“Torrid” is the word the nearly 60-year-old congressman used to describe his extended adulterous relationship with a married staffer that destroyed his political career. He is possibly the last politician in this town that most observers — especially those of us who knew him and respected him — would have expected to have an affair.
When he and the woman met, he said, they spontaneously felt a “spark.” As they worked closely together, the spark ignited a flame of passion that eventually engulfed them. The congressman added, as a matter of context, that his vulnerability stemmed in part from the loneliness of his bachelor existence in the nation’s capital with his family back home. He paints a Spinozian picture of a spark landing in dry tender (i.e., a lonely man) with their close proximity fanning the blaze into a hot, torrid affair. While he felt terrible guilt over the affair, he both blamed himself and the circumstance, as well as the chemistry between them, for overwhelming his scruples.
In the end, he stood alone with his shame before the media, the public, and his family — dismayed and disgraced — his life and hers in shambles.
His confession, resignation, and quick departure from Congress and the Capitol at least spared us some of the embarrassing spectacle we have endured from so many politicians who struggled to hang on to office even after their “indiscretions” become public; typically our sensibilities have been assaulted by the pathetic, demeaning ploy of the tanned, botoxed, cheating husband dragging his wounded wife in front of the cameras in a cynical effort to gain sympathy and salvage the situation. With this congressman’s solo mea culpa, his sordid story faded quickly from the news and was replaced by the next scandal du jour coming out of Washington.
Nonetheless, his story keeps bubbling up in my thoughts. When my husband and I first came to Washington 20 years ago, the then-senatorial aide spent two hours explaining the “ropes” of Washington politics to two new friends from his home state. He was unforgettable: so very intense about his conservative values, so sincere and open about his religious faith, and so very knowledgeable about issues and “the way things work” inside the beltway.