Body Politics

There may be strange bedfellows in Washington these days, but no stranger than anywhere else.

September 1976By Comments

I was lunching with politicians in Washington recently when somebody asked—apropos of the sensationalized “sex scandals” preoccupying the media, the governed, and certainly the quaking pro-pols themselves—why only Democrats had been discovered in the exercise of carnal freedoms. While I attempted to frame a response touching on the ideological, the answer came: “Well, there’s no fun in getting a little piece of elephant.”

Amidst the laughter, someone told of a new “campaign button” being worn by particularly well-endowed congressional secretaries: “I type 74 words per minute.” There was much joshing about firing well-turned young lovelies and hiring old crones in corrective shoes. Someone repeated the joke circulating in Capitol Hill cloakrooms: “When they caught Wayne Hays and John Young they said I couldn’t sleep with my secretary. Then they caught Allan Howe and Joe Waggonner and told me I couldn’t sleep with prostitutes. That only leaves my wife—and she’s always got a headache.” More yuks and chortles as everyone ordered fresh drinks.

Well, now, I fancy to enjoy a joke as much as the next man. But under the cover of giggles more appropriate to errant schoolboys convened behind the barn, our statesmen—and others—are begging serious questions having more to do with honesty and individual freedom and the workaday realities than with mere rolls in the hay or a knee-jerk morality.

We of the media, particularly, may be guilty of sins even larger than those who attempt to joke away the subject. We are springing to our microphones and typewriters to tell of hot tails—pun definitely intended—on the Potomac as though Antony and Cleopatra spent their time playing backgammon when Octavia and Ptolemy Dionysus happened not to be looking. We tell it so straight-faced you’d think our jaws were numbed by novocaine, even though our cheeks are so full of tongue we’re in danger of strangling.

Politicians, including Republicans, have been running carnal fevers outside their home beds since the first hairy tribe elected a leader on about the 103rd ballot in some lightless, airless cave. So have members of the media, not to mention doctors, lawyers, plumbers, housewives, carpenters, feminists, and you name it. Even such a pious parson as Rev. Billy James Hargis, the Oklahoma pulpit pounder, had occasion a few months ago to plead that the Devil made him do it. The sad thing is that poor ol’ Billy James probably believes that, when all he was doing is what comes naturally.

The sex drive is among our more basic instincts, even ranking ahead of the need for Coca-Cola or peanut butter. If nature had not so willed, no species would survive. We simply would be too indifferent to procreate and would bumble around eating grass or drilling oil wells or joining the Jaycees past the point of no return. Sex feels so good because its primary function in nature’s order is to perpetuate not only the beautiful but also the ugly, and that’s why rattlesnakes and giant turtles and sand crabs and fat congressmen get that wonderful urge the same as peacocks and cuddly pussycats and beautiful blondes and handsome dudes like me.

Nature knew it must bribe us with an overwhelming instinct to make sexual music together so the earth would not remain a lifeless rock. Whether you believe that evolution brought light in its timeless and tireless work, or that God in His earliest effort said, “Let there be light,” something brought light long before the Pedernales Electric Co-op or West Texas Utilities Company. With light came heat, without which no life might exist. In time the great hot lump of earth cooled, and the moisture in its atmosphere fell as rain, and water gathered and pooled, and the winds came and helped the rain wear away the cold stone. This formed thin coatings of soil, which eventually toddled its way downhill into the water. There the sun kissed this new mixture toward the end of bringing forth original life: microscopic, tiny, jellylike floating cells. These linked together and multiplied themselves and grew the instinct to keep on doing it.

The surface waters began to get overcrowded, and just floating around like little bits of jelly became boring. So some of these cells went off and decided to become fishes and underwater plants. Then the pioneers of those bold groups got washed up on the shore and lay around in the sunshine and opted to turn into snakes and dinosaurs and weird-looking clumsy birds. Finally, those who got tired of living under rocks and such and who wanted to cuddle, decided to turn into warm-blooded mammals. The minute that decision was made, it was inevitable that one day we’d have Miami Beach and massage parlors, and that one day Wayne Hays could not keep his hands off Elizabeth Ray, even if it meant paying her out of tax funds.

Now, the point is that no matter what these original little cells decided to become, they fought against great odds. They had to overcome Ice Ages and Stone Ages and the big ’uns always trying to eat the little ’uns. They caught chills and fevers and everything but city buses. It rained on ’em and hailed on ’em and things growled at ’em in the dark. They had to grow their own gills or wings or whatever. All this, now, with all manner of ugly species thrashing about making faces and otherwise threatening them. Yet, no matter how howling or hairy were the enemies in pursuit, and no matter if nature’s creatures had to creep or crawl or fly away from danger, enough of each species paused to get it on sexually that just about everything but the dumbass dinosaur survived. Against such irrepressible instincts, what’s a poor politician gonna do?

