Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 10, 2011

A FIT, FUN, UNEMPLOYED GUY.... Usually, politicians' career-crushing controversies take a while, and linger for weeks, if not months. Yesterday, the life-cycle of Christopher Lee's scandal didn't quite last four hours.

Rep. Chris Lee of New York abruptly resigned Wednesday evening, hours after a gossip Web site reported that the married Republican had allegedly sent flirtatious e-mail messages and a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met online.

Lee experienced his fall from grace in a single afternoon, undone at the speed of the digital age. At lunchtime Wednesday, he was an obscure but promising second-term congressman. Then, at 2:33 p.m., the Web site Gawker posted an alleged e-mail exchange between a man who used Lee's name - but identified himself as a divorced lobbyist - and an unidentified woman. Gawker reported that the two had met through the personals section of Craigslist.

After that, the familiar cycles of a Washington sex scandal were compressed into a blur of tweets and news alerts. There was confusion, a hint of denial, then a pledge from Lee to "work it out" with his wife.

By 6 p.m., a clerk was announcing Lee's resignation in the House chamber.

Lee, a two-term lawmaker from Buffalo, was considered a rising star in Republican politics, and was recently given a coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee. One topless photo later, all of this is gone.

The developments were more than a little surprising, not only because of Lee's spectacularly dumb actions, but also because he resigned so quickly -- Republicans, especially those caught up in sex scandals, generally don't step down.

Indeed, if we're measuring controversies on the Scandal Richter Scale, Lee's story doesn't seem nearly as serious as some of his Republican colleagues. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) got caught with prostitutes, refused to resign, sought re-election, and won. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) carried on a lengthy extra-marital relationship with one of his aides, who happened to be married to another one of his aides. Ensign's parents tried to pay off the mistress' family, and the senator arranged lobbying work for his mistress' husband. He refused to resign, and he's running for another term, too. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) got caught seeking sex in an airport bathroom, and even he didn't resign.

Lee's story is certainly sleazy, but based solely on what we know so far, it pales in comparison to some of these other Republicans' scandals.

So, why'd he resign while the others didn't? It's speculative, of course, but it's possible there was far more dirt, and Lee quit to avoid further humiliation. Maybe Republican leaders who tolerated the previous controversies didn't want any distractions, so they demanded Lee's resignation.

Or maybe it's just the simple fact that we live in an era when images have more of an impact than than anything else. Vitter, Ensign, and the like were at the center of ugly controversies, but there's no single photograph to be aired over and over again, the way there is with Lee's topless photo of himself.

Visuals, in other words, resonate.

As for the month-old 112th Congress, David Dayen had this eye-opening observation: "Number of House resignations this year: 2. Number of pieces of legislation signed into law: 0."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

yesterday a married congressman, tomorrow a divorced lobbyiest - dreams really do come true in America.

Posted by: bcinaz on February 10, 2011 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Or maybe, just maybe, he is one of those rare Republican politicians that is capable of feeling shame.

Posted by: Coltergeist on February 10, 2011 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Was that the resignation land-speed record?

I think there's more to this than just this one episode.
Now, I don't know him, and I'm sure I don't see eye-to-eye with him on anything, but still, I hope for the sake of him and his family, unless there's something truly horrible and illegal, that the MSM leaves him alone.
I'm probably not in the majority on this one.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 10, 2011 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

What Coltergeist said - maybe the guy had a shred of decency after all.

Posted by: Tim on February 10, 2011 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Don't those "Family Value" republican congressmen melt your heart when the Free Liberal Press expose them to such baseless ridicule? I mean is this what we are to expect from the progressives in this 112th Congress? Why do the democrats hate the troops so?

Posted by: Stevio on February 10, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

With Republicans back in control of the House, it was just a matter of time before the sex scandals started breaking. But a month? Guess those Republican boys are hot to trot.

Posted by: Seould on February 10, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Another example of Republican's family values.

Posted by: ET on February 10, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I used to be "joyzeeboy" but got Riffed yesterday,guess I will be adding to the new claims come March 1, boy I needed a laugh and 2 - 0 sure got the job done.

Posted by: NuJoyzeeboy on February 10, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

This had better not count against the unemployment rate.

