There's nothing like a little sex scandal to restore one's faith in politics as the greatest source of trashy entertainment. So, thank you, Missouri Speaker of the House John Diehl for wrecking your career by exchanging a string of cringe-worthy texts with a 19-year-old female intern.
Yes, I know this is not big national news. It is not in any way a novel phenomenon in the long history of human folly. But, with the grindingly dull stalemate in Congress seeming to be a permanent fixture in American politics and the premature start of the 2016 presidential campaign bringing few surprises, it's fun to be distracted by a fresh twist on the classic bimbo eruption.
Until his resignation from office on Thursday, the 49-year-old Mr. Diehl had been a hard-charging player in his state's politics. As the leader of a dominant Republican majority, the speaker was counted as Missouri's second most powerful state politico, next to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Not at all surprisingly, the married father of three has always run as a family values candidate. The Missouri Family Policy Council, an arm of the right wing evangelical Family Research Council, has praised Mr. Diehl "for demonstrating moral leadership and true integrity in standing up for the sacred institution of marriage and the family values of the people of Missouri." The state's arm of the Southern Baptist Convention offered thanks to Mr. Diehl for "fighting to defend biblical marriage."
Apparently, though, when it came to his own marriage, the biblical figure that Mr. Diehl chose to emulate was King David, who famously got into trouble when he saw Bathsheba bathing naked. All it took for Mr. Diehl was a texted photo of a college girl in a bikini.
Somehow, the Kansas City Star got hold of the speaker's steamy text record in which he got pretty fresh with a freshman from Missouri Southern State University. At one point Mr. Diehl wrote, "God I want you right now," to which he girl replied, "I wish you could have me right now." The powerful man then went on to say how he "will have my way with you" and "leave you quivering."
The girl was an enthusiastic participant in this sexting, using cheery little emoticons to emphasize that she was ready to romp. "I just want you to be in charge," she wrote. "After all, I do like a man in charge" -- emphasizing that point with a little winking yellow balloon head. Now, consider that Mr. Diehl is a doughy, middle-aged man with thinning hair, a double chin and eyes that are a little too close together. Not exactly Brad Pitt or Justin Bieber or whichever type of man a 19-year-old female would find attractive. This is proof, once again, that power truly is an aphrodisiac.
The Star did not publish the young woman's bikini picture, so we do not know if she is gorgeous or homely, but her looks probably did not matter that much to Mr. Diehl. It was surely her boldness that was the attraction. Guys older than about 30 are callow beginners in the world of sexting. Among many members of the millennial generation, though, the exchange of lewd messages and intimate photos via smartphones is disturbingly common. For a contemporary college woman, the suggestive messaging might have seemed fairly tame, but, for a 49-year-old married guy with a politician-size ego (that means huge), the sexy chatter must have been like a dose of meth -- instantly addictive.
I could recite the usual talking points about the uneven power dynamics between a young woman and an older man in a position of authority, and I could bash hypocritical conservatives who preach saintliness and act like sinners, but there's no reason to go over that well-worn ground. Instead, I'll give faint praise to Diehl for not pulling an Anthony Weiner by trying to weasel his way out of responsibility and for not doing the kind of damage Bill Clinton did by dragging his party and his country into his own melodrama. Once he knew he was caught, Mr. Diehl quit -- and he did not make his wife stand beside him as he did it.
The modern wrinkle in this age-old scenario is that Mr. Diehl threw his personal and professional life off a cliff for nothing more than some brief lines of text, one swimsuit pic and a few perky emoticons. What the girl got out of it, who can say? At least she has the excuse of being young and foolish. Mr. Diehl's only excuse is that he's a man and, as has been shown time after time after time, even the wiliest and most powerful men can be turned into idiots by the allure of sex -- even if it's just a yellow smiley face blowing a kiss from a smartphone screen.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go tolatimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.