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Sam Adams and the Double Standard: Part 2

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

January 24th, 2009

There’s a lot of confusion over Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ tryst with Beau Breedlove, the intern who Adams admitted to having a sexual relationship with. It’s time to bust some of these myths.

Myth: Because Breedlove was an intern, Adams abused his position of authority when he entered into a sexual relationship with Breedlove.

Fact: Beau Breedlove was a legislative intern in Eugene, not a Portland city intern. They met when Breedlove was interning in the Oregon House for state Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer). Adams did not hold a position of professional authority over Breedlove.

Myth: Breedlove was just a 17-year-old boy.

Fact: According to Adams’ admission, Breedlove was an 18-year-old man when they initiated their sexual affair. At eighteen, Breedlove was old enough to sign contracts, join the army and go to war, and be tried as an adult for any crimes he might feel like committing.

Breedlove, because he is a legal, consenting adult, bears equal responsibility for the affair. What’s more, he appears to have an affinity for older men. Mark Merkle, 39, was Breedlove’s boyfriend for two years until last August.

This was a man, not a boy. Yet we have all sorts of people — gay and straight, Democratic and Republican — screaming for Mayor Adam’s resignation because he lied about having had perfectly legal sex with a perfectly legal consenting adult.

Hold that thought while we look at another set of myths swirling around another politician of note:

Myth: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) admitted to have had perfectly illegal sex with a prostitute.

Fact: Oh, sorry. That was true. Vitter broke the law, but he didn’t admit to it until the statute of limitations had passed.

Myth: Sen. Vitter apologized to the Republican caucus in the Senate, and received a standing ovation.

Fact: Oh yeah. That part’s true also. Even though Vitter broke the law — something that Adams has apparently not done — he got a standing ovation.

But hey, Vitter’s admission of having engaged in an illegal sex act did come in at number five of Time magazine’s top ten awkward moments.

Let’s re-cap: Illegal sex? Awkward. Legal sex? Give him the heave-ho.

And what about the lying part?

Let’s cross the political aisle and consider Bill Clinton. After all, he lied under oath about a sexual encounter with an intern who really was his subordinate. But Clinton defenders said, well yeah, what do you expect? After all, his sex life is private, they said. He didn’t want his wife to find out, they said. He was protecting his daughter, they said. Who wouldn’t lie under those circumstances, they said. Besides, it was all a political witch hunt, they said.

That rallying cry that went “When Clinton lied, nobody died”? Gee, why don’t I see a similar call for perspective here among progressives?

Adams didn’t lie under oath. Instead, he told a very stupid lie about a very private matter that was none of anyone’s business while running for political office. Goodness! That’s never happened before!

So let’s re-cap again. Lies about gay sex with a consenting adult you have no authority over? Even liberals will call for your resignation. Lies about straight sex under oath with an intern you actually have authority over? You not only get to stay in office, but when your term finally reaches its natural conclusion, you get to enjoy the highest approval ratings of any president in history.

Nice presidential library you got there, Bill.

Hundreds of people have rallied in front of city hall to support their beleaguered mayor. Another rally is scheduled for Tuesday at noon.

Comments

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John
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

I always hate this kind of defense, it smacks of desperation and ignores what people find objectionable in the first place. Just because Vitter gets away with an illegal indiscretion does not mean that Adams should likewise with his legal one. Both were odious and both men should resign or be tossed out by the voters. Now whether either or both will be shown the door is up to the electorate of Lousiana and Portland respectively. Yet I have nothing but contempt for Adams because of his bald-faced lies just as much as I do for Vitter. Neither man deserve to hold public office.

Hrm
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

What exactly makes it so obviously odious, John? Should public figures have to abide by the “half plus seven” rule? Perhaps we should have that written into the Constitution?

Jim Burroway
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

John,

If you standard is simply lies, then can you name a single office holder anywhere who shouldn’t resign right this minute?

