Sanford victory proves double standard applies to men who resurrect political careers after affairs

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, May 10, 2013

t’s one of those unspoken truths in Washington – that it’s easier for a man to get away with deviant behavior than a woman, especially when it comes to extramarital affairs.

The latest example of this came Tuesday, when former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford won back his old Congressional seat against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. Sanford was censursed by the South Carolina General Assembly after it was uncovered that he was using taxpayer dollars to visit his Argentinian mistress (now fiancée).

MSNBC’s Alex Wagner was one of the few to highlight this point. On her show “Now w/Alex Wagner” Tuesday, she led a discussion about the double-standard, based on an article that ran in The New York Times earlier this month.

“Had a southern governor named Marcia Sanford been entangled with a Latin lover when reputedly hiking the Appalachian Trail, would she today be her party’s nominee for an open congressional seat?” the article asked. ”We know the answer, and we know that Wilhelmina Clinton and Newtina Gingrich wouldn’t have rebounded from their infidelities as robustly as Bill and Newt did.”

“Of course there’s a double standard,” Julia Reed, one of the panelists, commented.

Sanford, like so many other men before him, didn’t see his political career completely derailed by his extramarital activities. Gingrich was able to regain most of his credibility and launch an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the White House last year, while Clinton, who was impeached by the House for having an affair with a White House intern, has seen his stock rise again among the American people. Even Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer – who both admitted to affairs with prostitutes – were able to move forward with their careers.

Yet you rarely hear about women resurrecting their career after an extramarital affair. And it’s not because “they are too busy doing their jobs to cheat,” as former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told NPR back in 2010.

“We don’t have any data that women are more honest and pure when it comes to this sort of stuff,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University told POLITICO when the Sanford scandal first broke. “But we certainly have evidence that we just don’t see women falling prey to [public disclosure of affairs] in the same way that men have been.”

It doesn’t help either that women are also victim to greater media scrutiny than their male counterparts, even on little issues like wardrobe choices. “Women are more conscious and aware that they are being held to an even higher standard,” Walsh added. “Therefore, they’re even more cautious.”

Either way, it’s about time that this double standard not just goes back into the woodwork – but goes away once and for all.


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