Press the flesh — but please, don't show it

Our current preoccupation with naked congressmen has given new meaning to the phrase "body politic," and I am not sure if we have learned anything about how to handle this subject since President John F. Kennedy was photographed jogging out of the sea in bathing trunks about 50 years ago.

Granted, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner sending naked pictures of himself to women he has never met is a far cry from the sneaked photos of a shirtless Barack Obama on a Hawaiian beach during a 2008 Christmas vacation.

But sometimes the distinction is not so clear.

Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts poses naked for Cosmopolitan magazine to help pay his law school bills — apparently no bars or fast-food joints were hiring — and it is not a problem. But Congressman Chris Lee sends muscle photos of his naked chest to Craigslist and he resigns immediately.

OK — he has a wife and kids. But David Vitter's name appears in the D.C. Madam's address book, and the married senator gets re-elected by a wide margin.

Then there'sCongressmanAaron Schock of Illinois, who poses bare-chested and in a pair of low-slung shorts for the cover of Men's Health magazine — under a headline that reads "Youngest and Hottest Congressman Gives America What It Wants" — and because he does it in the name of some kind of "fit for life" campaign, we think he is fit for public office. (And people have problems with the White House vegetable garden?)

Do we want our politicians to be like President Richard Nixon, who famously walked on the beach in a coat, tie and wingtips? Do we want to see lumpy President Bill Clinton and his wife dancing in bathing suits on a secluded Virgin Islands beach?

Remember the picture of then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Speedo? He looked like his famous muscles were melting. And is it a coincidence that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been wearing pantsuits since some crank made fun of her ankles?

I think it is safe to say that the public appetite for political flesh is limited — and that limit has been reached.

What Mr. Weiner did was, of course, beyond the pale. He appears to have traded on his political celebrity — he was a vocal and often intemperate Democratic attack dog — for some kind of sexual buzz. And it strikes me as bizarre that his congressional colleagues kept talking about whether he had used a government-issued BlackBerry or computer to do it.

But it is worth noting that after President Obama's abs went public (they called him "Commander in Beef"), there was talk among political operatives about whether their candidates should bare more of their — um — assets.

The other question is, of course, whether a female politician might ever be caught sending cell phone pics of her body parts to a Facebook "friend" or a Twitter follower. Doubtful.

And in the name of what public service campaign would we find it acceptable for a political woman to appear half-naked on the cover of a "health" magazine?

Although there have been conversations about the cleavage factor and how it plays for women in politics, I am thinking that women politicians — as opposed to blackjack dealers or pole dancers — are too sensitive about their personal appearance to go sending body parts off into cyberspace or stripping down for a photo shoot.

Unless, of course, you are California CongressmanMary Bono Mack, who was photographed apparently having her breast licked by another woman. CBS was criticized for burying the story about Congressman Wiener, but I don't recall Congresswoman Mack's party time exploits making the Evening News, either. A blessing for us all, I think.

Let's not kid ourselves. The troubles that have befallen Mr. Weiner are not about lying to the public or disgracing the House of Representatives.

This is about sex, which is often the direct result of taking your clothes off.

The public still can be counted on to be distracted by it, and the powerful still don't know how to handle it.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is