Can Black Candidates Survive Sex Scandals?

Comeback campaigns of two New York City politicians raise questions about double standards.

Eliot Spitzer (Kris Conner/Getty Images); Anthony Weiner (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Eliot Spitzer (Kris Conner/Getty Images); Anthony Weiner (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(The Root) — On Sunday night the typically slow summer political news cycle was given a surprise gift. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace after being linked to a prostitution scandal, announced that he’s running for office again. In his quest to become New York City comptroller, Spitzer is now the second candidate running for citywide office in New York who is pursuing a comeback after a sex scandal. Former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned in disgrace for sending erotic Twit pics, is running for New York City mayor. According to some polls, he is now the front-runner.

The fact that both men’s candidacies are considered viable so soon after their self-destructive political implosions is a potent reminder of just how good it is to be a powerful, straight white male in America.

To those offended by this very notion, consider this: Do you really believe that if Hillary Clinton had gotten caught dallying with an intern, as her husband did, that she would be enjoying a comfortable life as an internationally heralded humanitarian — the kind of life her husband enjoys today?

Still think I’m wrong? Well, just consider the case of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Daniels was being wooed by the GOP to run for president in 2012. He ultimately declined. One of the primary reasons, according to reports, is that his wife once left him, marrying another man before reconciling with Daniels. The family was desperately afraid of the level of scrutiny she would face. Can you imagine what our Congress would look like if male candidates feared that kind of scrutiny? They don’t fear scrutiny, which is why we New Yorkers are now faced with the prospect of Mayor Weiner and Comptroller Spitzer.

To be clear, I don’t consider myself the morality police, and I believe that the only job description that requires someone to be judged for having too much sex is perhaps clergy member. But ultimately, Spitzer’s comeback raised my antenna because despite how far our country has evolved in terms of electing a black president, a record number of female senators and more openly gay elected officials, the only Americans who can get away with this kind of shamelessness seems to be straight white guys.

In fact, the women involved in their scandals (and no, I don’t mean their wives) rarely enjoy any sort of comeback. According to reports, Monica Lewinsky is still struggling to carve out some semblance of a life and career more than a decade after the impeachment scandal — meanwhile, former President Clinton is living large.

Ironically, Kristin Davis, the madam infamous for her role in the Spitzer scandal, is also running for comptroller (only in New York!). But unlike Spitzer’s, Davis’ candidacy is not being taken seriously, despite the fact that she has performed well in debates in her previous runs for office. Instead Davis is laughed off, in part because she is a convicted felon. What was she convicted for? She served time for her role in Spitzer’s prostitution scandal. He never did.

See what I mean about it being good to be a powerful, straight white guy?