Things worked swimmingly well until Man came along to superimpose “civilization” on nature’s order. Until Man decided to govern sexual conduct, a baboon or a turtle (within the confines of certain loose processes of natural selection) could pretty much kiss and cuddle who he wanted to, so long as a stronger baboon or a meaner turtle didn’t object. Man, however, discovered early that anything as good as sex needed to be rationed and made difficult or else people would have too much fun. They’d loll around in the shade cooing and touching when they ought to be up killing whales or inventing the spinning wheel or taking Dale Carnegie courses. The kings and the pharaohs and other precinct bosses fretted that if people made love rather than war, then there would be no booty to claim and fewer excuses to levy taxes. So they devised laws, some of which they credited to God, to get everybody out of bed and up and doing. These laws said that people could make love only under such restricted conditions as pleased the state. The young or unmarried would not be permitted to do it at all, the married could only do it to each other, and nobody should do it except to make babies. If a boy wanted to cuddle a boy, or a girl wanted to cuddle a girl, they ran the risk of jail—to say nothing of the worst possible social contaminations. If you had some for sale, the fruit of your commerce was a trip to the pokey. There were even laws saying that under certain conditions you couldn’t give sex away, or accept it, even in a fair swap. They finally hit on the notion that if you showed too much imagination and discovered especially exotic ways to do it, well, then, they’d reserve you a jail cell for that, too.

All these anti-love laws haven’t worked, of course. All they’ve done is make people sneak around and lie and cheat and go crazy and kill each other—or, like poor old Wayne Hays, take overdoses of sleeping pills. It sure was simpler when we were floating around on the water as itsy-bitsy cells and reproducing ourselves while the sun smiled on us.

We are considering here more than sex and no less than personal freedom. Most people do not really believe in personal freedom even though they think they do. While almost any American is quick to claim it was a birthright, many fewer are willing to extend it to others. We may give love to a child or a spouse or a neighbor, but in the matter of their free choices we tend to become policemen of the spirit and censors of the soul. We tell them “don’t” more than we tell them “do.” We tell them “no” more than we tell them “yes.” It is no accident that we are so shaped and formed: the Ten Commandments, no matter their worth, are stated in the negative; more laws are written to prohibit people than to set people free. Richard Nixon once told an interviewer that people were like children. That is the basic presumption of the state, whether its agents label themselves liberal or conservative or lay claim to any of the various ideological isms. The state and its agents and allied institutions are collectively almost certain to repress, even when attempting benign acts. Example: that welfare law which, under the guise of assisting needy families, threatens to withhold benefits from poor mothers and their dependent children should a nonworking man live in the house. “We will allow you the freedom to eat marginally”—the state says—“but don’t let me catch you doing any loving around here.”

Our politicians are quick to proclaim that we are the freest and richest people in the history of man. That is probably true, and we are surely freer than the Russians and the Cubans and richer than the Hottentots, but before we are smitten with paroxysms of pride, we would do well to remember just how far we have to go. This free society can put you in jail for smoking the wrong substance or for spitting on the sidewalk or for thousands of other reasons. This freest government in the recorded history of man is licensed to kill you, to take your money, to lock you up, to restrict your freedom of movement and your social preferences. Now you’d think with all that power the state wouldn’t demand the right to dictate how you may make love, and with whom, and under what conditions. But it does, old pal. It does.

Your government will even go so far as to entrap you should you be overpowered by sexual instincts outside the limited permissions it has granted. Congressman Howe of Utah and Congressman Waggonner of Louisiana are far from the first men to fall prey to the state’s bogus nooky salespersons. And since the slimy idea first hatched in some lilliputian official brain, prostitutes have been enticed to sell themselves—and then have been hustled off to jail by the same undercover creeps who entrapped them.

If diddling is so all-fired evil that we must discourage it through law, then why in the name of reason would the authorities attempt to encourage men or women to break that law? In this time of record crime are the jails so empty that clients must be solicited to fill them? Are we so desperate for new victims that we must create our own? Why have we become so miserable in spirit that if all the repressive laws on the books will not naturally suffice to land our neighbor in jail, then we must get him there with trickery? These are serious questions and they cannot be erased by giggling at jokes about “sex in Washington.”

I have been waiting for one thoughtful and honest and humane man to rise in Congress and say—without pious preambles invoking the flag or claiming improbable pure institutional instincts—“Enough of this crap.” No one has. No one is likely to. This is because they know that Americans are two-faced about sex, that although a high percentage of hanky-panky goes on among all socioeconomic groupings, the society prefers to live a lie and force others to live their sex lives as lies. So our public men are intimidated and cowed and afraid to speak out—not for the first time, either.

When poor Congressman Howe was entrapped in Utah, the press skewered him without paying the slightest attention to his constitutional rights of due process or the presumption of innocence. His political colleagues and church colleagues instantly turned into sharks. They demanded his resignation and his head. It was a panic reaction and panic there should have been: but the panic was for all the wrong reasons and misdirected as to source.

