OFF THE GRID

Al Gore, Nikki Haley: The New Sex Scandal Politics

Jun 17, 10 | 7:33 AM   byMichael Wolff
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We’re entering an unlikely phase of scandal politics: the deny-it stage.

This follows the caught-in-the-headlights phase—the Spitzer-Edwards-Sanford phase.

This new stage may have begun with the recent dismissal by the Obamas of rumors about the then Senate candidate’s possible affair back in 2004 with a campaign worker, Vera Baker. This denial was oddly effective because it was made by Michelle Obama—she laughed it off. But not long ago the scandal playbook would have counseled that any acknowledgement at all of such a rumor would invite the kind of scrutiny which invariably diminishes you.

Then followed Nikki Haley, who, in the face of quite credible reports—from the purported lover in question—absolutely and categorically dismissed the notion. There were emails, but, it is true, no smoking gun. And, as it happened, relatively little follow-up. Even a second allegation of another affair didn’t really give the story legs—or put legions of reporters on the case. And, indeed, she came in first in the Republican primary (and now faces a run-off) and will likely be the next governor of South Carolina.

Which brings us to Al Gore and Laurie David, Larry David’s ex-wife and the co-producer of Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth: They’ve both said pshaw to reports of their affair.

Now, in some sense, we are also at another stage: the likelihood stage. Given the onslaught, it seems as safe and legitimate to assume as not to assume. If the story seems credible, it very well might be. Actually, even if the story seems fantastic—ie, Spitzer-Edwards-Sanford—it very well may be true (and, in fact, prosaic). This has meant that the ordinary restraints on telling such tales have fallen away. Or, in a sense, they’ve caught up with real life. The real life assumption about a couple like Al and Tipper was that they would not have broken up without exigent circumstances. Likewise, Nikki Haley—a figure of startling take-what-you-want ambition and surprising comeliness—is a character who, in real life, we’d interpret in an obvious way.

Political life, which has been separate from real life—full of artifice, spin, and flagrant fakery and inauthenticity—has been, rather miraculously, reduced to the real and transparent. That’s the joke: Politicians are ordinary fools.

Curiously, this leveling or reduction may deal a big blow to scandal. If we believe all politicians are having affairs, there’s no story.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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