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Zombie politicians find new life after disgrace

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
April 3, 2013 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, resigned from Congress in 2011 after being embroiled for weeks in a sex scandal linked to his lewd online exchanges with women. Weiner announced in May that he was running for mayor of New York City, saying in a video announcing his campaign, "I hope I get a second chance to work for you." Weiner's comeback bid suffered a potential setback Tuesday, July 23, when he acknowledged more sexually tinged exchanges with an unnamed woman. "What I did was wrong," Weiner said in a statement about the newly emerged communications. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, resigned from Congress in 2011 after being embroiled for weeks in a sex scandal linked to his lewd online exchanges with women. Weiner announced in May that he was running for mayor of New York City, saying in a video announcing his campaign, "I hope I get a second chance to work for you." Weiner's comeback bid suffered a potential setback Tuesday, July 23, when he acknowledged more sexually tinged exchanges with an unnamed woman. "What I did was wrong," Weiner said in a statement about the newly emerged communications.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Disgraced politicians can write a book, go on TV, run for office again
  • Obeidallah: Fallen politicians never die, just like zombies
  • Just think of Bob Ney, Eliot Spitzer, Tom DeLay, Rod Blagojevich, Mark Sanford, he says
  • Obeidallah: Are we so forgiving because we reward fame regardless of how it's attained?

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-host of a new CNN podcast "The Big Three" that looks at the top 3 stories of the week. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Ronald Reagan once joked, "Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards. If you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book."

Today, that joke would have to be updated to add that not only can you write a book, but you can also be on reality TV show, host cable news programs, run for office again and possibly even win.

Disgraced politicians never die. They're like Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies -- you just can't kill them. They keep coming at you like the political version of zombies.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Sure, some fallen politicians still write books about their "adventures."

Former Ohio congressman Bob Ney recently made the rounds on the talk show circuit to promote his new memoir. Ney, who resigned in 2006, served more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to corruption charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

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But books are nothing compared to the other ways sullied politicians can profit off of their newly found infamy.

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- who resigned because he was caught frequenting prostitutes -- went on to host not one, but two different shows on cable TV. The first one was on CNN, and the second one was on Current TV.

CIA Director David Petraeus stepped down Friday, November 9, 2012, citing an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Many questions surround the affair, including why it was necessary for Petraeus to resign and the future of his marriage to his wife, Holly. Here's a look at other U.S. sexual scandals that led to political stumbles and downfalls. CIA Director David Petraeus stepped down Friday, November 9, 2012, citing an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Many questions surround the affair, including why it was necessary for Petraeus to resign and the future of his marriage to his wife, Holly. Here's a look at other U.S. sexual scandals that led to political stumbles and downfalls.
Public figures, private missteps
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Photos: Public figures, private missteps Photos: Public figures, private missteps

Then there's exploiting your scandal in the time between when you're indicted and convicted of the crime. Former Texas congressman Tom DeLay -- while under indictment and awaiting a trial date -- appeared as a contestant on the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars." DeLay was later convicted of campaign finance violations and money laundering.

But the guy who set the bar high for all disgraced politicians is former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

After being removed from office by the state legislature and while under indictment, Blagojevich wrote a book about his scandal, went on "The Daily Show" and "Letterman" and was a contestant on Season 9 of Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice." Blagojevich even appeared at the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con (a comic book convention), where he charged $50 for autographs and $80 for a photo with him. He was subsequently convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Among politicians who don't end up in jail, some try hard to become elected officials again. They want to go back to the very place that caused their problems. It's like a recovering drug addict asking to work at a meth lab -- not a good combo.

Mark Sanford: How I learned from scandal

Just look at former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who is running to fill a recently vacated Congressional seat. As a refresher, Sanford disappeared for six days in 2009 while governor. At first, Sanford's office publicly stated that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. However, we soon found out that he was actually in Argentina visiting the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

Sanford seeks 'redemption' in wild congressional race

Sanford later paid $74,000 to settle charges that he had misused state resources and campaign funds in conducting his affair. However, Sanford refused to resign and completed his term.

Flash forward to March 19: Sanford came in first in a crowded field of Republicans in the GOP Congressional primary. Recent polls show him with a 10-point lead over his opponent in the Republican primary runoff scheduled for April 2.

Sanford's quest for forgiveness in return to political life

And don't forget Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic Congressman from New York City. As most people, and all comedians, vividly recall, Weiner had "accidentally" tweeted photos of himself in his underwear to a young woman on Twitter. Weiner later admitted to having non-sexual but "inappropriate" relationships with various women on social media. Weiner resigned from Congress a few weeks after the scandal broke in June 2011.

What's Weiner up to now? Apparently he has figured out how to use Twitter and is at least considering a return to politics. Weiner revealed he had spent more than $100,000 on polls recently to explore possibly running for office in New York City.

What does it say about us that these disgraced politicians have success -- however fleetingly -- after their scandals? Is it because we are a forgiving lot who believe in second chances if the person has sincerely apologized and seeks redemption? Or is it because we are all infected with the reality-show mindset where we reward fame regardless of how it's attained?

Plenty of people don't distinguish between whether a person is famous for good or bad reasons. All that matters is if a person has made it to that semi-exclusive club of celebritydom. After that, enough people will support the person to merit securing a book deal, being cast on a reality show and maybe run for office.

Look, I'm all for redemption and second chances. But I'm also aware that just like we saw with Jason in "Friday the 13th" movies, the longer he's alive, the more damage he will do.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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