Norm!
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

Fact: Adams says he scheduled his first Portland meeting with Breedlove and discussed the city’s internship program. Of course, we have no idea how truthful Adams’ recollection is or what his motives were for the meeting. Adams may have assumed Breedlove was 18 since he had graduated high school and was therefore hook-up potential.

Fact: Adams and Breedlove have admittedly lied about their relationship, so we can’t know how truthful they are now or when their romantic relationship started. We do know before Breedlove’s 18th birthday, Adams’ own chief of staff believed Breedlove was “coming on” to Adams.

Fact: Adams admitted his relationship with Breedlove was “inappropriate“. Adams even wants to apologize to Breedlove’s parents. While adams denies anything illegal, he clearly admits it was wrong to date a teenager he previously claimed was a vulnerable, at-risk gay youth in need of mentoring.

Unfortunately, Adams’ defenders are implying that Breedlove is some type of daddy hunter taking advantage of foolish gay men. Even if true, the Adams put his office and career at risk for sex.

Myth: Adams merely lied to a nosy reporter about a personal relationship.

Fact: Adams engaged in a major cover-up for his political benefit. He had a consultant coach Breedlove to lie, told several reporters that he was “mentoring” Breedlove and claimed himself to be victim of gay-on-gay homophobia, and even used his city office to issue his elaborate lie. For 16 months, Adams repeated his lie to several reporters and only admitted the lie when forced to by a Willamette Week‘s Nigel Jaquiss.

Fact: Adams used his lie to mislead voters, defeat a political opponent, and win an election. Portlanders have the right to consider Adams’ actions and decide if he should lead the city.

David C.
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

The problem with serving the public is the rest of your life is incorporated by reference. Whatever you do is subject to examination by those you serve, and like it or not, you will be judged by how you behave, even behind closed doors.

You surrender your privacy in large measure when you take on the mantle of service to an electorate. Almost by definition, public servants are held to a different standard than all the rest of us. Irrespective of whether one sees Mr. Adams as: a Cougar (the modern euphemism for Chicken Hawk); a dishonest candidate that lied to cover-up something he thought might be disapproved of; or outright malfeasant, all of these points of view reflect an intolerance for questionable judgement on the part of somebody selected to serve in public office.

Bad judgement, though not in itself sufficient to engender legal sanction, will get you into trouble with progressives that need acceptable exemplars of their ideals to trot out as evidence that Gay people can serve the public with distinction. That’s where most of the heat and light are coming from here: Gay progressives were thrilled that an an openly Gay candidate could be elected to an important regional office, but are now outraged that not only has their shining example been tarnished, feel they themselves have been tarnished.

Norm!:

Fact: Adams used his lie to mislead voters, defeat a political opponent, and win an election. Portlanders have the right to consider Adams’ actions and decide if he should lead the city.

I agree.

Emily K
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

despite the fact that both men mutually “wanted it,” it was absolutely an awful judgment call for Adams to claim that his lover – who was legal but still just out of high school – was actually a vulnerable gay youth that he was mentoring. Even if the relationship was the exact opposite, (and I’ll grant that it was because I can’t assume otherwise,) this still quite explicitly conjures up an image of a predatory older gay man grooming a confused teenager not yet fully comfortable with his sexual identity. So even though, when all the known facts are placed on the table, it appears that this was a legal event and nothing went wrong, the image of that stereotype comes to light from the words of the (gay) man himself. And since he was also crying “homophobia” and playing the queer card while the lies were in action, one might think that he would have fore-seen this conflict of interest.

Maybe it would have been *helpful* for Adams to come clean about his relationship. Maybe it would have helped blast through the stereotype, saying “see gay men are cougars too, everyone’s sexuality has nothing to do with it.” I wouldn’t be any less creeped out, but that’s because I’m personally creeped out by that age difference – homo or hetero – and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether the man can competently lead.

Emily K
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

sex columnist and gay activist Dan Savage is supporting Adams, unsurprisingly in my eyes. However, a past column of his regarding a situation almost exactly mirroring this one – and even mirroring my own personal feelings on the matter – is quite revealing. One of the commenters posted it. (contains much mature language, fyi, those at work.)

