Sex is dirty business. Politics is dirtier business.

Sex is dirty business. Politics is dirtier business.

Justified or not, we hold public servants to a higher standard; above temptation and impulse, exempt from human desires. But Oscar Wilde said it best for us when he said, “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” What better for a powerful or power-seeking person than more power?

In news that shocks no one, powerful positions breed opportunities for myriad pleasures, including sex with those who also enjoy power. And men, those historically most likely to be in power, are as “faithful as their options,” Chris Rock reminds us. That explains how often it seems high-profile
politicians — President Bill Clinton, Rep. Newt Gingrich, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, 
Italian President Silvio Berlusconi and on and on and on — fool around on their spouses.

Sex scandals have been around as long as politicians themselves. From Caesar to Clinton, as long as influence is wielded over another person, sex will be the great democratizer to bring it all down again. And because powerful positions also breed dangerous confidence, we’ll always have their stories for great “news” fodder. That these are people who don’t hear the word “no” a lot, who feel confident they can outwit the public. The fact that these politicians win grown-up popularity contests every odd November only rubber stamps the idea they can do no wrong, let alone get caught doing so.

So here’s a heavy dose of politicians who just couldn’t keep their lovers out of the public sphere. 
Enjoy the scandal.

Yekaterina Alexeevna 
(aka Catherine the Great)

The Russian empress makes the list simply because she may be the most notable promiscuous female to hold high office. During her reign and following her husband’s death, Alexeevna took on many lovers. That in itself isn’t all that bad. However, it seems that she rewarded her male companions with plush jobs, lots of money and an empire’s worth of her lands. That tends to breed resentment and isn’t a great long-term strategy. Despite the gifts and payoffs, generally speaking, the Russians didn’t care all that much. They were busy endlessly working to survive a notoriously harsh and feudal existence. It appears many a politician world wide following her reign adopted the standard modus operandi, awarding their lovers with all sorts of gifts at taxpayers’ expenses. Chances are, if the lover’s ever scorned, it won’t end well for anyone. Her contribution may be that while we should ask our leaders to maintain some sort of level of self control, if there are bigger issues at hand, we appear to sometimes understand the insignificance of sex in running countries.

The philosopher-king president sure gave himself an ethical quandary to ponder. On the one hand, Jefferson was widowed by the time his relationship with Hemings began. On the other hand, he began a relationship with a person he actually owned. Furthermore, while Jefferson fathered and freed the children from his relationship with Hemings, it’s likely their relationship started when he was in his 40s and she was around 15. The rumors surfaced in Washington during Jefferson’s lifetime that he fathered children with his slave, but because Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, it took some 150 years to verify.

Woodrow Wilson

We didn’t need proof, but last year we found out sex and politics are a timeless American pastime. You know, like hot dogs and beer, but in an entirely different ballpark. An otherwise unremarkable presidency, re-examined when letters to Wilson’s wives were made public, proved to be just like other presidencies in the best of ways. He wrote these 20th-century, graphic letters — even by today’s standards — to detail his sex life in a way that most people could hardly fathom. Wilson’s letters basically amounted to a modern-day text string with our spouses, just as lurid and just as boring sometimes too. Each generation has a tendency to believe it invented sex, but Wilson’s letters underscored the idea that politicians have always been interested in what makes us all human, regardless of generation. While Wilson wrote thousands of letters to his first and second wives — many of them long-winded notes, some passionate and few explicit — the revelation that he cared about sex in a way that we all thought didn’t come about until many years later, gave us all good reason to take pause and shudder: Our grandparents probably did the same thing.

Gary Hart

Very few Coloradans younger than 35 know who Gary Hart is, and that’s a shame. If not because former U.S. Senator Gary Hart was a decent guy, then because most people think the only presidential candidate from Colorado was Tom Tancredo — who may or may not be a legitimate crazy person sometimes. But Hart was also a powerful precursor to what a non-stop news cycle and scandal can do to an ambitious politician. In 1988, Hart made a viable bid for the Democratic nomination but was ousted before the early primaries thanks to a sordid relationship with Donna Rice. He was 52; she was 29. Hart never admitted to the affair, but it became clear through reports that something probably inappropriate was going on. What makes Hart’s case stand out from the rest is that it served as a warning to every politician since: First, don’t underestimate the media’s appetite. Pre-Internet, reporters staked out Hart’s home to get the scoop. Second, don’t underestimate the news consumption of the American public. Although Hart never admitted to the affair, his numbers sank instantly, and he never gained a footing in politics again.

Larry Craig

The senator from Idaho may be a footnote in American political history, and that designation could also be well deserved. The Republican from Idaho went largely unnoticed before his foray into a Minneapolis airport restroom made headlines. In 2007, Craig’s “wide stance” in a stall resulted in an arrest for lewd conduct in an apparent solicitation for sex. Craig denied any wrongdoing, telling the police it was all a misunderstanding — despite the restroom’s well-earned reputation as a bathhouse for travelers — and pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor quickly after. Craig then said his guilty plea was a mistake, resigned, then un-resigned and finished his term. The fallout from the whole incident brought to light Craig’s outspoken record against gay rights and his unwavering conservative voting record toward anything that was remotely related to equality. It forced many to reconsider the basis of their own protests, and while Craig can hardly take any credit for the equality movement today, what we understood from Craig’s reported sexual behavior was what Shakespeare warned us in “Hamlet”: Craig did, in fact, protest too much.

Anthony Weiner

Speaking of slick willies, if Hart provided the theory of illicit sex collapsing political careers, Anthony Weiner proved it: Entire political careers can evaporate in a heartbeat with an accelerated newscycle. Despite having one of the more unfortunate names in political memory, Weiner was an up-and-coming (no pun intended) political force in the Democratic party before 2011. The representative from New York City was as a liberal tour-de-force in the U.S. Congress with his sights likely set much higher than staying a congressman from New York. However, once Americans caught a glimpse of his … ambition, his career could be measured in hours from that point forward. Weiner’s indiscretions, and there appeared to be plenty, were a matter of public debate for weeks after leaked photos of his penis made it into the public sphere, and his political existence was sunk fairly quickly after. Like Eliot Spitzer before him, Weiner underestimated how an endless news stream could spiral beyond the political spin machines, and his run for governor was quickly dashed. It also didn’t help that the man’s name fit his scandal so well.

Bill Clinton and Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky

America’s 42nd president was probably first when it comes to admitted philandering and maybe also getting away with sexual harassment. We know he exposed himself to Jones privately and to the world via Lewinsky. But Bill Clinton’s contribution to the sex and politics debate is more profound than meets the eye. In the late 1990s, when we were all learning about an intern’s certain blue dress, we were subconsciously pondering a deeper question: Are we electing politicians or the pope? Ultimately, we settled on the former rather than the latter, and Clinton’s legacy, although linked with Monica Lewinsky forever, isn’t solely defined by his Oval Office exploits. Since Clinton, we’ve come to expect and, to a lesser extent, tolerate politicians’ sex lives. It takes a charismatic politician to overcome scandal, and if you’ve ever been in the same room as Clinton and seen his charm and draw on citizens, politicians and celebrities alike, it’s easy to see how Slick Willy earned his moniker.