On Congressman Chris Lee and Family Values

by Jamison Koehler on February 12, 2011

Norm Pattis has some unkind words to say about Congressman Chris Lee who, you will recall, resigned from Congress earlier this week after a woman came forward with the allegation that he had sent her a shirtless photograph of himself.

It is not that the Congressman is a cad or a fool, “posing shirtless on Craigslist and pretending to be single in the great search for a cheap seat in some floozy’s lap.”  And it is not that he is a liar, “posing as a divorced man while looking to hook up with a creature as deserving of his attention as her description suggests:  a ‘leggy glamazon’ with a thing for ‘posh spots’ on the weekend.”

No, Pattis’ beef with the Congressman is that he resigned from office as a result of “this unremarkable tabloid gossip”:

Deserting his post as a congressman because of this garden variety melodrama is foolish.  It reflects the very sort of sexophrenic hysteria that creates sex offender registries that can’t distinguish a violent rapist and child abductor from a young man who looked at some pictures, or talked dirty online to a police officer posing as a child.

Sex is everywhere in our culture. We market cars, soap and cereal with it.  We celebrate it. We show legs, breasts, and bootie every chance we get on television, online, and in print. We are a culture that celebrates and revels in desire, yet we retain a parallel Puritanical streak. Lust is good for business, but the moment some poor shmuck desires outside the lines, we swoop in like avenging angels, and condemn the sinner to the torments of Hell in the form of imprisonment, humiliation and ostracism.

Pattis then criticizes Congressman Lee for missing this opportunity to “look this hysteria about sex in the eye and say simply, ‘so what?’”:  “Mr. Lee could have taught us a lesson,” Pattis says.  “Instead, he reinforced unrealistic and destructive behaviors and attitudes.”

Pattis is absolutely right about our Puritanical and conflicting attitudes toward sex, and he is especially persuasive when he attributes these attitudes to the shameful way in which we treat people convicted of sex offenses. But, apart from capitalizing on the scandal myself through blog entries of my own, both here and earlier, I have trouble faulting Congressman Lee for his resignation, and it is not just because I think that the Congressman has already suffered enough:  the loss of his position in Congress and the knowledge that for the rest of his life he will be known as the “shirtless photograph” guy.

Short of a tell-all book by either the Congressman or someone privy to his reasoning, we may never know what motivated him to resign so quickly. Maybe, as Pattis, suggests, he overreacted. He may also have missed an opportunity to turn this scandal into a positive educational experience for all the rest of us.

But, to the extent that we can draw conclusions based on his actions, the Congressman may not be such a cad after all, nor a fool. By putting an end to the story on the very day that it broke, he spared himself the embarrassment of having this story drag out in the national media over the next couple of weeks.  More importantly, his swift resignation spared his wife and his family the humiliation of standing next to him (or of not standing next to him) as we heard from yet another politician who had strayed from his marriage and who was now vowing to make things right.

Maybe, just maybe, despite what could have been a temporary lapse in judgment, there is something to be said about family values in the Halls of Congress after all.

8 Comments on “On Congressman Chris Lee and Family Values

  1. J:

    You are, of course, right that we have been spared a round of Cadgate. But this is perilously close to Jimmy Carter’s Sermon on the Lust in My Heart. Someone spare us this faux Puritanism!

    N

  2. Nice post, Jamison. This has nothing to do with Puritanism, faux or otherwise.

    Given the brazen nature of his conduct, I’d bet a year’s salary that this is the tip of an iceberg. Chances are great that Lee is suffering from a very real addiction, and that a secret life of his is now being revealed to his wife.

    If Lee desires true recovery, for himself and his family, he’ll need privacy. Serenity can’t be discovered in the middle of a national scandal.

    I know, I know. I have no business diagnosing him. I don’t have all the facts. But I’m not prescribing medicine here.

    And also? I know I’m right.

  3. Although I have never known you to be wrong, Gurwitz, I am unconvinced. This whole “real addiction” thing sounds a little bit too convenient too me — as in, it wasn’t me, it was my addiction! I am a victim here and you should be pitying me, not condemning me!

  4. Only a Puritan could regard sex as an addiction. Alas, we get the congressmen we deserve.

  5. Do you think Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, etc., wanted to stop their behavior, given the destruction they knew they faced if they were caught? Why didn’t they? What drove them to do it?

    Read anything by Patrick Carnes. Undertanding this addiction will help you better guide many of your clients toward the help they need when they come to you after an arrest for soliciting prostitution, peeping, etc.

  6. Norm –

    The failure to recognize sexual addiction as a real issue on par with other process addictions (gambling, etc.) is the real result of Puritanism, which maintains that unmanageable sexual behavior is caused by weak morals, rather than a well-documented and treatable mental pathology.

  7. And our punishment of this “addiction” reflects a virtual schizophrenic attitude toward desire. We’re talking past one another; not sure why.

  8. Norm,

    I don’t think we’re talking past each other… My criticism of your post is that you implied that Lee could nonchalantly say: “So what? I have natural desires I acted upon. I lusted, like all of us do. Now get back to work, everyone.” This attitude ignores the reality that he quite obviously has a serious disease, and isn’t simply horny and dishonest.

    When you said that “only a Puritan could regard sex as an addiction,” that struck me as being akin to saying that “only a Mormon could view alcoholism as a disease.”

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