Gail Collins on Sex Scandals and Big Spenders

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On the Leonard Lopate Show this week, Gail Collins talked about the surprising return of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' sexual harassment scandal.

Election Day is less than a week away, and New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins returned to The Leonard Lopate Show for another installment of How Did Politics in America Get So Weird?

One of the stories dominating the news last week was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Virginia Thomas’s early-morning phone message for Anita Hill asking her if she would consider apologizing for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment 19 years ago. This series has been focusing on politics, but is Virginia Thomas’s phone call a political story? Collins says it is.

Well sure, in the sense that it's very, very weird to have the wife, the spouse, of a Supreme Court justice behaving in the political ways she's been behaving in the past. She's very, very out front in right wing causes, which suggests conflicts of interest we can't even know about. We don't know really whose paying for her organization, who her big donors are, where she's getting her own salary, so that's all huge.

The sex lives of candidates is not off-limits in politics, and the midterm elections have brought up accusations of infidelity, religious oddities, and even witchcraft, but Collins points out that it’s rarely an effective method for winning political support:

It's always been my own personal opinion, after having more time than is good for me looking into sex scandals in politics, is that people really don't care. They want to know what their person is doing to support the family values that they have but they don't really care much what they're doing with their private life.

Linda McMahon, the Republican Senate candidate running in Connecticut has to overcome her business past with women voters. She’s the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, which has come under fire for the ways women have been depicted and treated in the ring. Collins noted that McMahon is behind among women voters.

She's got a terrible gender gap, a huge, humongous gap. Women just are not supporting her candidacy at all. That's mainly because women tend, in general, to support the Democrat. But I think women in general are turned off by the whole wrestling thing. It's a very, very guy kind of activity.

Other female candidates are getting more support by women, thanks to Sarah Palin’s "Mama Grizzlies" campaign and the Tea Party. Christine O'Donnell, Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, was recently asked in a televised forum to name a U.S. Senator across the aisle that she would look forward to working with. After a pause, she named Hillary Clinton, who is currently Secretary of State and is no longer a Senator, but is a woman in Washington that O'Donnell admires. Collins noted that O’Donnell isn’t the first Republican woman to cite Hillary Clinton as a role model.

Isn't it interesting how much Hillary Clinton's image has changed? It wasn't all that long ago when people were saying that oh, my heavens, she could never run for President because the Clintons are so radioactive, so partisan, and you'd get this very wild reaction. And now we're getting this whole everybody loves Bill Clinton, and the Republicans are saying, oh we miss him so much. And now Hillary is this sort of bipartisan mom figure out there.

Another issue of note this campaign season has been the unprecedented amount of money being spent by candidates, particularly those who are funding their own campaigns. Collins mentioned three candidates who have broken records for campaign spending.

Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Meg Whitman in California, and Rick Scott, who's running for governor as a Republican in Florida, those three, who've financed their own campaigns, among them will have spent a quarter of a million when this is over. And it's possible all three will lose, which is just fascinating to me.

Collins thinks maybe they're trying to help the economy with their very own jobs programs. These wealthy candidates are spending that much because they can, not necessarily because they need to. But, Collins noted, all that money isn’t working to win them office because all three are currently trailing in the polls.

Listen to the whole interview on the Leonard Lopate Show.