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2009/01/22/support_sam_adams#BlogComments-comment-1010602

Rick
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

Sorry Jim, you can offer all the excuses you want and all the examples of double standards you can think of, but the simple reality is that Adams has f*cked his credibility beyond all salvage and has destroyed any possibility that he can ever be an effective mayor for the entire city of Portland and should resign.

Dave
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

This is certainly an interesting debate.

For those who worry that Jim is too eager to defend the mayor you need to realize that he isn’t justifying the totality of Adams’ actions; he is simply worried about a double standard in how gay and straight politicians are judged.

As for the double standard Jim sees, that’s a tricky matter. Three examples — Adams, Vitter, and Clinton — aren’t enough to demonstrate a pattern in American political culture.

To really demonstrate a double standard, or lack thereof, would require a thorough statistical analysis of many cases. This would certainly be an interesting project.

As for Bill Clinton, his case was about a Democrat president being impeached by a Republican House. The Democrats badly wanted complete control of both political branches after the 12 years of Reagan and Bush ; the end of their forty-some year reign in the House came as quite a blow and they were still quite sore about it! They weren’t about to let the Republicans remove their president.

Had Clinton been a Republican he would have been removed so fast his head would still be spinning.

This sort of partisan political maneuvering is just the sort of thing a careful statistical analysis would need to take into account.

Robert
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

Jim, Thanks for speaking up for SAm Adams. You have expressed my views beter than I could….

Norm!
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

Rick: “. . . but the simple reality is that Adams has f*cked his credibility beyond all salvage and has destroyed any possibility that he can ever be an effective mayor for the entire city of Portland and should resign.”

While I do believe Adams should resign immediately, his political career is salvageable — if he respects voters and doesn’t stubbornly Blagojevich his office. He could even resign and re-run for the same office and likely win. Heck, the scandal may even make him a stronger candidate — particularly in a city that doesn’t normally pay that much to local politics.

tristram
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

There have been several statements, as far as I know uncontroverted, that the then 17-yr-old Breedlove was first introduced to Adams in a mentoring context – that he wanted to know how a gay man could succeed in politics. Adams himself pushed the mentoring aspect big time as part of his lie about what they did when. And the only advising we know for sure happened was the Adams advised Breedlove to go along with Adams’ lie about their relationship. What teacher/parent/friend of a gay teen is going to send him to any gay authority figure for advice or counseling if the approved result is that they end up in bed and it’s fine as long as the clock hits midnight before the pants come off?

Mike
January 24th, 2009 | LINK

Norm: I agree with everything you said in your first comment. I would just like to be clear about one thing.

While I have no sympathy for Sam in this matter, I don not think Beau is 100% innocent. As a matter of fact I know he’s not. Beau is a daddy chaser. He latches on to older men who can provide him with something. Job. Travel. Place to live for a few months. It’s appalling that a man with Sam’s intelligence took advantage of a kid who could have used help and not a blow job. Beau reopened this situation. He’s the one that started the game again. What he hoped to gain or what he was going for will never be known.

Norm!
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

UPDATE: Breedlove confirms that Adams did express a romantic interest in him while he was 17. Apparently, Adams kissed the minor on two occasions including a minute-long kiss in a city hall restroom. Breedlove says a city hall guard did witness the two leaving the bathroom.

Adams’ defense against a third-degree sexual abuse misdemeanor hinges on a Clintonesque claim that the romantic kisses were NOT “for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either party”. Ick. While Adams and Breedlove may be attractive guys, I really didn’t want to know this amount of detail about my mayor’s sex life.

Breedlove also says he is not a victim and pursued the relationship with Adams. He describes his relationship as crossing the line from “friends” to “friends with benefits”.

Breedlove has retained a lawyer, Charles Hinkle, who spoke at a pro-Adams rally. Dan Savage earlier speculated whether Hinkle was “the Worst Lawyer in the Long, Sordid History of Lawyers?”.

