What do George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford have in common? They’re all members of the Disgraced Governors Club. What do they not have in common? Well, unlike Spitzer, who visited a prostitute, and Sanford, who flew to South America to visit his mistress while supposedly “hiking on the Appalachian Trail,” George and Rod appear to genuinely love their wives.
Money and sex are a politician’s greatest weaknesses. Illinois has the most scandalous political culture in America. So why do so few of our scandals involve elected officials cheating on their wives?
The fault may lie with Mayor Richard J. Daley. A devoted family man and staunch moralist who attended Mass every day, Daley had a remarkable tolerance for graft – but none whatsoever for adultery. He didn’t practice it himself, and didn’t tolerate it his underlings. Once, he phoned a tavern where an aide was cavorting and suggested the man go home to his wife. The politically corrupt but personally spotless Daley sets the tone for Chicago politics to this day. It’s OK to cheat the taxpayers, but it’s not OK to cheat on your wife. That’s why we don’t get great tabloid headlines like “Pay For Luv Guv” and “Ho No!” which appeared after Spitzer was caught tomcatting around.
The Jack Ryan sex scandal was pretty entertaining, but he got in trouble for trying to have too much sex with his wife – in front of strangers at seamy sex clubs. (Can you blame him?). And Ryan hadn't yet been elected. He was forced to drop out of the 2004 Senate race, sparing himself a loss to Barack Obama.
The one sordid exception to this rule was U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who went to jail for having an affair with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In retrospect, that was the most significant sex scandal in American political history. It created the opening that began Barack Obama’s political career, when Obama’s state senator, Alice Palmer, ran for Reynolds’s seat.
While Blagojevich did manage to avoid falling in love with another woman, he forgot another important rule of political survival: don’t fall in love with yourself. The $200,000 he spent on clothes made him more expensive than any mistress.