On Wednesday evening, news spread quickly that Republican Congressman Chris Lee (of Rochester, New York) turned in his resignation (effective immediately!) a mere three hours after an Internet website that trafficks in salacious scandals revealed that the shirtless man posing into the mirror for a self-portrait to send to a would-be Internet girlfriend was none other than an esteemed member of Congress! The shock, the horror!
So the story goes, some 34 year old lady in the Washington, D.C. metro area posted an ad on Craigslist to meet a guy who didn't look like a "toad." One of the responses she received was from a man claiming to be a 39 year old, divorced lobbyist and describing himself as a "fit, fun and classy guy." Classy? Really? Turns out, he used his real name and the same email account he uses to email family, friends, and acquaintances. No discretion. Like that's not a subconscious desire to get caught! The reality is that he is 46 years old (born on April Fool's Day, even!) and very married, with a young son. Oops. Busted!
When I read the screaming headlines, I thought it was something seriously crazy. After all, the Republican Party has given us a great number of sex scandals in the past five years: Congressman Mark Foley sending sexually explicit instant messages to underage Congressional Pages. Senator Larry Craig getting busted in a Minneapolis airport men's room trying to solicit sex with the undercover police officer in the next toilet stall. Senator David Vitter being one of the customers of a prostitute, who revealed that his kinky fantasy was to be put in a diaper and treated like a baby. Then who can forget Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who had a sexual affair with his loyal staffer's wife and when caught, tried to buy forgiveness with a nice house for the couple. And my favourite one of all, Governor Mark Sanford being AWOL from his governing duties while his staff claimed that they were unable to locate him on the Appalachian Trail. A few days later, someone caught him with his Argentine lover at the airport in Atlanta.
So, when we've been subjected to off the charts sex scandals from the party of "family values", you'll have to forgive me for being bored by this latest "scandal." It was an act of utter stupidity, of course, but the Congressman apparently did not meet the lady. After he had sent that picture you see above on the right, she did some online sleuthing and realized that he looked exactly like the Congressman with the same name. She was offended that he was married, so she forwarded her evidence to the Internet gossip site. All this broke on a day that probably began as usual for the Congressman, where he had attended a hearing. I feel bad for the guy. To wake up one morning in one's routine, only to be upended when his indiscretion became public and by day's end, he's unemployed.
I've never heard of him (with 435 members in the House of Representatives, even a political junkie like me can't keep track of them all), so I decided to do some Internet research of my own. There was a debate on one of my friend's Facebook walls. My Democratic / liberal friends were calling Congressman Lee a typical "hypocrite" while the independent iconoclast Aaron was claiming that the Congressman is not on record having said anything about marriage that should cause liberals to get all giddy. So, I looked at a few of his campaign commercials (he won his first term with 55% of the vote in 2008 and reelection last year with 75%). I looked at his campaign website and his official website through the House.gov. What I read, I liked. He was a moderate conservative, not an ideologue. Even YouTube had some of his campaign commercials and speeches both to voters and on the floor of the House. He seemed a man serious about his duties as a member of Congress. He spoke about substantial issues, from helping out his constituents with the subprime mortages to the need to create jobs, and other issues that would likely bore the cultural conservatives.
Why resign, Congressman Lee? We need moderates in Congress, not the teabaggers and their desires to widen the "cultural wars" into yet another decade when more important issues are at stake. You can count on me as one liberal Democrat who did not want him to resign. Especially when Diaper David Vitter and Sleeps With Loyal Aide's Wife as a Thank You for Sycophantic Service (that would be Senator Ensign) and Don't Cry For Me, Columbia (Governor Sanford) did not resign for their much more serious violations.
The prompt resignation leaves more questions than answers, unfortunately. Perhaps he's afraid that more stuff will come out and he's nipping it in the bud by returning to private life. The Fox Propaganda Network speculated that Speaker Boehner might have demanded his resignation since he is supposedly not tolerating any of the excesses that occurred during the Gingrich / Bush eras. Not sure I believe that. Perhaps he decided that he didn't like being a member of Congress and this scandal was a convenient out for him. Interesting that it comes around the one year anniversary of the other New York Congressman's resignation after he was subjected to a sexual harassment lawsuit by a male staffer. Wonder what he's doing now?
The most amazing thing about this "scandal" is the sheer recklessness of it all. It ticks me off when a married man is not satisfied with his choice of marital partner and is still acting like a single man, interferring with the single man's chances of finding a spouse. I'd tell him, "you made your choice, so live in it! Leave the single ladies alone." However, based on the photo alone, he exhibits all the signs of classic midlife crisis in the male species. Notice, if you will, his shirtless pose. He's flexing his right arm slightly, clearly proud of his physique. The male life crisis is a psychological disorder that most men are clueless about recognizing the true nature of. When some existential angst hits middle-aged men, they revert back to adolescence, thus the sports car convertible and the chasing after women young enough to be their daughters. Men at mid-life still want to feel as virile and desireable to the younger ladies as they did in their 20s. This Congressman fell into the same cliche as all the rest.
The real cause of the mid-life crisis is a spiritual one. You've reached the point where there are more days in the rear view mirror than on the road in front of you. Face it, you're going to die at some point and maybe you've already propagated the species by siring an heir to pass on your legacy. Time to focus on your spiritual beliefs and make preparations for that inevitable journey that we all make at the end of our lives. So, stop pursuing younger ladies or trying to prove that you're just as fit as you were in your 20s.
Still, I feel bad for the guy. I'm sure that he's not having a happy home life at the moment, with more intense conversations with his wife than he's probably ever had before. I hope everything works out for him. Its sad that someone who seemed like a competent, serious member of Congress, as well as not being an ideologue is now out of there, leaving room for a teabagger candidate to rush in. This "scandal" was such a yawner that he could have survived the short and intense media scrutiny before another scandal distracts our attention (one can almost count on Sarah Palin stealing the spotlight from him and putting it back on her beautiful self).
The other thing I wanted to mention about this story is that I find it somewhat amusing that a lady thinks all men on Craigslist are "toads." Does she even know what its like for a guy searching on there for dates? Most of the ads in the Portland personals are "BBW"s (that's Big, Beautiful Woman in Craigslist parlance). So, neither gender is satisfied, it seems. This use of Craigslist to find a fling is what is truly baffling. Craigslist is essentially scraping the bottom of the barrel (though good ones can be found, as my sister and her husband can attest). A member of Congress is surrounded by temptations on Capitol Hill. When I interned there a decade ago, there were so many beautiful, young ladies working in offices all over. Many of them wouldn't even date guys who were in a similar status as them (intern or low wage Congressional staff who have to live in roommate situations far beyond the college years), but a member of Congress seems to hold large sway with their having the most powerful aphrodisiac of all: POWER.
There are also lobbyists crawling all over Capitol Hill from their K Street fortresses of think tanks and corporate-backed firms. Former Congressman Newt Gingrich can tell you all about dumping the faithful wife for the cute, younger lobbyist. Many a married politician have found secret mistresses in the nation's capital. Congressman Lee obviously had an attraction to risk and potential humiliation. Well, he got what he wanted. Hopefully he becomes a better person through this process.