There's nothing like a good scandal to make the news, and politicians have been awfully obliging the past few months. Marital infidelity is an oft-recurring scandal, and the more brazen the attempt to conceal the affair ("hiking the Appalachian trail," for example), the bigger the news buzz. There are also bonus Nielson points for soliciting prostitutes, using drugs, or attempting to hide homosexual behavior.

But why, why is this such a common theme? I'm not asking why cheating politicians make CNN headlines; I take our collective indignation/morbid curiosity as a given. I'm asking rather why it is that there seem to be so many politicians who risk political suicide for a momentary (or repeated) satisfaction. These are smart guys, right? (Almost always guys, yes.) Why then the stupidity, the risk?

I think the most explanatory analogy comes from the field of statistics. Any researcher working with sample data (statistics) knows that to be a true representation of the larger population, the sample must avoid, as much as possible, any selection bias. Simply stated, a selection bias can taint the results of a survey by virtue of the method in which the survey is collected. A well known example is "Dewey defeats Truman," which was based on a survey conducted via telephone in an era when telephone ownership was restricted to richer (read: Republican-leaning) Americans. The survey was flawed; the sample group was not representative of all Americans.

Representative democracy works on a principle similar to statistics: A group is selected from the total population and is intended to represent the wishes of the whole. [I know this isn't exactly fair to the political philosophy of the Framers, WF and OG, but spare me the historical skewering for the moment, please.] However, representative democracy, particularly in the modern, financing-driven style, is subject to a selection bias, specifically a self-selection bias. Think about the years of political maneuvering, fund-raising, back-scratching, and bacon-bringing required of any politician who wishes to be successful. Anyone who willingly subjects himself to that gauntlet, on the assumption that he/she can actually win at it, is likely to possess traits which may ultimately lead to a fall.

Pride, of course, goeth before the fall, and pride, manifested politically as (pick your term:) ambition, arrogance, charm, confidence, egotism, self-aggrandizement, or selfishness, is required of any politician. I'm an armchair psychologist at best, but I think there is a strong connection between the pride that allows one to consider politics and the pride that allows one to think he can get away with a crime. Speaking statistically again, one could say that there is a positive correlation between a political figure's political skill and SBI - Slime-ball index.

I guess the good news is that if this is true, and politicians are biased as a selected group, then what politicians do does not necessarily reflect on the general morals of Americans overall, since they're not a representative sample.

For debate: Is this self-selection bias an inherent flaw in the system? Can it be overcome structurally, or do we just need to pray for a Washington every election?