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Politicians have a knack for turning indignity into opportunity

April 24, 2013

Mark Twain noticed that a cat that sits on a hot stove once will never sit on it again. But, he said, it won’t sit on a cold stove, either.

Politics is different, because in politics we discover the opposite extreme is true. Having sat on a hot stove once, a politician will sit on a hot stove again, even if he has to rebuild the fire himself.

It’s fascinating that Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford just couldn’t stay away. No stove was too hot, no embarrassment too embarrassing to convince them that perhaps they just aren’t suited for public life as a representative of the people.

Or maybe they do represent the people, and that’s the deeper problem.

Weiner, you recall, resigned from Congress two years ago after he admitted to Tweeting photos of his nether regions to six female followers.

Sanford was governor of South Carolina when he vanished, his whereabouts unknown to his staff, his wife and even his security detail. The only clue was a note that he would be “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

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A few days later, a reporter confronted him as he deboarded a flight that had originated in Argentina. For the geographically challenged, it should be noted that the Appalachian Trail does not run through Buenos Aires, if you know what I’m saying. However, the city was home to the woman to whom Sanford later became engaged.

Now you or me — if we had bolted the country to have an affair, or gotten caught holding a camera phone at angles I don’t even like thinking about (imagine the radiation), we would have had the good common sense and decency to slink off the public stage and never be heard from again.

But politicians have the amazing ability to forget that the past ever happened. And not only that, they can build upon those past indignities in ways that most of us would not even consider.

For example, Weiner not only announced his interest in running for mayor of New York City, but introduced us to the idea that he is, yes, back on Twitter. His new handle is @AnthonyWeiner, although I might have preferred @MoreIdeasLessUnderpants.

Sanford, of course, is taking time out of hiking the Appalachian Trail in order to run for Congress (which, truthfully, would be a logical home for him). But you know your campaign is going poorly when you have to, as Sanford did, take out a full-page newspaper ad that begins with the words, “It’s been a rough week ....”

The ad seems destined to win the Christine “I Am Not a Witch” O’Donnell award for crumbling candidacies. It goes on and on and on to explain why he was charged this year with trespassing on his ex-wife’s property (short version: in order to bring jobs to South Carolina. Oh, and to cut the deficit) and then blames the whole mix-up on Nancy Pelosi.

We members of the general public spend a lot of time wringing our hands and wondering why our leaders seem incapable of making any decision more complex than settling on pizza toppings.

Well, here you have the reason. One man thinks that normal behavior includes spamming woman with his own personal groin-o-gram. The other uses tax money to subsidize an illicit affair, employing a cover story that wouldn’t have fooled Barney Fife.

And yet are they immediately disqualified from ever holding public office again? Oh no. In fact, they are able to raise millions of dollars from people who pretty much don’t see anything wrong with that kind of behavior.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We’re doomed.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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