Paul Farhi: Republicans have a harder time surviving sex scandals than Democrats





Sex scandals involving politicians are as old as Thomas Jefferson, but the outcome seems to depend on which party you represent. In recent years, for the most part, Democrats have been able to survive their sordid escapades while Republicans have paid with their political lives.

The latest example: Mark Foley, a Republican congressman from Florida, who abruptly became an ex-congressman from Florida last week amid revelations that he had sent sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys who were serving as House pages.

Foley's creepy behavior might have done him in even if he'd been the most liberal of Democrats. But that's not assured. With a Republican at the center of the seamy scandal, however, it was almost a slam-dunk that Foley would have to quit.

That's how it usually turns out for members of the conservative, traditional-family-values party. Just ask Bob Livingston, Jack Ryan, Bob Packwood, Dan Crane or others in the GOP who've watched their careers go pffft! with salacious disclosures. Or ask Bill Clinton, Gerry Studds, Barney Frank and other Democrats who've withstood embarrassing revelations to govern another day. Consider, for example:

Packwood, from Oregon, resigned his Senate seat in 1995 amid repeated allegations that he had sexually harassed women. A few years earlier, Rep. Jim Bates, a Democrat from the San Diego area, faced similar allegations by two female staffers. Bates refused to resign and won reelection (he eventually lost his seat to Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who ran into his own ethics problems last year, and resigned after being convicted of bribery).

In 1998, Livingston won the Republican Party's blessing to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. But Livingston, of Louisiana, never served a day in the job. He was sunk by revelations that he'd had an extramarital affair, a disclosure that carried the additional baggage of hypocrisy since, at the time, Livingston was leading the Republican impeachment of President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton, of course, ultimately survived impeachment.

Rep. Thomas Evans (R-Del.) was voted out of office in 1982 after he publicly regretted his "association" with a lobbyist named Paula Parkinson, who later posed for Playboy; Evans and two other Republican House members (including one named Dan Quayle) had shared a Florida cottage with Parkinson on a junket. Contrast this to the reaction to allegations of an affair between Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and Tai Collins, a former Miss Virginia. Robb claimed that Collins had only given him a back rub in a hotel room. Robb won reelection three years later.

The clearest illustration may be in the divergent outcomes of the cases against Crane (R) and Studds (D) in 1983. Both men were censured by the House for having sex with underage congressional pages -- Crane with a 17-year-old girl in 1980, Studds with a 17-year-old boy in 1973. Crane, of Illinois, apologized for his actions, while Studds, who declared he was gay, refused. Crane lost his reelection bid the next year; Studds, of Massachusetts, kept winning his seat until he retired in 1996.

A double standard? And if so, by whom?

"The reality is that Democrats seem to get away with more," says Chuck Todd, editor in chief of the Hotline, a daily political journal. "They can have an affair and bail [themselves] out. There's a lower threshold for Republicans. I guess it's more of a hypocrisy thing," he adds, because such scandals put Republicans at odds with the party's socially conservative image....



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