Posted by: bignose on February 10, 2011 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

I think Steve's on point here, re the visuals. Because the MSM seems incapable of running any news story-even one as dull as the unemployment numbers- without a split screen, showing jump cuts of money being printed, people walking on the street, or anything involving flames.

-eye candy ain't just boobs. And, speaking of boobs, what was this congressman thinking? (Assuming he was. . .)

Posted by: DAY on February 10, 2011 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe his wife told him if he didn't resign and stay close to home where she could keep an eye on him she would consider 2nd amendment remedies.

Posted by: Maineiac on February 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

I think you mean he had a "coveted" position on Ways and Means - though a "covered" position is good, too, given the CL photo. (Per the NYT, it was the only picture of himself he had to send!)

Posted by: Barbara on February 10, 2011 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

"House resignations this year: 2. Number of pieces of legislation signed into law: 0" For a Republican led House, keep up the good work.

Posted by: Ted76 on February 10, 2011 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

Let's keep fingers crossed it is Boehner's turn next.

Posted by: j on February 10, 2011 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

How long will Boehner last?

Posted by: mikefromArlington on February 10, 2011 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

"How long will Boehner last?"

Well, since it's the Republicans, and they have a "ZERO TOLERACE" policy, I'd say a couple of decades.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 10, 2011 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, should be "tolerance."

'Tolerace' sounds like they might be ok with all the colors of the crayons in the box.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 10, 2011 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Now he can join the Newt and Rudy circuit and get rich. I expect he'll announce he's forming an exploratory committee any day now

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 10, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Who was the other one that resigned?

Posted by: Newton Whale on February 10, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

if only there had been a picture of vitter in his diaper.

Posted by: daveminnj on February 10, 2011 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Republican leaders who tolerated the previous controversies didn't want any distractions, so they demanded Lee's resignation.

BWAHAHahahahahaahh

The GOP has plenty-o-room to spare, so losing a low rung "toady" ain't no skin off there back like a brewhaha would be. If the GOP had a narrow majority in the Senate and Lee was the 218th member of the House GOP instead of the 242nd. Now does he resign so quickly?

Posted by: AndThenThere'sThat on February 10, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

It may also be that Lee knows his constituents in decadent New York don't tolerate this sort of behavior the way the virtuous people of the South do.

Posted by: tom on February 10, 2011 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

There's some chance he only went trolling on Craigslist once, but that is highly unlikely. Much more likely is that he has gone trolling on Crgainslist multiple times over the years and has had multiple successful hookups. My guess is that the speed of the resignation was an attempt to avoid a tide of women coming forward to tell similar stories.

Posted by: Alan on February 10, 2011 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's just a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Internet works--some people still seem to think it's a post office box, instead of a bulletin board that the WHOLE WORLD can see.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on February 10, 2011 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

I do have to say that I have a lot more respect (or is that a lot less disrespect?) for Lee, who at least acknowledges that what he did makes his fitness for public office questionable, than for Vitter, Ensign, Craig et al who seem to think that carrying on the way they want (ethics be damned) is no reason for them to rethink their ability to serve - or the propriety of their service to - the public. At least Lee had the decency to step aside.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on February 10, 2011 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

The only answer that makes sense is what Maineiac said, his wife said "it's the job or a divorce," and he chose to stay married.

I know it is easy to make fun of politicians, but they live a lifestyle that makes adultery easy. Always traveling, surrounded by people trying to boost their egos. It's not hard to figure why it happens to people on both sides of the aisle, although the hypocracy of the right is particularly galling.

Posted by: joisey on February 10, 2011 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

To Newton Whale: I think the number 2 resignation is Jane Harman, unless there was one I missed.

Posted by: 5280point5 on February 10, 2011 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

> The only answer that makes sense is what Maineiac said, his wife said "it's the job or a divorce," and he chose to stay married.

That would have taken at least several days to play out. This was too quick. IMO the only explanation that makes sense is that he was fearing a flood of women coming forward with similar "I met him on Craigslist" stories.

Posted by: Alan on February 10, 2011 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

He was busted for seeking a hookup with... an adult woman? And no mention of spankings, diapers, mechanical equipment, illicit payoffs, rent boys or goats? And the guy was a Republican? Man, they just aren't stepping up with the sex scandals like they used to.

Posted by: jonas on February 10, 2011 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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