While I’m glad Breedlove does not feel he was a victim and, um, seems to be trying to help his friend-with-bennies Mayor Adams, Breedlove undermined the last remaining hope I had for Adams. Adams was clearly pursuing a romantic relationship with a minor and was never a “mentor” to an at-risk gay youth.

John
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

What exactly makes it so obviously odious, John? Should public figures have to abide by the “half plus seven” rule? Perhaps we should have that written into the Constitution?

I take it that you are asking solely about Adams since why what Vitter did being odious is obvious? Adams had an affair with an 18 year old and then lied several times about it. Some are bothered by one or the other of these facts, while others are disturbed by both of them which includes me. I might be able to overlook the fling, even if it disgusts me given that I’m close to Adams’ age and I have nieces near Breedlove’s age, but not the lying. That shows a glaring flaw in his personal character and makes me distrust his ability to be an honest mayor. Of course I’m not a resident of Portland so the decision is up to the voters of that city. If Adams were an official in my area though, I’d want his proverbial head. Same with Vitter.

If you standard is simply lies, then can you name a single office holder anywhere who shouldn’t resign right this minute?

The “everyone does it” excuse isn’t good enough, Jim. Adams flat-out lied several times. Ok, he may not have broken any laws, unlike Vitter, but he still broke faith with the voters with such deceit. Out he should go, whether by resignation or by the voters tossing him out. Same with Vitter.

Norm!
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

LOL! BTW, Dan Savage points-out that Breedlove’s newly-adopted dog, which Breedlove brought to the newspaper’s office when he admitted his dates with Adams as a 17-year-old, is named is “Lolita”.

Emily K
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

FACT: Breedlove and Adams kissed while Adams was 17.

FACT: Adams waited until 2 weeks after Breedlove’s 18th birthday to have sex with him.

FACT: These actions are generally known as “grooming.”

Jim Burroway
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

Fact: “Grooming” as you say it, is a term much more appropriate to pedophilia, which I think is where you’re going with this.

Fact: If this was “grooming,” then it was grooming to have perfectly legal sex with a perfectly legal consenting adult. This is not a case of child molesting. Please don’t try to portray it as such.

Fact: Based on what we know right now, no laws were broken.

Jim Burroway
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

John:

The “everyone does it” excuse isn’t good enough, Jim. Adams flat-out lied several times. Ok, he may not have broken any laws, unlike Vitter, but he still broke faith with the voters with such deceit. Out he should go, whether by resignation or by the voters tossing him out. Same with Vitter.

But that is exactly my point. The lie he told was during a political campaign while running for office.

Can you name me a single politician who hasn’t lied while running for office? What makes Adams’ lie so different?

Is it because he lied about something that shouldn’t have been anybody’s business to begin with — that he had sex with a consenting adult that might creep other people out?

You do realize that most of us here have sex with consenting adults which might creep other people out.

So what makes this campaign lie objectively different from any other? Is it simply because he lied about a private matter that creeps you out?

Emily K
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

Fact: That is what grooming is. to engage in legal but most likely inappropriate acts so that when the clock hits midnight they can engage in that “legality.”

It might have been “legal” but the ethical breech is still astounding.

Emily K
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

haha the 17-year-old Breedlove and Adams kissed for “a minute” in a men’s bathroom in City Hall. What a cliché!

CLS
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

When did the gay political movement become an arm of the Moral Majority? When gay people start sounding like Jerry Falwell I want to vomit.

The private life of people is not public business unless that private life includes a violation of the law, lying in court, etc. Adams had no obligation to “come clean” with “the public” because “the public” has no right to know who he was dating.

Breedove is adamant he was an adult, too bad for you lynch mob types. He is also adamant that Adams did not take advantage of him, that it was consenting, and that he has no regrets. That won’t stop the media and the Religious Right from painting him as “child” who was exploited. What rot!

Emily K: you really amaze me with your logic. The age is what matters. A 19 year old who, for whatever reason, is still in high school is still an adult. I bet you would be the first to demand a 17 year old be tried as an adult if he was involved with a crime. Now you want to pretend he was a child because he was “just out of high school”.

