Listen To This Story
It might seem strange that I am writing to you during a trip to France about Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), the crude, controversial gun fanatic and MAGA firebrand who purports to be driven by God to “save” America from decline.
While I was meeting with supporters of meaningful journalism — and getting an earful about how wacky and dangerous America seems to be becoming — a particularly illustrative example of our current cultural madness came to light.
This salacious October Surprise, so far promoted mostly by right-wing media and apparently too toxic for mainstream publications to touch, involves a secret tryst and supposed blackmail scheme, the sum total of which helps Boebert and damages Adam Frisch, her Democratic opponent in what seems to be a toss-up race.
First, a quick summary of the alleged “facts,” according to far-right organ Breitbart in an October 13 “exclusive.”
Love In a Storage Container
Todd Gardner, the owner of a storage facility/taxi dispatch center in Aspen, CO, claims that in May 2017, Frisch and an unnamed woman used a storage container there for extramarital intimate encounters.
In a video declaration shot by Boebert’s campaign and used by Breitbart as their exclusive, Gardner claims that he initially sat on the information for more than a year; but when he feared his taxi business would be hurt by a possible partnership between Lyft and local government, he threatened to release the video if Frisch, then on the Aspen City Council, didn’t vote against it.
That would be blackmail, which is illegal. But here’s Gardner, openly admitting he blackmailed Frisch, who Gardner says changed his vote and kept Lyft out of Aspen. (Gardner had kept the whole affair quiet in the more than four years since. Conveniently, the statute of limitations for extortion in Colorado is three years, though since Gardner has admitted to using the internet to extort an elected official, he could be admitting to a federal crime, and the federal statute of limitations is five years.)
In the video, Gardner says that a member of Congress has to have integrity, and “Adam has none.” After admitting that he blackmailed Frisch for personal benefit and admitting that was unethical, he points to a higher standard for public officials: “Adam’s for sale — you can buy him, and I don’t think we need that.”
In my view, a politician’s sex life is not the public’s business. … Is it fair to ask whether sexual probity is the ultimate determinant of someone’s ability to be an effective leader or lawmaker?
A wild tale, and one that’s so far really only received play from arch-conservative sites, including The Federalist and The Gateway Pundit, links to all of which the Boebert campaign helpfully included in an October 15 press release — by which time the campaign had an attack ad on Frisch’s susceptibility to blackmail ready to go, featuring the Gardner-provided surveillance footage taken in the storage facility parking lot.
True or not — that doesn’t really matter at the eleventh hour in a tight race — Boebert’s campaign is clearly hoping that the story, which Frisch told The Aspen Times comes off as a “desperate ploy” from a “cornered animal,” will make the difference.
There are many questions the far-right “media” organizations covering the story don’t seem to have asked, suggesting this is all a cheap hatchet job.
For one thing, Gardner admits in the video that he didn’t even know who Frisch was when the man allegedly bicycled up to the storage facility. All he has is closed-circuit television footage of a man arriving on a bike. And he claims his attendant peeked inside a storage room and saw a man and woman engaging in sexual activity, and then laughingly reporting it to him. The storage facility was rented by the woman, not Frisch, so they neither knew who he was nor had his name.
Sex Before Dishonor?
Putting aside the tawdry story itself, for the sake of argument let’s assume that Adam Frisch did have an extramarital affair among old file boxes in a metal storage container and agreed to change his City Council vote to keep the affair silent.
In a seemingly tacit admission that the days of damaging sex scandals are behind us — perhaps aware that the public would rightly view Republicans focusing opprobrium on consensual adultery as hypocrisy, given their own faithful obedience to the notorious philanderer and alleged sexual offender Donald Trump — Boebert and Breitbart both are playing up the blackmail angle.
But for my money, I’m not so sure. History tells us that salacious tales like this have a major impact on public opinion — and I personally hear complaints about politicians’ sex lives all the time (JFK famously is still more often derided for his sexually loose behavior than praised for his policies.) And Democrats seem to be all too willing to kick fellow party members to the curb for sexual “transgressions” that break no laws beyond the laws of decency.
In my view, a politician’s sex life is not the public’s business. People deserve privacy, and in most cases the public has no idea of the actual nature of these personal relationships; and, even if they did, is it fair to ask whether sexual probity is the ultimate determinant of someone’s ability to be an effective leader or lawmaker?
Here in France, the citizens have long been amused by our American brand of puritanism and hypocrisy concerning our leaders. Long ago, Europe — and France in particular — accepted that politicians are like everyone else, with imperfect and often messy sex lives.
To me, it seems like Breitbart and Boebert are very obviously working hand in glove. At the same time, a juicy sex scandal, offered on a silver platter by a political operative at a crucial hour, is often too much for a journalist to resist. Personally, I have resisted these stories in general, except where there were extenuating circumstances or I was reporting how a politician was being “honeypotted.”
I wrote about how John Edwards and Gary Hart’s political careers were cynically destroyed over what were consensual bedroom matters. Also, the question of whether these political figures were set up, lured into compromising situations by political adversaries, remains wide open.
So Much for the Scandal
There have been signs in recent decades that sex scandals don’t hit the way they once did — at least on one side of the political divide. In the late 1990s, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the House Government Reform Committee chair, pursued Bill Clinton regarding the Lewinsky matter, calling the president of the United States a “scumbag.” I discovered, in my own reporting, that Burton far surpassed Clinton in sexual dalliances, to quite a staggering degree. (Of course, Clinton’s principal wrongdoing was technically lying about an affair with an intern rather than the affair.)
As for Burton, while married, he had two mistresses on his payroll and an illegitimate son on his congressional staff. Burton was humiliated by this exposure and made a public apology, but he was reelected seven more times in his overwhelmingly “family values” Republican district until he exited of his own volition in 2012.
In fact, though the Republican Party presents itself as the family values party, its scandals have often been more horrifying — yet in most cases, its base seems to care a lot less when it is a Republican doing it. Remember admitted serial child molester Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL)? How about adulterers Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA)? Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) criticized Clinton, but when her six-year affair with a married man came out, she said she was unlike Clinton because she was a private citizen at the time and, like many a televangelist, she had “sought God’s forgiveness and received it.”
And consider Boebert herself. She doesn’t seem to mind being married to a man who served four days in jail for flashing his junk at two young women in a bowling alley in 2004. Although Boebert denied this incident, she hasn’t denied that she and her husband were kicked out of the bowling alley that day.
If America weren’t so hypocritical and sex obsessed, we might not have these situations where Democrats are denounced and bounced for untoward albeit vanilla sexual behavior while Republicans walk away unscathed, crying persecution for their political views.
As for Boebert, her dangerous lunacy, including her embrace of unconstitutional Christian nationalism and open carry gun laws, is the far bigger concern — certainly more important than what some five-year-old grainy footage from a storage container parking lot does or doesn’t show. I tend to agree with Frisch: This sloppy attempt at character assassination reeks of desperation and should have no traction beyond the conservative echo chambers.
But let’s entertain a hypothetical for a moment: Let’s say Frisch did do it. Ask a representative sample of French people what they would think of Frisch, and then of Boebert. They’ll likely tell you what they think of us — for electing people like Boebert in the first place.