the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

American Political Sex Scandals: What Would We Do Without Them?

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America is a country, thankfully, that loves sex and political power.

Think it’s a modern phenomenon? Hardly. The country’s Founding Fathers pioneered it. Take an event that happened during this month more than 200 years ago.

On Sept. 1, 1802, the “Richmond Recorder” published a piece about Thomas Jefferson and his mistress, a slave simply known as “Sally.” At the time, Jefferson was temporarily retired from politics and was spending a great amount of time on his Virginia plantation, Monticello.

But he had collected an army of enemies, and they knew Jefferson liked to indulge in hanky panky. Enter James Callendar, an Andrew Breitbart for the Jefferson era, who liked to stir the pot with pamphlets and newspapers. Jefferson and Callendar once had a cozy relationship. In the 1790s, Jefferson and his Republican cronies secretly funded Callendar to attack the Federalists. But then Callendar got mad at Jefferson.

Callendar wanted Jefferson to appoint him postmaster of Richmond. Jefferson refused. As a result, Callendar put Jefferson into his crosshairs. He wrote that Jefferson “keeps and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is Sally.”

He also said that Sally’s son was named Tom. In the “Richmond Recorder,” Callendar wrote, that Tom’s features “are said to bear a striking although sable resemblance to those of the president himself. The boy is ten or twelve years of age.”

Callendar responded a month later to the sharp criticism he faced. “We are surprised at the petulance of some eastern editors in still affecting to doubt the truth of Sally’s story. In this state, at least as far as we can learn, every body believes it,” Callendar wrote.

Jefferson was always a randy one, according to historians. He tried to seduce the close friend of his wife. While serving as a diplomat in Paris, he engaged in affairs with married women. Dalliances were as common for Jefferson as dallying with architecture and gardening. Jefferson’s supporters lashed back, smearing Callendar with allegations that he abandoned his wife, leaving her to die of a venereal disease. Ouch.

It’s been a split second since the last great political sex scandal. Don’t we need one to distract us from midterm elections, Glenn Beck’s incessant rantings and despairing economic news?

The John Edwards baby drama has settled down a bit, although a North Carolina website this week reported that Andrew Young, a former aide to Edwards and the author of a tell-all book about the former presidential candidate, has reached a deal with writer and producer Aaron Sorkin to develop a movie based on the bestseller. But will anyone watch?

Edwards’ mistress, Rielle Hunter, has sued Young over an alleged sex tape that supposedly contains footage of Edwards. Naturally, she wants it back.

Former New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer has rehabilitated himself straight to a CNN talk show with conservative writer Kathleen Parker. The show, called “Parker Spitzer,” debuts in October. Forgot what Spitzer did? In 2008, he resigned from office after The New York Times reported that he had patronized a prostitution service numerous times. But CNN is happy to help cultivate a new image for Spitzer.

The Big Mac of all modern-day political sex scandals, Bill Clinton, has even brushed his cigar-happy past under the rug to become the most sought-after Democrat on the midterm campaign trail. Sure, the jokes are still cracked about his dalliance with an intern in the Oval Office, but Democrats don’t care when the dough is rolling in. A good politician can always reinvent himself, but never truly escape the past.

Take Jefferson. He never freed Sally Hemings, but in his will, he freed five slaves from the Hemings family. In the 200 years since, the Hemings family has drawn scrutiny from academics and scientists for their kinship to Jefferson. In 1998, DNA testing linked the two families, and subsequent studies have also connected them. Modern day technology allows sex scandals to live forever. Such affairs like Jefferson’s now even get a mention on historic tours at Monticello.

Some people believe a law should exist that forbids the press from covering the private acts of public figures. Heaven forbid! America certainly would be a bored nation with even more boring media coverage. What mud would politicians sling at their opponents? Tax increases? Health care reform? Yawn. Even a G-rated sex scandal is better than none.

I say, a hearty huzzah to James Callendar. If Callendar hadn’t put ink to paper to get the passion party started in this country, presidents and their playthings may have gotten a free pass. And journalists? We would be very bored. Who knows what we might turn up with all that time on our hands? To paraphrase a saying, idle ink-stained hands are the devil’s workshop.

[Originally posted on Politics Daily Sept. 8, 2010]

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Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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