Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.”
(CNN) — Are men stupid? How else can we explain the endless parade of otherwise successful individuals, who by all appearances seem intelligent and competent, and yet risk destroying their careers and their personal lives over the chance to have a sexual escapade?
John Edwards crashing from the heights of promise to infamy, from presidential candidate to defendant in a trial after a secret affair; Secret Service agents ending their careers in disgrace over dalliances with prostitutes in Colombia, all join that long procession of men who managed to self-destruct, pulling a pin on the grenade of their careers and perhaps their personal lives for the sake of a little fun.
The pageant of legacy-killing misjudgment includes a president, several might-have-been presidents, a few governors, a World Bank director, a former Dutch prime minister, an Israeli president and one of the top golfers of all time. And that is only a partial list.
How to explain it?
The question has baffled women, mostly, since biblical times.
Perhaps the Secret Service agents thought their behavior, if discovered, would raise no eyebrows. But the stupidity was in evidence when one of the agents, who had earlier “protected” Sarah Palin, posted on Facebook that he was “checking her out.” Sounds like the claim of a 13-year-old boy. And the decision to post the comment displays the common sense of an 8-year-old.
But that level of maturity and judgment shines compared to the decision of, say President Bill Clinton, who risked his presidency to have an affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then lied about it repeatedly.
A brilliant man, everyone said about the president, but also one of only two presidents in American history impeached.
The Clinton experience almost numbed us to the epidemic scale of the problem. Over and over we hear stories that defy belief.
Men whose lives are filled with gifts and opportunity, men who have worked hard to achieve, risk it all and sometimes lose it all.
There’s Edwards, of course, he of the winning smile, the heart-warming marriage, the beautiful children, and the gorgeous hair, still young enough to contemplate another run at the White House, now facing prison time after revelations that he had an affair, a child, and a complicated and foolish coverup during the last campaign
Another who might have reached the presidency, had he not succumbed to the same meltdown of reason is former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, the law and order guy who threw it all away to cavort with prostitutes. He might have known someone would take relish in turning him in.
Some try to explain it as biology, testosterone’s fault, they say. Others blame complex psychological needs. “The appeal of hookers lies in the temporary psychic relief they supply to men struggling with conflicts about guilt and responsibility,” wrote psychologist Michael Bader.
But I believe the common denominator, the proximate cause of the irrational behavior, is arrogance; the belief by some powerful men that they can get away with it. That the world is still their unchallenged domain, as it was years ago, when few people knew about a president bringing women to the White House to have sex, as John F. Kennedy did, or pressuring his secretary to yield to sexual advances, as was common. It is willful ignorance that the world has changed.
The sudden-IQ-drop syndrome affects Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Europeans, people of all colors and professions.
Did Tiger Woods think nobody would even learn about his affairs, with more than a dozen alleged relationships?
Did former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, who couldn’t come up with an excuse so he simply disappeared to meet his Argentinian lover, think no one would find out?
Then there’s the Democratic congressman who might have become mayor of New York. Anthony Weiner’s tweeting ranks near the top of the stupidity charts.
But the competition is arduous. Republican Christopher Lee answered a Craigslist ad with a photograph of his flexed biceps, describing himself as a “fit fun classy guy.”
Across the Atlantic, the man who almost everyone expected to become the next president of France, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, married to a multi-millionaire, may or may not have assaulted a maid at his New York hotel. (DSK denied the charges and the criminal case against him was dropped by prosecutors. He is seeking dismissal of a civil suit.) He now is under investigation in connection with procuring prostitutes for parties, a crime under French law.
The former Dutch Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, called it a “friendly gesture” after a woman accused him of “grabbing her behind.” Lubbers had served as prime minister of the Netherlands, crowning a stellar career with a post as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, when the accusations came. A U.N. investigation found no proof, but discovered a pattern of sexual harassment by the commissioner, which he also denied.
That we’re finding out about these men, and that their political careers are in many cases ending, is a sign that society is changing. That it continues to happen, to seemingly intelligent, disciplined individuals, is a sign that the process will be slow. And that, in the final analysis, if it has to do with sex, some men really are stupid.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.