Can Black Candidates Survive Sex Scandals?

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?

Besides the gender inequity in how these types of stories play out, I can't help considering sexual orientation and race. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned after a sex scandal in which he indicated that he had cheated on his wife with a man. He came out as gay and left politics for the priesthood. Is he happier in his newfound calling? Probably. But might things have played out differently had his paramour been a woman? Most definitely. 


And then there is the issue of race. During his first run for the presidency in 2008, I said that President Obama would not be given any of the second chances or benefits of the doubt that white male candidates have occasionally enjoyed through the years. For instance, Vice President Joe Biden had his 1988 run for the presidency torpedoed by a plagiarism scandal. Had Biden been black, I firmly believe he would now be a trivia question, not vice president.

Sex scandals are worse, much worse.

Black Republican Herman Cain had his presidential Cain Train derailed by a sex scandal, despite the fact that fellow candidate Newt Gingrich, who is on wife No. 3, remained a serious contender. One small detail: Gingrich is white.


There is no question that if President Obama pulled a Bill Clinton by pulling a Lewinsky, so to speak, the impact on his legacy, and the legacy of all black men, would be much more severe and much more devastating than the fallout Clinton faced. Because for Obama it would be perceived as the ultimate oversexed, black-male stereotype come to life. 

And there would be no comeback.

How lucky for Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer that, as straight, white guys, they don't have to worry about such headaches. 


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter