The fusion of politics and sex wasn’t as beneficial for Hart as it was for Jenrette, Pohl writes.
Hart was tagged as the early Democratic presidential frontrunner in the spring of 1987, but his campaign ended before it ever began.
In April of that year, two Miami Herald reporters camped outside the Senator’s Capitol Hill townhouse spotted Donna Rice, a woman in her 20s who was not Hart’s wife, visiting the residence. Confronted by the reporters, Hart denied any sexual misdeeds. But more reporting yielded the now-infamous photo of Rice on Hart’s lap in front of the boat Monkey Business. His campaign collapsed.
For Pohl, writing about scandals makes great storytelling.
But as he discovered in his research, some scandals become intertwined with myth. Through his book, he said he did his best to separate fact from fiction.
“The story tends to achieve a connotative form at some point and everybody kind of knows, ‘Oh yeah, that’s how it happened.’ And the Taulbee story is exactly like that. The more I researched it, the more I realized that the connotative telling of the tale, in fact the one that I had been telling, wasn’t quite true.”
Some of the untruths in the Taulbee scandal that have taken on a life of their own include the idea Kincaid originally broke the story (he did not) and that the Congressman’s wife harbored a lifelong hatred of him once the affair came to light (she did not).
As for why the public is drawn to political scandals, Pohl chalked it up to a desire to know more about the personal lives of people in power, arguing that the public never would have tuned into the extramarital affairs of an average joe.
“[Hart] decided that he’d rather have a pretty girl sitting on his lap,” Pohl said. “If he had been anything but a Senator for the presidency, people wouldn’t have cared. But people are always looking for these kinds of insights into the character of the people who are running the country.”
And as Pohl further explained, the simplicity associated with scandal resonates with the public in a way that intricate policy details never do.
“The other thing is that scandals are easy. Health care is difficult. Who really understands the mandate or whatever else? But writing dirty texts to a Congressional page, everybody understands that,” he said.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.