Tiger Woods has broken another record. I'm not talking about his new accolade for being athlete of the decade. I am talking about the fact that your typical celebrity sex scandal will produce, at most, a 10-day sustained media barrage before the cool down begins. Yet here we are at the end of Week Two with the inexhaustible angles on Tiger’s troubles still derailing dinner-party conversations with no signs of abating.
It’s almost Christmas, but half the people I talk to are all still back at Thanksgiving savoring the multiple Meet the Fockers aspects of the initial explosion of slapstick in the Woodses’ Florida driveway. Those are the conversations that debate whether to go with (a) Rachel Uchitel’s attributed plot lead about sex frolics in an “Ambien haze” to explain why Tiger was snoring in the driveway next to the crashed car; or (b) the preferred scenario among females—that Tiger had only popped his Ambien pill to ensure that he (not his SUV) would crash, hoping for a good night’s rest (Tiger to Jaimee Grubbs: “Sorry, baby, I just can’t sleep, it’s a problem I have”) until an enraged Elin Woods snuck a look at his text messages and slammed an iPhone into his head before giving chase with the golf club.
The Tiger story is full of the reassuring primal juice that’s so lacking from our national politics.
Gallery: Tiger’s Top Defenders
• Full coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal Then there are the rows that break out when wives catch their husbands sighing and exchanging looks with other guys at the table after one of the women present inevitably remarks, “And his wife is such a beauty, too!” These conversations have a nervous subtext: that well-heeled women who spend so much time and money working out and going under the knife to ensure they’re still alluring to their rich alpha husbands may as well throw in the 500-thread towel. It’s an unsettling possibility to say the least, not improved when one of the men usually sighs philosophically and remarks, with a sage gaze to left and right, “For every beautiful woman in the world, there’s a guy who’s tired of f——g her.”
I’ve been hearing this apparently self-evident chestnut of masculine logic so often that I asked the last man who said it, a New York entertainment lawyer, to elucidate. He told me he used to drive to work with the husband of a world-class sex symbol, and the husband hit on every girl he met at the coffee bar or the gas station along the way. Asked why he should behave this way when every one of his friends lusted after his gorgeous wife, the husband answered, “You don’t understand. To you she may be the most gorgeous creature in the world, but to me she’s just the woman who’s busting my balls every day of my life.”
At this my hitherto silent dinner partner on the other side suddenly weighed in. “We have certainly all been there.” He stared in a fixed way at his veal chop and scalloped potatoes gratin. (A female voice down the table: “Why does it always, always end up somehow that the wife gets blamed?”)
I guess we take refuge in the Tiger story because it’s so much more fun and less scary than the stuff we ought to be worrying about but can actually do nothing about. More than 15 million people out of work, 46.3 million people with no health insurance. The sickening conundrum of Afghanistan.
In the face of all this, the Tiger story is full of the reassuring primal juice that’s so lacking from our national politics. Everyone is tired of not understanding things: why the banks got away with it, why people still can’t get a loan, how our Afghan troop “surge” is suddenly going to make Karzai into George Washington. Even the Senate doesn't understand what's in the health care bill. Sen. Max Baucus was right Wednesday when he said: "I think it is impossible to certify that any senator fully understood. They may read but not fully understand for a variety of reasons."
The nation bleeds but we seem to have a president for whom emotion is notional. Obama had to insist to Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes last week that his carefully parsed West Point speech about the surge was actually “the most emotional speech that I’ve made in terms of how I felt about it.” We liked Obama’s low temperature on the campaign trail, but now life is grim and, baby, it’s cold out there. The glaciers are melting, the deserts expanding, the seas rising, even the ice and snow at the North Pole disappearing but most people are frightened of something more horribly local—the loss of their job. Santa Claus is drowning in the cold dark water alongside the polar bears.
So much safer to cost out what Tiger’s peccadilloes have wrought on his marriage or his annual income than it is to consider what the horrors of the past decade may end up costing all of us.
Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.