Commentary: Politicians have never been saints

The women have been coming forth with stories about presidential candidate Herman Cain's wandering hand.

John Edwards' trial in Greensboro, scheduled for February, will focus on whether the former vice presidential candidate violated the law when he slipped hush money to his mistress to help support their illegitimate child. The Edwards-Rielle Hunter sex tape trial in Hillsborough will likely follow thereafter.

If former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to rise in the polls, the three-time married former House speaker's messy personal life will once again be dredged up.

No wonder the GOP is considering nominating a candidate who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. There has definitely been a saints shortage in politics recently.

I am sometimes asked whether today's politicians are friskier than those in the past - as if Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy didn't have problems keeping their trousers buttoned or zipped.

Even George Washington had an eye for the ladies. He would keep meticulous notes in his diary about how many women would show for every dinner or party he attended. ("There were 47 lovely ladies present last night.") He never noted how many guys showed up.

Benjamin Franklin was a patriot and a genius but he may also have been the original dirty old man.

But many of the sexual peccadilloes of the past were not disclosed until after the politicians died and historians were digging through their personal papers and interviewing their associates. In today's let-it-all-hang out world of Facebook, Twitter, smartphone cameras, eavesdropping equipment and Internet sites willing to post anything, it is difficult to keep anything secret.

For better or worse, in an earlier era there was something of an unspoken gentleman's agreement in the largely male press. If a politician had a girlfriend or boyfriend, or drank too much, it was no one's business unless it impaired their ability to do their job or ended up on the police blotter. Every political reporter knew secrets.

Yesterday's quiet indiscretions are today blasted across the Internet for all to see. Are we better off knowing about our political leader's sex life? In some cases, like Edwards', where behavior goes to judgment, the answer is obviously yes. But not always.

Politicians may not be any more randy than any other group of people, but they have more opportunity than most - always on the road, irregular hours, separated from their spouses, often surrounded by admirers. Edwards had staffers whose job it was to keep women from propositioning the candidate - not the other way around. Successful politicians often have something attractive about them - personality, physique or persistence, which is what drew people to them in the first place.

There is more than a little ego involved in politicians, as anyone who has worked for one will tell you. A humble politician - at least on the state or national level - is a rare breed.

Sexual conquests are often less about hormones than they are about ego.