“Kiss today goodbye; the sweetness and the sorrow. Wish me luck – the same to you. But I can’t regret what I did for love. What I did for love.”
Those words – written by Edward Kleban for the play “Chorus Line” – could probably serve as an epitaph for John Kitzhaber, Oregon’s former governor.
While there are several investigations being conducted into his activities covering the last year or so of his tenure, it’s doubtful anything of any criminal seriousness will come of them. Dumb? Yes. Criminal? Don’t think so. When it all shakes out, the bottom line will probably look something like lyricist Kleban’s words above.
A lot of folk are looking under the gubernatorial bed for conspiracy, double-dealing, illegal acts and other political flotsam. We live in that kind of society these days. If there’s something not quite right afoot, “there must be more serious criminality buried around here somewhere.” Again, doubtful.
Kitz seems to be a victim of what a lot of politicians crash into when they’ve been on the stage for a long time. Feelings of invulnerability creep in. A bit too much of ego, too. Thirty or so years of legislative and front office life can bring on those characteristics for someone who’s lost touch with the rest of us.
Trained as a physician specializing in trauma care, there’s no doubt the man is smart and talented. Not many of us can do that. Add those 30 or so years of political life in senior positions in the legislature and governorship without a major stumble and you’ve got quite a life’s record of achievement. Damned good!
Still, the guy’s human. Like John Kennedy. Franklin Roosevelt. Dwight Eisenhower. George Washington and his drinking buddy Tommy Jefferson. And a couple other occupants of the White House – one of whom stashed his mistress and bastard son in North Idaho 90 or so years back. All bright, successful men with lengthy records of achievement and accomplishment. Except that last one. All of whom fell prey to slipping into someone else’s bedroom. Or, successfully luring someone into theirs. Power and sex are fine separately. When taken together, they most often don’t work out well for all concerned.
Our former governor’s Achilles heel turned out to be one Cylvia Hayes, a woman of some beauty, smarts and – it seems from her public history – some very expert wiles that got to a number of men. What she did – and how she did it – we’ll leave to those investigations. But there’s no arguing she and her effect on the governor combined to form the catalyst that brought an end to his public life.
Love or lust, we’ll never know. But we can be reasonably confident Kitzhaber’s personality changed from a sort of loner to a more effusive and outgoing character after the two got together. He was not a detail guy for most of his career – preferring to use the “big picture” approach to his political work, then getting involved when others had perfected the details. But, after Ms. Hayes entered stage left, his public persona was more cordial with those around him and with his various constituencies. He blossomed, as it were.
You have to wonder, if we were back in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, would there have been a different end to this story? Eisenhower’s infidelities in England weren’t fully revealed until after his death. For nearly all his presidency, few Americans knew Roosevelt spent his days in a wheelchair – much less had a mistress. Even public confirmation of John Kennedy’s numerous peccadillo’s wasn’t widespread in the early ‘60’s.
But, now, we live in an era of voyeurism and character assassination with a public thirst for all the lurid details. Some politicians – for reasons I simply can’t explain – survive mixing politics and illicit sex. South Carolina’s Mark Sanford – he of the phony Appalachian Trail hike – certainly has. David Vitter – a self-admitted adulterer – still sits in the U.S. Senate. They’re among the most recent lurid exceptions to the public’s expectation of proper decorum and decency in our politicians.
Our former governor certainly doesn’t appear to have conducted himself in the same low life way as Vitter and Sanford. But he’s chosen to fall on his sword, take his public punishment – and embarrassment – retreating to private life. And that’s fine.
It’ll be interesting to see if Ms. Hayes become Ms. Kitzhaber in coming months. Somehow, I doubt it. With the exception of gaming our immigration laws with a sham marriage a few years ago, Cylvia has been notably unattached. In a legal sense, that is,
My wishes are for his success in whatever John Kitzhaber decides to do – whether it’s going back to medicine or tackling new career challenges. He’s not the first elected executive to be tempted into public humiliation over matters of the heart. Often happens in journalism, too.
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