03.07.11

John Ensign's Exit: End of an Era for Juicy Sex Scandals?

John Edwards is in exile, Larry Craig has disappeared, and now Nevada Sen. John Ensign is retiring. David A. Graham says the Internet has killed the political sex scandal—but there’s still time for a few more Ensign jokes.

With Sen. John Ensign’s decision to retire, the era of the salacious American political sex scandal may be coming to a close.

Bill Clinton has been trundled off to retirement as an elder statesman. John Edwards is exiled to North Carolina, drinking with undergrads and awaiting indictment. Larry Craig is nowhere to be found. Mark Foley can’t even be bothered to run for mayor of a small town. Newt Gingrich is dipping a toe in the presidential waters, but analysts have been skeptical. After frantically making himself available for interviews with every reporter in Washington, Eric Massa is hiding out in New York and declining nearly every request he gets, including one from this reporter. Ensign’s exit leaves only the seemingly invincible Louisiana Sen. David Vitter to carry the mantle of national politicians stained by sex scandals.

The reason for the end of the golden age of sex scandals we’ve enjoyed for the last 20 years? It’s yet another case of the Internet and cable news ruining everything. The old-model politician would roll the dice and hang on for as long as possible, hoping the news cycle might pass and he could cling to power. The new-model politician follows the lead of Reps. Mark Souder and Chris Lee, both of whom resigned almost immediately when their indiscretions were revealed—on the Internet, in Lee’s case—and spread like wildfire.

Some folks might argue that Americans should celebrate the change as a rare case of politicians being held accountable. There are two problems with that: There’s no reason to believe our lawmakers are behaving any better, and political news just isn’t as entertaining. To mark the end of the era, here’s a roundup of the best John Ensign humor out there. If you don’t laugh, you’ll have to cry.

There are plenty of plain old sex jokes:

@ pourmecoffee: John Ensign will reportedly retire, presumably to spend more time having affairs with his staff's family.

@ daveweigel: Ensign/Spitzer #beforeanyoneelsesuggeststhis

Plus a line about Ensign’s home state, for good measure:

@ joelconnelly: Sen. John Ensign won't run again: Evidence that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas?

People are still chuckling about Ensign having his parents pay off the family of his lover:

@ brianbeutler: Ensign: After careful consideration, and consultation with my parents, my family, my God, but mostly my parents...

It’s yet another case of the Internet and cable news ruining everything.

For a flashback, there’s a little bit of old Ensign humor. When the affair was revealed, Comedy Central’s Indecision Forever blog wondered why a Republican had gotten caught in a straight-sex scandal after Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest for soliciting gay sex and several other cases of allegedly closeted gay Republicans being caught in embarrassing situations: “Apparently, it was with the wife of one of his staffers. Which is odd, given that Ensign is a Republican. So, you’d expect it to have been a staffer's husband.” Jimmy Kimmel was thinking along the same lines: “So many prominent Republicans have been caught in these situations lately: Mark Sanford, Larry Craig, David Vitter, John Ensign from Nevada. And do you want to know why this is happening? The gays. They’ve destroyed the institution of marriage and now this is what we get.”

Meanwhile, I Can Haz Cheezburger got a bit catty about Ensign’s past condemnation of extramarital affairs. And here’s a vintage clip of Stephen Colbert taking a jab at the senator.

Saddest of all, however, no one will have a use for this bumper sticker. It’s just one of the many pleasures from which we’ll have to abstain in our new, sex-scandal depraved—er, deprived—landscape.

David Graham is a reporter for Newsweek covering politics, national affairs, and business. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The National in Abu Dhabi.