.
The Ohio Democrat was one of the biggest bullies in Congress, so much delight when Elizabeth Ray, hired to be a receptionist, told the Washington Post that she was there to furnish him with sexual favours. “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone,” she said. Original 1976 Time story here
The South Carolina governor went AWOL last month and admitted he'd one to see his Argentinean lover, leaving behind his wife of 20 years and four sons. Famous mainly for his dodgy denials. My favourite point: his chief of staff was called Scott English. Yes, this really is Bloomberg's number five.
4. Gary Hart.
Gary Hart was a presidential favourite, who in 1988 invited the media to "follow me around - if anyone wants to put a tail on me, go ahead". The Miami Herald had been doing just that, and found a lady named Donna Rice leaving his house late one evening. Hart exploded, saying the wicked media had rushed to judgement. It later turned out he'd spent a night with her on a yacht rather gloriously named Monkey Business
. He dropped out of the race, and the scandal is remembered chiefly for his rants against the press.
3. Wilbur Mills.
He was the most powerful member of Congress who eschewed the social scene, spending evenings with his wife reading tax laws. But he was caught in 1974, sneaking out with a stripper whose stage name was Fanne Foxe. His liaisons with her exposed his alcoholism (he once held a press conference, seemingly drunk, from her dressing room where she was performing). He went in for treatment. But his story is more that of a tragic downfall than of priapic misadventure.
2. The hack and the politician.
Henry J. Cianfrani was a political giant in his native Philadelphia but in 1977, at the height of his power, was exposed as a mobster and convicted of racketeering and putting phantom employees on the state payroll. He secretly dated a Philadelphia Inquirer journalist, Laura Foreman, who wrote nice things about him. By the time their affair was made public, she had gone to to find fame at the New York Times and had become famous - so her links with Cianfrani (whom she later married) was regarded as a huge scandal.
Now, that was a scandal. We sum it up by the picture, above, from the brilliant (English) lookalike photo artist Alison Jackson.
The tragedy is that Americans have the greatest satirists in the world. There's the late-night comics (Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Craig Ferguson [okay, an émigré Scot]) and best of all the a group called the Capitol Steps whose music, lyrics and impersonators I have long found hilarious. What we need to do is marry up our scandal with their satirists. Remember The Sun's headline "How do you solve a problem like Korea?" It was a CapSteps song first - video here.