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The Double Standard of Scandal

McClatchy’s Washington correspondent David  Lightman, in writing about the rash of disgraced former elected officials, like former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, getting or seeking reelection (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/11/196452/wheres-the-shame-scandals-may.html#.UeQuBxZG6FI) argues that public disgrace will no longer sideline politicians. The recent victory of Mark Sanford in South Carolina’s first congressional district race and recent polls that suggest that Spitzer and Anthony Weiner are the frontrunners in their respective races for NY comptroller and mayor, are evidence for his claims.

Although Lightman may be correct in asserting that political comebacks are possible for some politicians in very favorable electoral districts, there is a great double standard that operates in this country. Put simply, women exhibiting the same judgment errors as men would have absolutely no chance of making a political comeback. A woman governor leaving office after the disgrace of hiring prostitutes, like Spitzer, or tweeting out pornographic photos of herself, like Weiner would be politically radioactive. Not only would they have no chance for reentering public life, but those around them would be exiled from the public’s forgiveness.

Despite the fact that women have made progress in American politics over recent decades, the American public continues to have very traditional attitudes about women in politics. Issues such as personal appearance, emotional responses to situations, and even marital status continue to be judged differently for women in politics than for men. If Hillary Clinton pursues the presidency in 2016, expect media coverage and public discussion to focus on her suits and hairstyle, her tears or lack thereof, and what degree her husband appears with her and what implications those have for the state of their marriage.

Until the public moves beyond the idea in politics that “boys will be boys” and that women must reach sometimes unattainable standards of behavior, the mere thought of a women making a comeback from a sexual or other type of scandal is impossible.


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