Until this week, Louisiana Congressman Vance McAllister’s greatest claim to fame was the fact that he invited a “Duck Dynasty” star to be his guest at the State of the Union. But what reality TV giveth, cinéma vérité taketh away. And when The Ouachita Citizen, McAllister’s hometown newspaper, obtained a security video that caught the Congressman “kissing for almost half a minute” with a woman who’s not his wife inside his district office, McAllister achieved a whole new level of infamy.
The story of the “Kissing Congressman” has made headlines for all the usual reasons. There’s the hypocrisy angle: A married father of five, McAllister ran for Congress last year as a devout Christian and “family man.” There’s also the administrative one: McAllister’s mistress, Melissa Ann Peacock, was one of his staffers, and was promptly fired from her job after the video was made public. And then there’s the soap-operatic storyline: Peacock is also married and McAllister had worked with Peacock’s husband, Heath, for 16 years; what’s more, both Peacocks had each contributed $5,200 to McAllister’s campaign.
“He has wrecked my life,” Heath Peacock said of McAllister in an interview with CNN. “We’re headed for divorce.” (The name “Heath Peacock” alone ought to help make McAllister’s scandal a classic.)
But, of course, what’s really made McAllister a household name all of a sudden, at least in households that care about politics, is that his extramarital canoodling was caught on video. In the sordid history of political sex scandals, this would seem to be a first. Yes, there was a John Edwards-Rielle Hunter sex tape out there, but it wasn’t available to the public: No one other than Andrew Young, his wife, and poor Robert Draper were subjected to viewing that. And, while photographic imagery prominently figured into Anthony Weiner’s downfall, it was all (thank goodness) of the still variety.
And the fact that McAllister’s transgressions went straight to video also accounts for the ho-hum nature of this particular political sex scandal. Once upon a time, when our politicians got caught with their pants down, they did so with gusto. There was Wilbur Mills, whose affair with the stripper Fanne Foxe was discovered after he was pulled over by D.C. cops one night and Foxe fled his car and jumped into the Tidal Basin. Or Gary Hart, who dared reporters to “put a tail on me,” and then led them, so to speak, to Donna Rice and a yacht called the Monkey Business. Or Bill Clinton and the intern Monica Lewinsky. Or David Vitter and the “D.C. Madam.” Or Mark Sanford hiking the Appalachian Trail.
McAllister’s sex scandal, by contrast, has none of that sizzle and flash. It’s just a grainy video of him and Melissa Ann Peacock kissing in an office hallway. In fact, if you believe Heath Peacock, that’s all it was: “It was just a kiss,” he told CNN. (He added, “[B]ut it embarrassed me and my family,” hence his desire to divorce.) And yet, because the kiss was caught on video, McAllister now is known as the “Kissing Congressman” and gets to be mentioned alongside the Mills and Edwards and Harts of the world.
In a way, it’s surprising we haven’t had a video sex scandal sooner, given the reality of mass surveillance in this day and age. If a politician is doing anything untoward outside the presence of his or her own bedroom, there’s probably video evidence of it out there somewhere. All it takes is someone with enough of a grudge—and enough ingenuity—to find it. After all, the greatest mystery of the McAllister scandal right now is just who leaked the video to the The Ouachita Citizen in the first place. According to Politico, the owner of the building that houses the Congressional office where the video was filmed says it wasn’t him or any of his employees—and that he believes the video came from one of McAllister’s own aides. A local pastor, in an interview with a Louisiana paper, pointed the finger at McAllister’s office manager. And McAllister himself has requested an FBI investigation.
That the story of who leaked the tape is so much sexier than the sex scandal itself is the saddest reality of this whole scandal—and what it might portend.
If you, like me, already think the press spends too much time digging into politicians’ personal lives, the McAllister case represents a new low. Here’s an unremarkable first-term Congressman—a guy who hadn’t even set foot in Washington until he won a special election last year, as Ashley Parker memorably discovered in a more innocent time (i.e. just last November)—who apparently had an affair with a staffer. And that’s it. There’s no abuse of power. There’s no sociopathic behavior. There are no laws being broken in an attempt to cover it up (as was the case with Nevada Senator John Ensign’s affair with the wife of an aide, to which the McAllister scandal is being likened to). There’s not even enough for a half-decent reality TV show.