Americans are hypocrites: teens are children when it comes to voluntary sexual relationship (in Emily’s case this goes whether they are above the age of consent or not). But those same teens are dangerous adults when it comes to crimes they might commit. In some cases, we no doubt, would treat them as a child and as an adult in the same case.

Dating a 17 year old is not a crime. (though they didn’t date then). Kissing a 17 year old is not a crime (though I suspect the antisex nuts will try to criminalize it.) Nor is this called “grooming” except by people with a political agenda of their own — like the antisex Right. Jim, is right, Emily is falsely trying to associate this with pedophilia which is sex with a prepubescent child, not a sexually mature individual. But distorting the lines of demarcation are important if you want to make a case where one doesn’t exist.

I’m starting to wonder if Emily, with her remark about “a cliche” isn’t just someone who dislikes gay men?

Emily K
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

Actually my remark about a cliché was directed toward politicians, not gay men.

There is no true existing line between 17 and 18. But I whole-heartedly agree with (extremely liberal and also gay man) Dan Savage’s take on relationships in the style of Adams and Breedlove’s.

And when I see my 17 year old sister cavorting around with her high school pals, and I try to think of her being involved with a 42 year old man, it horrifies me. And she ain’t gonna be much different in a few months when she’s 18. She’ll be the same selfish, immature child that she is now. (and this isn’t to say she’s a dislikeable brat. but she is definitely inside her own world.)

HOWEVER: I think there is a HUGE difference between 18 and 20. And it isn’t simply the odometer effect. It’s that you’re out of high school, you’re (hopefully) out of your parents house and by association out of their jurisdiction, and as a result learn things a lot harder, faster, and in a much more unrelenting manner than you do as a 17 year old sitting at home worrying about getting your algebra homework done and making sure you get up in time the next day so you don’t have to go to detention for missing the bell. It’s not just that we arbitrarily decide 17 year olds are children, it’s that we treat them as such in high school. You have less rights sitting in English class as an 18 year old than you do robbing a convenience store on a weekend.

And whether we like to admit it or not, no matter how “PC” we can be about this, 17 and 18 year old people are sexually immature. And I don’t agree that it’s ethical for a 42 year old to initiate them into maturity. I wouldn’t want a 42 year old man to do so to my sister. I’m sure my (very liberal) parents would agree with me. And guess what? My opinion isn’t going to change. I don’t care if i end up siding with the Christian Right, even though I’m neither Christian nor a Political Right-ist. People are welcome to thrash on me for believing as I do. And as I said before, I am not calling for Adams’ resignation. But I am calling on him to tell the whole truth. Because I think that a lot of citizens, parents, gays, straights, brothers, and sisters would find something questionable about Adams’ judgment.

SistahBerry
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

“Can you name me a single politician who hasn’t lied while running for office? What makes Adams’ lie so different?”

Jim, it isn’t the lie. It isn’t the sex. He is a “first” and they always owe more. You have to look at “gay Mayor” as the label, not “politician.” He isn’t like other politicians because he didn’t run that way. He is a disappointment because you are putting your credibility on the line to defend his behavior. Never defend what happens in the shadows.

“Firsts” always have to sacrifice for the cause. Adams knows that.

Dan L
January 25th, 2009 | LINK

Personally, I think that Clinton should have resigned, and that Adams should resign as well, but that’s really the only coherent position that you can take to be able to call for Adams’ resignation. The Clinton precedent, which is essentially that politicians have zero obligation to tell the truth to the public (or to the courts, even under oath, for that matter) is a shameful one, but given it seems to be the governing one, I can’t really fault Adams’ decision. Complaining of the double standard seems to be to be spot on–though I happen to think that straights should be held to the standard that gays are apparently to be held to, rather than vice versa.

Timothy Kincaid
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

Emily,

As I am certain that you know, comments including the terms “grooming” and “initiate” generally are accompanied with claims that young men are homosexual because of predatory older men making them so and that gay men are pedophiles.

