article

02.10.11

Celebrating Shirtless Pols

Rep. Christopher Lee showed his abs, then scuttled his career, thanks to a Gawker exposé of his Craigslist adventures. Jonathan Last on his bare-chested triumph—and what his worst sin was.

Admit it: The first time you saw the shirtless pic of now-former Representative Christopher Lee, you thought, “When did Gary Condit start hitting the juice?” Lee scores the middle-aged-man trifecta: a head full of hair—but none on his torso—and abs you can bounce a quarter off. He’s like a distinguished version of the Bowflex guy. Or Peter North. Only with the sharp-eyed gleam of a sales executive.

In other words, he’s what every politician and TV talking head in America wishes they looked like.

Yet I come not to bury Chris Lee, but to defend him. Sort of.

Gawker justified running the story which ended Lee’s career by saying that his support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a ban on federal abortion funding means he’s comfortable “with publicly scrutinizing others’ sex lives.” Right. Only, for one thing, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is about staying deaf, dumb, and blind to others’ sex lives; and abortion isn’t about sex. But the big problem is that Chris Lee’s sex scandal doesn’t have any sex. Or even sexy talk.

(The weirdest part of the affair is that Lee’s emails couldn’t be more safe for work. Clearly, the congressman didn’t study the Mark Sanford Manual of Style. The movie version of the Christopher Lee Story doesn’t even earn a PG-13.)

However, there ends the brief for Lee. Because if the particulars of the incident don’t create a hypocrisy problem, the general contours of it should set off all sorts of good-government alarm bells.

Because public officials appear uncomfortably shirtless often enough. But cruising Craigslist is something else altogether.

Have you ever seen that place? It’s page after page of “ads,” most of which seem to be spam or come-ons from hookers. And the “real” ads? Here’s one on the D.C. Craigslist from the other day, with the heading “Mature Men Need Fun 2”:

Gallery: Shirtless Pols

SBF-F/F 6FT LOOKING FOR MATURE MEN ONLY, RACE OPEN
WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR??????? WELL THAT DEPEND'S.
LET’S TALK . CAN SEND PIC. AND TELL YOU MORE.

Another one is demurely slugged, “There’s a banana in the oven...?!” And those are from the respectable “relationship-seeking” part of the site. Over in the “casual encounters” section it’s much worse. (I recommend Grant Stoddard’s field report on the subject.) Trawling Craigslist for sex is a dignity-destroying, time-sucking slog. Lee must have spent hours click-click-clicking on ad after ad—Craigslist has a notoriously miniscule yield rate. If he absolutely had to commit adultery and lie about his identity, then Lee’s time—by which I mean the taxpayers’ time—would have been better spent on AshleyMadison.com. Or whores. I hear we have them in D.C. That guy over at CNN could probably have hooked him up.

In the end, Lee resigned three hours after his shirtless pictures appeared, which is some kind of land-speed record for surrender. (The French army is shocked how fast he folded.) So the really interesting question is, why? Mark Foley was harrassing interns while drunk and he held out for 24 hours. Larry Craig was soliciting gay sex in a public bathroom and he hung in there for two years!

We may never know Lee’s full story, but my guess is that there were two factors in his decision to split. First of all, nobody sends topless photos of themselves to strangers on the Internet once. That’s just a fact. Science. Who knows what else is out there? For all we know, there’s an Xtube channel with videos of Lee doing role-play tentacle porn with Alphaharlot and the Mets mascot. His resignation effectively closes off this avenue of discovery—and on behalf of a grateful America, let me say thank you, Mr. Lee.

But there’s an even better reason for the one-and-a-bit term congressman to head for the hills. Cornered by a Fox News reporter, Lee pleaded, “I have to work this out with my wife.” And boy, does he. Because Lee also happens to be one of the 50 richest members of Congress, with a net worth close to $9 million. I’m not an expert on New York state civil law, but I believe that the starting position for divorce settlements where the husband is caught going after tail on Craigslist is “half.”

So Lee has 4.5 million reasons to do everything in his power to get right with Mrs. Lee, and if the cost of that is a second term in Congress, then it’s a bargain at twice the price.

And I, for one, hope those two crazy kids work it out.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and blogs at JonathanLast.com.