Childish behaviors at our capital kiddy-camp

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Column by Jim Flynn

Does it matter that Representative Anthony Weiner resigned his Congressional seat? Not really. The frequency of Washington sex scandals tells us the voters of 9th District of New York should be able to find another politician just like Weiner, dedicated to their needs, while secretly pandering to his eccentric behaviors – until he gets caught.

Our political system seems to be cloning male politicians who need to be recognized and flattered even when they’re not campaigning. Among them was Speaker of the House Wilbur Mills, who took a tipsy dip in the Potomac reflecting pool with an exotic dancer in 1974. Another was Senator Gary Hart, a presidential candidate who challenged reporters to catch him fooling around, if they could, which they did, in 1984, on a yacht named Monkey Business.

The symptoms of Washington scandal makers may seem inconsistent. Some are heterosexual, and some aren’t. Some have ongoing affairs, while others limit their risk taking to quickies and one-night sleep-overs. While their tastes for jollies may differ, scandal makers share a penchant for self-destruction.

Commentators have suggested all sorts of psycho-social theories to explain the persistent peccadilloes of Washington politicians. One size which fits many is narcissism – an oversized sense of self importance, a need to be admired, a sense of entitlement, and plain old arrogance, all of which are hidden behind a façade of personal and political charm.

Two characteristics which get little attention are immaturity and reckless risk taking. Highly regarded former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood had a lengthy history of playing huggy-kissy with female staffers, lobbyists, and even reporters. Somehow he rehabilitated his image and was elected a second time two years after the 1992 scandal. How could someone so bright be so self-destructive? We think the cause is a missing maturity gene.

Since 1974 there have been 22 sex scandals involving members of Congress. Many of the accused were forced to resign. A few others, such as wide-stance Idaho Senator Larry Craig, refused to step down and survived until the next election.

Considering the questionable judgment and leadership of recent congresses, voters should ask themselves what they were thinking when they elected and re-elected people such as Mark Foley, Dan Crane, Gerry Studds, Gary Condit, John Edwards, David Vitter, John Ensign, Anthony Weiner, and others. Too many voters have a delusion that their guy is one of the good guys.

Our best presidents were not sinless saints. They were powers of example. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower were men who deliberately developed mature commitments and attitudes which influenced their judgments and leadership.

Voters should stop considering candidates for Congress based on “What have you done for me lately?” The important qualification is whether a candidate has the right stuff to give dedicated service to the nation, and not be distracted by quirky impulses. Mature judgment and leadership are in short supply in today’s Washington.