That you are so comfortable with these terms – even after having them brought to your attention – says very little about Adams but it does tell us a great deal about your assumptions and attitudes.

John
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

When did the gay political movement become an arm of the Moral Majority? When gay people start sounding like Jerry Falwell I want to vomit.

So any sense of morality or values a gay person may have makes them a tool of the Religious Right in your eyes? That’s quite telling and also patently absurd.

The private life of people is not public business unless that private life includes a violation of the law, lying in court, etc. Adams had no obligation to “come clean” with “the public” because “the public” has no right to know who he was dating.

When he chose to lie not once, but several times about this past relationship it became a matter of public concern. It speaks of his lack of personal character. And whether you agree or not, there are a many people who have a BIG problem with a 42 year old man having a fling with a just-turned 18 year old.

Dating a 17 year old is not a crime. (though they didn’t date then). Kissing a 17 year old is not a crime (though I suspect the antisex nuts will try to criminalize it.)

Wrong on both counts. It’s called contributing to the deliquency of a minor if not sexual contact is involved, far worse if such is included.

John
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

Is it because he lied about something that shouldn’t have been anybody’s business to begin with — that he had sex with a consenting adult that might creep other people out?

He lied. Several times. Whether it creeps someone out is a matter for each individual to decide on whether that effects their vote or not. If a politician is asked a question that isn’t anyone else’s business they can refuse to respond but they’d better not lie about it or they’ll suffer the consequences when they’re caught.

Emily K
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

So let me see if I understand this: If a straight man engages in inappropriate contact with a minor, he is doing something akin to “grooming” and “initiation.” But when a gay man does it, we’re not allowed to talk about it in that manner because it fulfills a gay stereotype.

Which is why most of all I’m angry. Because Adams is a “first,” because he’s a minority and needs to be “twice as good” for lack of a better term. And he wasn’t. Instead, he engaged in acts that Exodus testimonials are filled with.

Timothy Kincaid
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

No, Emily.

“Grooming” and “initiate” would never be used to discuss a few-weeks-from-18 year old girl. These are terms that suggest a much younger child are are associated with pedophilia.

You have chosen these words purposefully. I find your word choice to be less than admirable. I find your insistence on defending your word choice to be telling.

Emily K
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

Oh please Timothy. Get off your high horse. I chose those words because that’s what it sounds like. Grooming. I don’t mean he took a sexually niave 11 year old and showed him porno for 6 years. I mean he was kissing a 17 year old in the men’s room of city hall, making it clear that he wanted something more once the clock struck midnight. That sounds like grooming to me.

Oh, and guess what? It would be the same thing if a lesbian mayor were involved with a female 17 year old page who “knew what they were doing” and “wanted a mayor that was a friend with benefits.”

Timothy Kincaid
January 26th, 2009 | LINK

That sounds like grooming to me.

Then perhaps you should become better informed.

stevepdx
January 28th, 2009 | LINK

“Breedlove was an 18-year-old man when they initiated their sexual affair.” I guess kissing Breedlove more than once, including in the men’s room at city hall when Breedlove was 17, as Beau acknowledged in a recent interview, doesn’t count. As for lying, Clinton was Impeached but did not resign. It’s the difference between federal/local laws. When IL Governor Blago is impeached, he’s kicked out. Adams undercut the election, slandered his opponents, lied in writing and to his colleagues faces, and appointed the investigating reporter to be his advisor on sustainability planning despite having no experience in sustainability, planning or government. HELLO!?

jack
February 3rd, 2009 | LINK

He was 17 when the sexual relationship took place. I know Beau and he is not telling the truth. I know the timelime of when he lived in Michigan with Merkle. People are getting the story wrong. This 42 year old mayor had sex with a 17 year old boy. This is disgusting and he should resign. Sometime in the near future, some reporter will actually contact the correct people and get the real story. Why is nobody listening to Merkle? He is trying to tell the truth.

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