There should have been panic because a presumably free citizen of the Republic (no matter whether he happened to be a congressman, oilman, or mechanic) could have his freedom and rights so lightly held that the state would: (1) grubbily attempt to entrap him; (2) release to the press, before he’d had his day in court, a transcript of what he’d supposedly said; and (3) tardily admit, after the damage had been done, that it had no transcript of actual worth but had concocted one on the basis of what its entrapping and self-serving agents claimed to have transpired. Nixon lost the presidency for trying to hoke-up tapes, but at least he had some. The Utah police didn’t. I have not heard a politician or a churchman or any of Congressman Howe’s critics express the slightest indignation over these crimes—and that is what they are.

His story that he had been lured to the scene by an invitation from unnamed constituents to a party originally sounded weaker than 3.2 beer. But if the authorities would go so far as to release a bogus transcript, then who’s to say he may not be telling the truth? Did someone want to ruin him politically, or did the cops panic when they found they’d netted a congressman in their tawdry game—and then concoct their fake record to cover themselves? Either way, their guilt is the greater—no matter that Congressman Howe was later convicted for trying to spend his twenty dollars illegally.

District of Columbia police were guilty of equally shoddy practices in the case of Congressman Waggonner. First, they entrapped him with a bogus prostitute. When they discovered they’d bagged a congressman in a town run by congressmen—rather than some poor powerless government clerk—they let him go and then covered it up until somebody tipped off the press during the current hysteria. Joe Waggonner could have bought the services of every streetwalker in Washington and still would have done less damage to freedom and justice than did the police.

I’m no pal of any of these particular pols, and certainly not of Wayne Hays. I think he richly deserves his designation as “the meanest man in Congress.” That, however, does not detract from his constitutional rights; nor should it make him fair game for crucifixion. Among the intimacies the press revealed was that Hays, while making it with Liz, kept one eye on her bedroom digital clock. How Hays does it or at what speed is no business of yours or mine, even if you think we may have paid for his hurried fun from our tax monies—as Ms. Ray claims we did, and as Mr. Hays insists we did not. And even if we did, so what? Politicians have hired drones since time immemorial for reasons other than their typing speed, most of the time to pay off political debts, and on one, not even the Washington Post, raises much of a stink about that. Yet the employee performs no useful work, and how is that different from Elizabeth Ray?

The answer, of course, is not at all—though certain feminists would have you believe that the crucial difference is that the delicate Ms. Ray was exploited. No sooner had the story broken than some women writers started trumpeting their denunciations of the Washington scene under headlines such as the one that appeared in the Village Voice. Wayne Hays Must Go. Well, maybe she was exploited, though personally I’ve always felt that any person—man, woman, or politician—had the option of refusing to whore. Ms. Ray, who reportedly approached the Washington Post as a woman scorned (after her friend Wayne Hays advised she would be most unwelcome at his wedding reception), was suddenly so eager to attain justice that she continued to perform her debilitating special nightwork—while, with her consent, reporters skulked about to eavesdrop. When the story crashed onto the front pages, she just happened to have hot from the publishers her trashy book about Sex in Washington and held press conferences as far away as London; within a week her book winked and blinked from stores all over America. It is a classic case of coincidence, I guess we are supposed to believe. If Ms. Ray was exploited as she claimed, then she’s by now gained parity with Wayne Hays in the exploitation department. And among her victims, of course, are those women on Capitol Hill who’ve been giving us taxpayers our money’s worth all along—a fact that should have been noted by the outraged women writers as they vented their wrath upon Wayne Hays and his male colleagues.

Sure, they do some hanky-pankying in Washington, and the same applies in the Texas Legislature. A beloved former governor, who has prayed more than one pious public prayer, periodically used to call a sorority house at the University of Texas to establish trysts with a lovely lady I much admire myself. And a former lieutenant governor notoriously got around. But all this is as true of the private sector as it is in government. Politicians—provided they finance their own romances—are no more and no less “guilty” than the rest of us. The politician, however, is more vulnerable to the public mood. There are not enough of you out there to vote me out of my job as a freelance writer even should I kiss a goat, but your congressman’s scalp is there for the taking should you want it. Since the sex scandals exploded, a United States senator from Virginia has been accused of offering to help a female constituent in exchange for her sexual favors. The senator’s name made the papers before the Washington Post investigated and found his accuser to be a demented lady with a troubled history of telling many improbable tales. Should someone else, however—looking to be a cover girl or the author of the next sexsational book—name almost any public figure, he’ll be in hot water from his home bed to his hometown even if wholly innocent. Such people, as with the rest of us, are entitled to their full protections and rights and legal assumptions. They will not, of course, receive them because more people are less rational about sex than any other subject.

Related Content