Sex scandals have certainly been coming a mile-a-minute these days — and each more sexually scandalous than the last!
In the previous two months alone, let’s see, we’ve had the Arnold Schwarzenegger lovechild scandal, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape scandal, and the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal. And last week we saw John Edwards formally indicted for some shenaniganry relating to his adulterous lovechild sex scandal. Four powerful men, all done in by the same fatal weakness.
I read a fascinating book some years ago — probably one of the most influential books in my life, in fact — called King of the Mountain by Arnold Ludwig. In it, the author posits that human leadership isn’t really that different from animal leadership, and that the sorts of personality traits and behaviour associated with, say, an alpha male gorilla, are quite similar to many of the traits we find in presidents, kings, and prime ministers. In particular, leaders of both animals and men alike tend to assert dominance by securing access to females — the more the better.
Aggressive displays of virility, expressed via adultery and skirt-chasing, is thus not so much a weakness of leaders as it is a prerequisite. A man who possess such predilections is, Ludwig concluded, also likely to have other leader-of-men attributes historically common to the world’s greatest rulers.(“Great,” in this context, is strictly defined in the sense of success and achievement. Clearly these men are not great human beings in most cases — as many of the women on the receiving ends of their lecherous advances could easily attest.) This is because the pursuit of leadership is primary an expression of an overdeveloped ego, a base personality type from which so many other seemingly unrelated behaviours flow.
What’s interesting is that as modern politics becomes more an ever-more transparent fish bowl, with never-ending and increasingly invasive media scrutiny of every aspect of a politician’s life and personal history, the Ludwig thesis would posit that our politicians should become even more sexually licentious. This of course contradicts the conventional wisdom, which often assumes the new intense media environment “scares off” flawed candidates. Yet it makes much more sense if we consider that the only person who would want to put oneself through the 24/7 multi-media madness that is modern campaigning — let alone governing — would have to be incredibly vain and egotistical — two other personality traits that tend to correlate highly with an obsession with sexual conquest. In other words, if it seems like there are more political sex scandals than usual these days, it’s not necessarily just because the media’s reporting more on stuff that used to go unreported (though that’s definitely a factor), but rather because the very sort of man who tends to run for and serve in political office has changed, and become even more of a caricature of the already not-too-impressive egotistical average.
If we look at Arnold, Edwards, Strauss-Kahn, and Weiner, what unites them is an enormous sense of personal vanity, as well as unbridled ambition. All were clearly obsessed with beautifying their own physicality (be it the athletic muscle-building of Weiner and Schwarzenegger, or the expensive fashion tastes of Strauss and Edwards) and pursuing ever-greater political offices beyond their reach (Strauss, Edwards, and Arnold were all said to have presidential ambitions, while Weiner dreamed of being mayor of New York City). All possessed a considerable degree of charismatic appeal, as well, with loud, brash, and unapologetically self-aggrandizing personalities that could be as personally annoying as they were politically effective.
In my view, the true dilemma raised by scandals such as Weinergate is not whether politician sex “matters,” or whether the media over-covers titillating stories at the expense of real news, but rather the consequences for democracy when modern politics becomes dominated by men with such borderline psychopathic personality disorders. It would be the height of naivete, after all, to believe a man predisposed to make such erratic and thoughtless choices in his pursuit of sexual partners could not someday channel that same egotistical energy into an equally destructive policy decision.