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            Scandal Kills Some Political Careers, Spares Others

       LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 9, 2008) − Election season often means scandal season,
as the private lives of public figures become fair game for analysis by a public and
media hungry for salacious details. In "School of Scandal: the truth and consequences
of public figures' libidinal lapses," published in the Oct. 10 Chronicle of Higher
Education, University of Kentucky professor Susan Bordo asks why some politicians
find themselves unable to recover from indiscretions while others survive to campaign
another day.
       Bordo looks at scandals affecting public figures in modern history, including
Kennedys (JFK and Ted), Bill Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain and even a
hapless Jimmy Carter (whose gaffe was more verbal than carnal). She examines the
relationship between sexual scandal and the evangelical appeal of vice presidential
candidate Sarah Palin, thrust into the limelight for her abstinence-only rhetoric in the
face of her teen daughter's pregnancy. While on the topic of religion and scandal, she
looks at how evangelist Jimmy Swaggart handled the public admission of his infidelity.
And Bordo looks at the women affected by modern political scandal - both the wronged
wives like Elizabeth Edwards and Carol McCain as well as the "other women" such as
Rielle Hunter and the tragically killed Mary Jo Kopechne. From hurried divorces to
alleged children and stained blue dresses, Bordo delivers the highlights of sexual
scandal in national politics over the past half-century.

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           Bordo examines the arguments of some recent books on scandal, including one
that claims that what sets the philandering politician who is shunned from public life
apart from the one who, Teflon-like, sheds all scandal is public confession of sins. The
public wants to see their leaders grovel a bit while they admit their sins. Of course,
Edwards did make a very public apology, but it was preceded by denial. The fact that
Elizabeth Edwards is suffering from terminal cancer likely did not help her husband's
public image. While she might be willing to forgive John Edwards, the American public
apparently is not. John McCain publicly called the end of his first marriage his "greatest
moral failure," but Carol McCain has not surfaced in the public view as a figure speaking
either for or against her ex-husband. Without a wronged wife to focus their sympathies
on, the public ire seems to be short-lived, and not strong enough to rule out a run for
           The article by Susan Bordo is available in the Chronicle Review, online at (a subscription is necessary to view
the full text). Bordo is Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities and Professor of
English at the University of Kentucky, and the acting director of the Gender and
Women's Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is currently writing
a book about Anne Boleyn.

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